Raymond Burr was a 6 foot tall, deep-voiced, dramatic actor with mesmerizing eyes who began his career portraying an unsavory assortment of hoodlums, killers and villains, then climaxed his career as the legendary attorney who defended them.
Burr's commanding figure and compelling eyes made him a natural for such roles as Montgomery Clift's prosecutor in "A Place in the Sun," the man who stalked Natalie Wood in "A Cry in the Night," and the murderer who menaced Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window."
But it was television that made the deep-timbered voice and bulky figure famous, and made Burr wealthy. As the crusading defense attorney in "Perry Mason," which ran for nine seasons and won him two Emmys, and later the wheelchair-bound San Francisco police detective in the series "Ironside" (1967-75), his fame was cemented.
If the formula of "Perry Mason" was always the same—the dedicated attorney outsmarting the prosecutor to see justice done, often in gripping witness stand revelations—it enthralled audiences, making him TV's most successful lawyer for nine seasons, from 1957 to 1966. Even Pope John XXIII was a fan, and granted Burr an audience.
" 'Perry Mason' went on the air when people were first buying television sets," Burr said in an Associated Press interview shortly before his passing. "A lot of people in this country didn't know what their legal system was all about. I'm sure just from the people who have watched the show over the years, particularly the minorities, they found out the system of justice was for them."
Outside of the courtroom, Burr was a horticulture enthusiast. His hobby was raising orchids; he developed thousands of kinds, and donated his collection to Cal Poly Pomona in 1982 when it outgrew his premises.