‘Perry Mason’ Star Raymond Burr Blazed Trails for Gay Actors—Even If He Hid Behind a Straight Tragedy

Perry Mason is synonymous with Burr, unless Matthew Rhys assumes the role until 2056. Burr portrayed the character in 271 television episodes and 26 television films, but none of those performers are as closely associated with the character as Raymond Burr. Presently, Matthew Rhys portrays Mason, and Monte Markham (also known as Blanche Devereaux’s homosexual sibling) portrayed him in a short-lived television revival in the 1970s. Warren William, Ricardo Cortez, and Donald Woods depicted the attorney in a series of films in the 1930s, a character that made his debut in mystery novels beginning in 1933. Burr is by no means the sole actor to portray Mason.

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Mason Perry, known as Burr, is a legendary man who has achieved great success and longevity. Not only did he portray the lead in the cop drama “Ironside,” but his presence on television was constant from 1957 to 1975. In addition to his talent, Burr also had a deep connection to the LGBTQ+ community, being one of the few openly gay actors of his era. His television career not only brought him fame, but also made him a trailblazer for other gay actors.

In the 1950s, Mason Perry became the most famous attorney in America, and in the 1940s, actor Raymond Burr, who defined the villain character in noir films, helped him. Burr was a hard-working actor, but he and the lead actors weren’t in the movies. They were getting work in queer-themed movies and TV shows. Maurice Evans and Dobie Gillis starred in many of them. Sheila Kuehl had a regular role in the short-lived sitcom Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and could be spotted in various live TV variety plays. Paul Lynde could be seen in the TV shows Jeannie, Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. Rorke Hayden and Raymond Burr were in the lead roles in the 1957 Mason TV show, when there were, of course, closeted gay actors in the context of Burr’s imposing stature.

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Despite Burr undoubtedly having the identical male partner residing with him for more than three decades, nobody had the audacity to inquire about it… An incredibly colossal narrative of heterosexuality, which was so sorrowful that Burr, along with his undoubtedly overwhelmed publicist and manager, fabricated. In contrast to numerous individuals within his social circle who were satisfied with being referred to as “confirmed bachelors” and accepting that.

In 2004, Ward’s marriage ended in divorce, and she moved back to Baltimore. After a few months of being married, they separated. They first met at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he was a teacher and she was a junior student. In January, he legally married actress Isabella Ward, but the truth is that they were only married for a few years.

The plane that killed 1930s film idol Leslie Howard was the same aircraft that was shot down by Nazis, claiming the life of Annette Sutherland, who was falsely identified as Leslie Howard’s wife. In subsequent interviews, it was revealed that Leslie Howard had actually died in a plane crash four years prior, leaving him a widower. This false information was included in a movie studio bio that accompanied the 1946 film. The truth about Raymond Burr’s personal life, as detailed in Michael Starr’s book, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr,” exposes the lies that were spread.

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What a remarkable hiatus! Burr starred in eight films and appeared in seven TV episodes between 1952 and 1953. Speaking of the year-long break he took to travel across the country with Michael Evan, Ward – remember, Burr’s only spouse – was completely unaware of Michael Evan’s existence. Despite Burr’s claim of being a single father to a 5-year-old when they got married, Ward never met or even knew about Michael Evan. Tragically, Burr’s son, Michael Evan Burr, passed away from leukemia in 1953. However, before his unfortunate demise, Burr took a year off from his career to embark on a cross-country journey with little Michael Evan. Interestingly enough, in the late 1950s, Burr fabricated a deceased son as part of his personal narrative, a son supposedly born in 1943 just before his first wife’s fatal plane crash. Remarkably, Ward, Burr’s actual wife, had no knowledge of Sutherland’s existence during their brief relationship – let alone the son Burr claimed to have had with her.

In 1959, during his time on Perry Mason, Burr introduced another deceased spouse into his storyline. He informed his co-star Barbara Hale that he wedded a lady named Laura Andrina Morgan in 1955. Burr asserted that Morgan, who was battling cancer, desired to be married prior to her demise, thus he acquiesced. Nevertheless, Burr’s marital union with Morgan contradicts his engagements during the mid-’50s, wherein he was entertaining the soldiers in Korea and “courting” Natalie Wood. To further intensify the tragedy, Burr had already portrayed himself as a widower with a deceased son.

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Burr was one of them, but the film studios favored matching Wood with secretive heartthrob Tab Hunter. In that period, Wood was frequently arranged on highly visible outings with several secretive actors to showcase the 18-year-old actress in front of the cameras and prevent gossip magazines from spreading speculations about particular individuals having certain inclinations.

Scandal! When they arrived at Burr’s abode, he answered the door in a pink bathrobe. Later, Arthur Hiller, the director, recounted the story of how a pair of workers fully shook back when they came. Mason Perry, the director, and the crew noticed the inseparable duo of Burr and Benevides, who later became actors. They spent the late ’50s jumping from guest role to guest role, trying to start their acting careers. Benevides, a 30-year-old actor named Robert, changed Burr’s life in 1960 when he delivered a script to the star Mason Perry.

In 1961, a scandal blew up in the actual Village when they learned that Reynolds Libby, a drag queen from New York City’s notorious drag scene, had hooked up with Burr after their shift bartending. The Confidential tabloid got wind of the word and ran a story, framing it as if Burr was kissing a female impersonator, giving the impression that they were women. However, it was later speculated that Burr paid people or that it was actually Burr himself who hooked up with a male gay bartender, unknowingly kissing Raymond Burr, the drag queen.

In 1960, Burr and Benevides encountered and successfully maintained their relationship until Burr’s demise in 1993, with bathrobes and tabloids in their past. When Burr proposed that Benevides transition to working behind the scenes in 1963, they transformed from domestic partners to professional partners. They established Harbour Productions, which was responsible for the creation of Ironside, and Benevides was acknowledged as a production advisor on the Perry Mason TV movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

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Benevides inherited the entirety of Burr’s estate upon his death in 1993. Nearly two decades later, they decided to sell the island in Fiji that they had purchased back in 1965. They embarked on a new venture by establishing a vineyard in California’s Dry Creek Valley and running Sea God Nurseries, a business focused on orchids, which had multiple branches.

After meeting Benevides, Burr’s life was like a fantasy, as if he was buying an island, an international business of orchids. His truth was greater and happier than fiction, but it was all made up in order to hide who Burr really was, a grieving father and a widower defined by unspeakable tragedies.