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"It happened when we were both working for RKO in 1943.
I was there briefly before she came out from Illinois. She
certainly made a lasting impression on me. When I left for
service again, I took with me the image of a bright, lovely
and wholesome personality whose charm kept lingering
in my mind. "
(Raymond Burr, TV Radio Mirror, 1962)


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.

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.



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. (Silent appearance in "The 7th Victim")

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  in  "The Houston Story".)

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:


"It's like walking a tightrope, this business of career and marriage. I've never walked a tightrope before but I guess I'll have to learn how." (RKO Gals, p773.)


On February 16, 1951 Barbara gave birth to son William Theodore. ( The family in the early 50s.) Their third child, Juanita Lauralee ('Nita') was born in Los Angeles on December 22, 1953 and made the family complete. After Juanita's birth, Barbara Hale was thinking about giving up her work as an actress. She simply enjoyed being a mother: 


"It's very easy for me to fall into a domestic routine. I love to stay home. I love the children and Bill. I don't like to be away at the studio. But Bill is old-time vaudevillian. He likes to get out--see the town, do things. He would be bored with a girl who was just a little housewife. I keep just enough career going to keep Bill interested in what I'm doing." (RKO Gals, p782.)


Barbara accepted further roles in movies and guest-starred on TV but clearly restricted her acting work**...


Perry Mason

...until she got the offer in 1956 of the part of Della Street in the "Perry Mason" series opposite Raymond Burr in the leading role. In 1992 she jokingly remembered the decision to accept the role offer that would bring her world wide fame:


"And finally... after a few years, I heard about this show that was going to be done. In fact, I was asked to read the script, which was the Perry Mason script, and I said: 'I really don't want to do a series right now. The children are just small, you know?' [...] And Gail Patrick Jackson [Producer of the Series] said: 'But Barbara! Raymond Burr is going to do it and you know him' and I said: 'I'll do it!' " (Vicki Show, 1992)


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. 


* Several birth dates for Barbara Hale and also for her children are available. Some dates differ by a year. It is unclear how this confusion started. I chose the birth dates that seem to be the most likely ones.

** Occasionally, there were films where the couple appeared together. These are: West of the Pecos (1945), A Likely Story (1947), The Clay Pigeon (1949), Slim Carter (1957), Buckskin (1968), Chester, Yesterday's Horse (1973) (TV), The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), Flight of the Grey Wolf (1976) (TV) and guest appearances on TV. 

*** Raymond Burr cultivated an Orchid (Barbara Hale Orchid) that he named after Barbara Hale as symbol of friendship. The cultivation of orchids and winegrowing were hobbies of the actor that he had started on his farm in Dry Creek Valley, California.




Update: 22 February 2004