Emmy Winner Actress Barbara Hale Dies at 94

barbara-hale-getty-1600x500Barbara Hale, a movie actress who found her most famous role on television as steadfast secretary Della Street in the long-running “Perry Mason” series, has died. She was 94.

william-katt-3

William Katt

Hale was surrounded by family when she died Thursday at her Los Angeles area home, said Jaqueline Stander, an agent for Hale’s son, actor William Katt (“The Greatest American Hero,” ”Carrie”).

“She was gracious and kind and silly and always fun to be with,” Katt posted on his Facebook page Thursday, calling Hale a wonderful actress and a “treasure as a friend and mother.”

Stander declined to provide the cause of death.

Hale appeared in “Perry Mason” on CBS from 1957 to 1966, winning an Emmy for best actress in 1959.

When the show was revived in 1985 on NBC as an occasional TV movie, she again appeared in court at the side of the ever-victorious lawyer played by Raymond Burr.

Barbara Hale started her career in Hollywood in 1942. Actually, it wasn’t her aim to be an actress. She had planned a profession in art.

1943-12-20_Barbara_Hale-Holding_Photo-1

On April 18, 1922,* Barbara was born in DeKalb, Illinois to parents of Scotch-Irish descent. She was the second child of Willa (born Calvin) and Luther “Ezra” Hale, a landscape gardener. Shortly after Barbara’s birth, her parents moved to Rockford with her and her elder sister Juanita, who was born in 1913.

Here, the actress grew up in a provincial idyll and started to take lessons in ballet and tap dancing at the age of twelve. Barbara also started to participate in local theater plays. Already, during her time in school, she discovered her talent and interest in painting. That’s why Barbara decided to enroll in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts after her graduation from high school in Rockford.

Her life in Chicago was more difficult than expected and the competition at the Academy of Fine Arts was huge. Barbara’s aim was to work for the advertising industry, but she realized fast that it was a tough business. Thereupon, she started to concentrate on working as a model. She collected first experiences while posing for a comic strip named “Ramblin’ Bill.”

Shortly after that, Barbara coincidentally met Al Seaman, the head of the Chicago Model Bureau, who was so enthusiastic about his new discovery that he sent photos to RKO Studios. An audition was arranged. Shortly after that, Barbara signed a stock contract and went on to California.Barbara-Hale-Feet-821930

She continued her role after Burr died in 1993 and was replaced by Hal Holbrook for the movies that continued into 1995.

“I guess I was just meant to be a secretary who doesn’t take shorthand,” she once quipped. “I’m a lousy typist, too – 33 words a minute.”

Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois, daughter of a landscape gardener and a homemaker. The family moved to Rockford when she was 4, and she later took part in a local theater. But her goals were to be a nurse or journalist.

When her ambition turned to art while studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where she was often sought as a model. Her work for a modeling agency prompted an offer for a routine contract at the RKO studio in Hollywood.

When she reported to the casting director, he was speaking on the phone to someone who needed an immediate replacement for an actress who was sick.

“It hit every paper the next day: the Cinderella story,” she recalled in a 1993 Chicago Tribune interview. “Of course they said it was a starring role. I had one line, but you know about those things.”

The movie was a quickie, “Gildersleeve’s Bad Day,” but she went on to appear with Pat O’Brien in “The Iron Major,” Frank Sinatra in “Higher and Higher” and Robert Young in “Lady Luck.”

6307377926_f6c571c8e5_bAnother co-star was a blond actor named Bill Williams (real name: William Katt), with whom she appeared in “West of the Pecos” and “A Likely Story.” They had met over coffee in the studio commissary and married in Rockford in 1946. The couple had three children: Nita, William and Jody.

5593a35509929014821f9c2358533a46Williams, who died in 1992, later gained TV fame as the star of “The Adventures of Kit Carson.” Their son goes by his father’s original name, William Katt.

After her RKO contract ended, Hale worked at other studios, usually as the adoring wife of the leading man.

She played opposite Larry Parks in “Jolson Sings Again,” James Stewart in “Jackpot” and James Cagney in “A Lion Is in the Streets.”

In 1957, she joined the memorable cast of “Perry Mason” that included Burr as the defense attorney who solved his cases in the courtroom, William Hopper as investigator Paul Drake, William Talman as never-winning prosecutor Hamilton Burger and Ray Collins as police lieutenant Arthur Tragg.

170127-barbarahale

“When we started, it was the beginning of women not working at home,” Hale said in the 1993 interview. “I liked that she was not married. My husband, Bill, didn’t have to see me married to another man, and our children didn’t have to see me mothering other children.”

In the early 1970s, Hale took on another widely recognized role, touting Amana Radarange microwave ovens in TV commercials and print ads.

Burr and Hale were the only original cast members when the show resumed on NBC in 1985 in the movie format. Her son, William Katt, appeared in nine of the two-hour shows, as the investigator son of Paul Drake.

Hale’s later films included the original “Airport,” playing the husband of Dean Martin’s pilot character; “The Giant Spider Invasion,” and “Big Wednesday,” in which she appeared with her son.

Barely arrived in Hollywood, Barbara first made small appearances in movies. She can be seen as a girl in a bar, a stocking salesgirl, a girl dancing at a party or, as in “The 7th Victim” (1943), a witness in the subway.

Barbara Hale’s first big performance was in “Higher and Higher” (1944) at the side of Frank Sinatra. After that, supporting roles followed, for example, in “The Falcon out West” (1944) and “First Yank Into Tokyo” (1945). Starting from these first successes in B-Movies, she began to steadily establish her reputation. New opportunities for Barbara showed up so that she could prove her talent as an actress. Besides appearing in Westerns like “West of the Pecos” (1945), “Lone Hand” (1951) and “Last of the Commanches” (1952), she also took miscellaneous roles in Dramas and Comedies. For example, one can see her beside James Stewart in “The Jackpot” (1950) or with Robert Young in “Lady Luck” (1946), where she keeps him busy as his young wife who is skeptical about gambling.

Barbara Hale established her role profile as a warm-hearted, lovable but very strong-minded, vivid and resolute woman who will reach her aim. Mostly, she played women who know what they want and who also show this clearly to the man of their heart. Barbara gave her characters an expressive personality what makes them lovable for viewers. Contributing to that are Barbara’s strong charisma on-screen and her warm voice.

Unusual for Barbara Hale was certainly her role as Zoe Crane in “The Houston Story” (1956). Not only the appearance of the actress but also Zoe’s situation in the plot shows this perfectly. The development of the character seems to follow the classic female part in Film Noir. However, Barbara’s role isn’t the one of the “bad girl.” The question if Zoe is possibly a victim in the story stays unanswered.

Barbara Hale’s stock contract with RKO lasted over six years. After that, arrangements with Columbia Studios and other production companies followed.

Barbara met her future husband Bill Williams in 1944 during the shooting of “West of the Pecos.” Later she said that it was love at first sight. Bill Williams was born in Brooklyn on May 21, 1915, and was a dedicated athlete before he moved into Show Business. He began as a dancer in Vaudeville and, in 1944, signed a stock contract at RKO. Barbara and Bill married in 1946. One year later, on July 24, 1947, her first daughter Barbara Willa Johanna (‘Jody’) was born. The small family lived in Los Angeles and Barbara kept on working. The balancing act between job and family was described by her at this time:

The role of Della Street clearly shows differences to Barbara Hale’s role profile of the 40s and early 50s. Della was certainly warm-hearted and strong, too, but never so single-minded as Barbara’s previous roles. Della Street is characterized rather by her devoted, supporting and loyal character. Barbara Hale’s part in the Perry Mason Series was small but important.

Her appearance was totally necessary. But making the series was hard work for the whole team. Despite the sporadic appearances of the actress, her working time extended partly over the whole week. However, the familiar atmosphere on the set is always mentioned.

Barbara Hale received the Emmy in 1959 for her role in the Perry Mason series and was nominated again in 1961. She kept on working on the show for nine years until the end of the series. But Barbara’s friendship with Raymond Burr went on.

When Burr got the offer in the mid 80s to star in the “Perry Mason” made-for-TV movies, he accepted only with the condition that Barbara Hale had to be Della Street again. She took the role once more and faithfully stayed through Raymond Burr’s death in 1993. Between the time of the Perry Mason movies and the Perry Mason series, Barbara went on to make commercials and guest-starred in various TV series. Furthermore, she was seen in some movies like “Airport” (1970) or “The Giant Spider Invasion” (1975). Today Barbara Hale lives in California.

Despite the sporadic appearances of the actress, her working time extended partly over the whole week. However, the familiar atmosphere on the set is always mentioned. Barbara Hale received the Emmy in 1959 for her role in the Perry Mason series and was nominated again in 1961. She kept on working on the show for nine years until the end of the series. But Barbara’s friendship with Raymond Burr went on.

When Burr got the offer in the mid 80s to star in the “Perry Mason” made-for-TV movies, he accepted only with the condition that Barbara Hale had to be Della Street again.

She took the role once more and faithfully stayed through Raymond Burr’s death in 1993. Between the time of the Perry Mason movies and the Perry Mason series, Barbara went on to make commercials and guest-starred in various TV series. Furthermore, she was seen in some movies like “Airport” (1970) or “The Giant Spider Invasion” (1975).

Comments are closed.