Barbara Hale (born April 18, 1922) is an American actress best known for her role as legal secretary Della Street on more than 270 episodes of the long-running Perry Mason television series. She reprised the role in 30 Perry Mason movies for television.
Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois, to Luther Ezra Hale, a landscape gardener, and his wife, Wilma Colvin. She is of Scots-Irish ancestry. Hale graduated in 1940 from Rockford High School in Rockford, Illinois, then attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, planning to become an artist. Her performing career began in Chicago when she started modelling to pay for her education. Hale’s family included a sister, Juanita, for whom Hale’s younger daughter was named.
Hale moved to Hollywood in 1943, and made her first screen appearances playing small parts (often uncredited). Her first role was in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day. She was under contract to RKO Radio Pictures through the late 1940s. She appeared in Higher and Higher (1943) with Frank Sinatra and sang with the crooner; played leading lady to Robert Mitchum in West of the Pecos(1945); enjoyed top billing in both Lady Luck (1946), her first “full stardom”) and “her fifth A picture” opposite Robert Young andThe Window (1949) with Arthur Kennedy; and co-starred in Jolson Sings Again (1949), with Larry Parks playing Al Jolson and Hale as Jolson’s wife, Ellen Clark.
She played the top-billed title role in Lorna Doone (1951), co-starred with James Stewart in The Jackpot (1951), with James Cagney in a 1953 drama, A Lion Is in the Streets, and opposite Rock Hudson in 1953’s Seminole, then appeared in 1955’s The Far Horizons with Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston, working with some of Hollywood’s best-known leading men of the day.
Hale’s flourishing movie career more or less ended when Hale accepted her best known role as legal secretary Della Street in the television series Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr as the titular character. The show ran from 1957 to 1966, and she reprised the role in 30 Perry Mason television films (1985–95). For more on the Della Street character, see below.
She co-starred with Joel McCrea in a 1957 western, The Oklahoman, but there were few leading roles thereafter. Hale did have a featured role in the 1970 ensemble film Airport, playing the wife of a jetliner pilot (Dean Martin).
Hale’s career became inextricably linked with that of Perry Mason co-star Burr, including her 1971 guest-starring role on his next series, Ironside, in an episode titled “Murder Impromptu,” followed by their 1980s and early ’90s TV movies together.
Her last on-screen appearance to date came in a TV biographical documentary about Burr that aired in 2000.
Hale’s activity in radio was more limited than in film or television. She appeared in five episodes of Family Theater (1950-1954) and in one episode each of Lux Radio Theatre (1950), Voice of the Army (1947), and Proudly We Hail (syndicated).
In 1945 during the filming of West of the Pecos, Hale met actor Bill Williams (for more on Williams, see below). They married June 22, 1946, and became the parents of two daughters, Jodi and Juanita, and a son, actor William Katt. Katt played detective Paul Drake, Jr., with her in several made-for-television Perry Mason movies. She also guest-starred as the mother of Ralph Hinkley (played by Katt) in a 1982 episode of The Greatest American Hero (Episode 29, “Who’s Woo in America”), and appeared as his mother in the movieBig Wednesday (1978).
Bill Williams (See below) died of cancer in 1992, after 46 years of marriage. Hale herself is a cancer survivor, and a grandmother. She is a follower of the Bahá’í Faith.
Hale was recognized as a Star of Television (with a marker at 1628 Vine Street) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. She won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series in 1959 and was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor or Actress in a Series in 1961.
She was presented one of the Golden Boot Awards in 2001 for her contributions to western cinema.
Della Street is the fictional secretary of Perry Mason in the long-running series of novels, short stories, films, and radio and television programs featuring the fictional defense attorney created by Erle Stanley Gardner.
In the first Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, written in the early days of the Great Depression, it is revealed that Della Street came from a wealthy, or at least well-to-do, family that was wiped out by the stock market crash of 1929. Della was forced to get a job as a secretary. By the time of the TV series in the 1950s and 1960s, this would have not fit well with the age of the characters as then portrayed. According to The Case of The Caretaker’s Cat, she is approximately 15 years younger than Perry Mason.
A character named Della Street first appeared in Gardner’s unpublished novel Reasonable Doubt, where she was a secretary, but not the secretary of the lawyer, Ed Stark. Gardner described her this way: “Della Street … Secretary, twenty-seven, quiet, fast as hell on her feet, had been places. Worked in a carnival or side show, knows all the lines, hard-boiled exterior, quietly efficient, puzzled over the lawyer, chestnut hair, trim figure, some lines on her face, a hint of weariness at the corners of her eyes.”
When Gardner submitted Reasonable Doubt to William Morrow, an editor suggested that “Della Street is a better character than the secretary.” Gardner took this suggestion when he rewrote Reasonable Doubt as The Case of the Velvet Claws and made Della Street Perry Mason’s secretary. In the published novel, the carnival or side show was jettisoned, and Street came from a more respectable background. This is a good example of the difference between the pulp writing and slick writing of the 1930s.
In 1950 Gardner published the short story “The Case of the Suspect Sweethearts” under the pseudonym Della Street.
There are several instances of sexual tension between Mason and Street in the Gardner novels; multiple glances, kisses and so on. There were also several proposals of marriage, all of which Della turned down because she wanted to be a part of Mason’s life and she knew that meant being a part of his work.
In “The case of the Weary Watchdog,” Della is pulled over and introduces herself to the officer as “Mrs. BRANDON Street, Della Street.”
Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason in a series of novels, was a prolific author, who employed three secretaries simultaneously, all sisters, to keep up with his output. One of them he eventually married, after his first wife—from whom he was separated for 30 years—died. This was Jean Gardner, born Agnes Helene Walter. People who knew her believed she was the inspiration for Della Street, though neither she nor Erle Stanley Gardner himself admitted it. Mrs. Gardner said she thought he put several women together to create the character.
On television, Della Street was of course played by Hale in the series and 30 made-for-TV movies. Sharon Acker played Della Street in the short-lived revival series The New Perry Mason, starring Monte Markham as Mason.
Gertrude Warner was the first actress to portray Street regularly, albeit on the radio series, followed by Joan Alexander and Palmolive’s “Madge”, Jan Miner. The character portrayed in the radio series was reworked into Sara Lane on the daytime show Edge of Night, which was to be the daytime Perry Mason, until Gardner pulled his support for the project.
Bill Williams, born Herman August Wilhelm Katt, (May 15, 1915 – September 21, 1992) was an American television and film actor. He is best known for his starring role in the early television series, The Adventures of Kit Carson, which aired in syndication from 1951-55.
Williams was born in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrant parents. He attended Pratt Institute, calling himself William H. Katt, and became a professional swimmer, performing in underwater shows. He landed a walk-on role as a theatre usher inKing Kong (1933). He enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, but was discharged before the end of the conflict and became an actor. He made his credited debut in The Blue Room in 1944, using the professional name Bill Williams. His first starring role opposite Susan Hayward in Deadline at Dawn (1946) made him a star.
Williams had appeared in ten films before he landed the lead role in The Adventures of Kit Carson, which ran for 104 episodes. After the series ended, Williams’ star power quickly fizzled out. It was briefly revived in 1957 when he co-starred with Betty White in television’s Date with the Angels. Williams played Federal agent Martin Flaherty in The Scarface Mob (1959), the pilot for ABC‘s The Untouchables. In the series, however, the role went to Jerry Paris. In 1958, Williams turned down the lead in Sea Hunt because he believed that an underwater show would not work well on television. Lloyd Bridges accepted the part and turned it into a hit. Williams then starred as a former Navy frogman in Assignment: Underwater, which ran for just one season. He played a variety of roles on Perry Mason, in which his wife Barbara Hale co-starred with Raymond Burr as his secretaryDella Street. In the 1962 episode, “The Case of the Crippled Cougar,” he played defendant Mike Preston. In 1963 he played murder victim Floyd Grant in “The Case of the Bluffing Blast.” In 1965 he played murderer Charles Shaw in “The Case of the Murderous Mermaid,” and murderer Burt Payne in “The Case of the 12th Wildcat”. Williams appeared in a final season episode of Ironside along with his son, bringing him together again with Raymond Burr. He also made guest appearances on television and worked in low-budget science fiction films until his retirement.
Williams died of a brain tumor at age 77 in 1992.
For his contribution to the television industry, Bill Williams has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is at 6161 Hollywood Blvd.