Raymond Burr will always be known principally as Perry Mason, and later as the wheelchair bound Chief in the series Ironside. His life was much more as Burr began his acting career playing not-so-popular heavies, yet almost to his last day, he ensured his memory to millions of fans as Perry Mason.
Born Raymond William Stacy Burr in New Westminster, British Columbia, Burr's father was a trade agent, and Burr and family spent their early days traveling to such far off places as China. His parents divorced in 1923, and Raymond and his younger brother and sister moved
to Vallejo, California with their mother. Living with grandparents, they then moved to San Francisco. Burr Entered the Navy during World War II and picked up a shrapnel wound to the stomach while stationed in Okinawa. A brief marriage ended in separation after six months in 1948. A divorce in 1952 was followed by the tragic death of his son from leukemia in 1953. His third wife died of cancer two years later. Fans were shocked to learn later on that the second and third marriages had never existed, nor had the son who supposedly died of leukemia.
Although he had worked in theater in Canada and the US (including the Pasadena Playhouse), he eventually moved to the big screen. His Hollywood acting career began with RKO in 1944 and later with the film San Quentin (1946) starring Lawrence Tierney. In successive movies built, Burr built his reputation and developed his own individual Other pictures included A Place in the Sun (1951), where he played a district attorney and which played a part in his getting the role of Mason, Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), the cult c Godzilla (1954) and Fort Laramie (1956). In 1957, Burr landed the role of TV's Perry Mason, and for the next nine years over 271 episodes, Perry never lost a case. Raymond only missed a few episodes and was replaced by such guest star lawyers as Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon, Michael Rennie, Mike Connors and Hugh O'Brien.
What is little known is Burr's philanthropic side. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Burr made countless visits to the troops stationed there and, with his own funds, provided entertainment and much good will. Having become quite well off from the Mason series, he also shared his home and bank account with many out of work actors and friends.
He won Emmy Awards in 1959 and 1961, awards by the American Bar Association (as he put them in a positive light) and, in 1965, the purchase of an island in Fiji where he improved local living conditions and developed another passion, the cultivation of orchids. The orchids soon expanded their distribution to the Azores, Portugal and Puerto Rico.
In 1967, barely a year after a long and successful series, Burr took on the role of Chief Robert T. Ironside on "Ironside". It scored another hit for Burr who, it seemed, the public could not spend their evenings without. The series completed a successful eight season run in 1975. After several short-lived series (including Trial by Jury which he hosted) and numerous TV roles, Burr returned in 1985 to his Perry Mason character in 23 TV movies. During his semi-retirement and between his acting roles, Burr enjoyed his Northern California Santa Rosa ranch where he tended to one of his great loves: wine making. The Raymond Burr Winery was founded with his partner Robert Benevides.
Burr worked right up to his final episode... Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss, which was completed shortly before he died of pancreatic cancer in 1993.