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Raymond Burr - Cineplex Legends Inductee

Raymond Burr
Year Of Induction: 2009
Area Of Recognition: Television
Life: May 21, 1917 - Sept. 12, 1993
Birth Place: New Westminister, BC
Cineplex Legends Inductee
2009 cineplex legends inductee

We may as well just say it: They don't make 'em like they used to. Call it class, eloquence or just being a gentleman, but Raymond Burr embodied the sort of qualities that have slowly but noticeably faded from our everyday world.

Burr's name may not resonate with quite the same immediacy as his Hollywood contemporaries, such as Cary Grant or Montgomery Clift, but he was the real deal. In fact, one could argue that the same qualities that made him a somewhat lesser "star" are the same that made him so great a man:— humility, generosity and a desire for a private life. As he once famously stated: "I'm a fine guy to be an actor. Can't stand to have my picture taken."

Burr's acting career spanned six decades and encompassed roles in dozens of motion pictures. His success in television is of even greater renown, including a long-running hit role as disabled San Francisco detective Robert T. Ironside. But let there be no doubt that his most significant character was lawyer Perry Mason. Perry Mason, the show, was a success of enormous proportions, and yet it was delivered via a medium that had not even been invented when Burr entered this world.

He was born Raymond William Stacy Burr on May 21, 1917, in New Westminster, B.C., to a salesman of Irish background, William Burr, and an American-Canadian pianist and music teacher, Minerva Smith. Sadly, his parents' relationship was not built to last (although they would remarry in 1955), but this tension landed Burr in some very fertile soil indeed - California. In 1922, his mother moved him, his younger sister and brother to Vallejo, where her parents lived. Young Raymond Burr became a Bay Area resident. A life-changing revelation for the boy came courtesy of Smith's job as the pipe organist at a local church. The minister's wife was a theatre major, and she carried a bug that Burr was swift in catching. He wanted to be an actor.

The road was hardly smooth leading there: he first had to live through the Great Depression and a stomach injury sustained while he was in the navy, stationed in Okinawa in World War II, but Burr's will would not be denied. As the child matured into a man, he found he possessed an array of commanding traits: tall and oak-tree solid, he had a voice to match his imposing frame. This led to his fair share of appearances as the "bad guy," including the district attorney who gets Montgomery Clift sent to the chair in A Place in the Sun (1951), and the deeply shady Lars Thorwald in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window (1954). It wasn't long before people took notice of another, equally compelling side to Burr: a large physical presence with a quiet honour. It was this side that allowed him his great success as Mason.

It's worth noting that Burr fashioned one of TV's most beloved characters out of a criminal defense attorney,— one of the most routinely despised real-life professions you could imagine. Perry Mason's run of nine seasons and 22 made-for-TV movies made it the most successful courtroom dramas of its time. And even if that record no longer stands, the show's influence on the genre is undeniable.

As renowned as that role was, Burr's life was a lot more than just one act. His philanthropic work was wide-reaching and included extremely long-term commitments. A closeted homosexual for much of his life, Burr had a relationship with actor Robert Benevides that lasted 33 years. Their life together included many shared passions, such as growing orchids and establishing a vineyard that still bears his name today.

For any doubters of the range and capabilities of this man, allow us this one final exhibit. In 1956, the little-known Japanese film Gojira was to be repackaged for U.S. audiences. To do the job, studio execs cast Burr as reporter Steve Martin, an American overseas who witnesses the horrific destruction of Tokyo at the hands of a giant, radioactive, fire-breathing monster. And so it was that Burr brought Godzilla to America. 30 years later, he reprised his role for Godzilla  1985, though he was only referred to as "Mr. Martin" (it seems there was another, very popular actor by the same name). We're guessing Raymond Burr had no problem with that whatsoever.

Interesting Facts

Raymond Burr appeared in over 60 movies between 1946 and 1957.

It only took 6 days of filming to complete all of Raymond Burr's scenes in the American remake of Godzilla, King of the Monsters. It was originally rumored that Burr had spent a single day to complete all his scenes, however the actor debunked the myth stating that it took time to recreate all the sets from the original film.