Burr left Benevides his entire estate, including "all my jewelry, clothing, books, works of art,...and other items of a personal nature." Burr bequeathed his estate to Robert Benevides and excluded all relatives, including a sister, nieces, and nephews. His will was challenged by a niece and nephew, Minerva and James, the children of his late brother, James E. Burr, without success. The tabloids estimated that the estate was worth $32 million, but Benevides' attorney, John Hopkins, said that was an overestimate.
Burr early acting career included roles on Broadway, radio, television and in film, usually as the villain. He won two Emmy Awards in 1959 and 1961 for the role of Perry Mason, which he played for nine seasons between 1957 and 1966. His second hit series, Ironside, earned him six Emmy nominations, and two Golden Globe nominations. He is also widely known for his role as Steve Martin in both Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Godzilla 1985.
Raymond Burr was a Canadian actor, primarily known for his title roles in the television dramas Perry Mason and Ironside. In the mid-1950s, Burr met Robert Benevides, a young actor and Korean War veteran, on the set of Perry Mason. According to Benevides, they became a couple around 1960. Benevides gave up acting in 1963 and later became a production consultant for 21 of the Perry Mason TV movies. Together they owned and operated an orchid business and then a vineyard, in the Dry Creek Valley.
In addition to acting, Burr owned an orchid business and had begun to grow a vineyard. He was a collector of wines and art, and was very fond of cooking. He was also a dedicated seashell collector whose financial support and gift of cowries and cones from Fiji helped to create the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida.
After Burr's death from cancer in 1993, his personal life came into question as details of his known biography appeared to be unverifiable.
In 1996, Raymond Burr was ranked #44 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
Burr married actress Isabella ("Bella") Ward on January 10, 1949. They lived together for less than a year and divorced after four years. Neither remarried. At various times in his career, Burr or his managers offered biographical details that appear spurious or unverifiable. These include marriage to Scottish actress Annette Sutherland, supposedly killed in the same plane crash as Leslie Howard. A son, Michael Evan, was said to have resulted from another disputed possible marriage to Laura Andrina Morgan. Burr's account provided the only evidence of the boy's existence and death from leukemia at age 10. As late as 1991, Burr told Parade magazine that when he realized his son was dying, he took him on a one-year tour of the United States. He said, "Before my boy left, before his time was gone, I wanted him to see the beauty of his country and its people." His publicist knew that Burr worked in Hollywood throughout the year he said he was touring with his son. As with Burr's claims to have served in the U.S. military, many of these fictions were believed and widely reported.
In the late 1950s, Burr was rumored to be romantically involved with Natalie Wood. Wood's agent sent her on public dates so she could be noticed by directors and producers and so that the actors could present themselves in public as heterosexuals. The dates also helped to disguise Wood's intimate relationship with Robert Wagner, whom she later married. Burr felt enough attraction to Wood to resent Warner Bros.' decision to promote her attachment to Tab Hunter instead. Robert Benevides later said: "He was a little bitter about it. He was really in love with her, I guess."
Later accounts of Burr's life explain that he hid his homosexuality to protect his career. In 2000, AP reporter Bob Thomas recalled the situation:
It was an open secret...that he was gay. He had a companion who was with him all the time. That was a time in Hollywood history when homosexuality was not countenanced. Ray was not a romantic star by any means, but he was a very popular figure...if it was revealed at that time in Hollywood history [that he was gay] it would have been very difficult for him to continue.Art Marks, a producer of Perry Mason, recalled Burr's talk of wives and children: "I know he was just putting on a show....That was my gut feeling. I think the wives and the loving women, the Natalie Wood thing, were a bit of a cover." In 2006, Dean Hargrove, who worked on Perry Mason Returns, said: "I had always assumed that Raymond was gay, because he had a relationship with Robert Benevides for a very long time. Whether or not he had relationships with women, I had no idea. I did know that I had trouble keeping track of whether he was married or not in these stories. Raymond had the ability to mythologize himself, to some extent, and some of his stories about his past...tended to grow as time went by."
A 2007 memoir by actor Paul Picerni described several experiences with Burr on the set of Mara Maru, when he felt Burr expressed sexual interest in him. He wrote, "I saw him staring at me. With his big blue eyes. And with this strange expression on his face. For the first time in my life, I felt like a DAME. Then it hit me: He'd been giving me all this bullshit about his wife and his two kids in London, when in fact he was gay, and he was makin' a move on me!" He remembered Burr "was a great guy and very subtle in his homosexuality."
During the filming of his last Perry Mason movie in the spring of 1993, Raymond Burr fell ill. A Viacom spokesperson told the media that the illness might be related to the malignant kidney that Burr had removed that February. It was determined that the cancer had spread to his liver and was at that point inoperable. Burr threw several "goodbye parties" before his death on September 12, 1993, at his Sonoma County, California, ranch near Healdsburg. He was 76 years old.
Burr was interred with his parents at Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. On October 1, 1993, a gathering of about 600 family members and friends of Burr mourned him at a memorial service at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California. The private memorial was attended by Robert Benevides, Barbara Hale, Don Galloway, Don Mitchell, Barbara Anderson, Elizabeth Baur, Dean Hargrove, William R. Moses, and Christian I. Nyby II.
R. William Ide III, president of the American Bar Association, paid tribute to the way Burr's Perry Mason presented lawyers "in a professional and dignified manner" and helped "to educate many people who previously had not had access to the justice system." Though lawyers once complained of the character's implausibly perfect track record, Ide complimented Burr because he "strove for such authenticity in his courtroom characterizations that we regard his passing as though we lost one of our own." The New York Times added that Mason "made the presumption of innocence real... [and] also made lawyers look good. Not long before Burr died, Mason was named second after F. Lee Bailey in a poll that asked Americans to name the attorney, fictional or not, they most admired.
Because Burr had not revealed his homosexuality during his lifetime, initial press accounts gave it sensational treatment. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that People magazine was preparing a story on Burr's "secret life" and asked, "Are the inevitable rumors true?" Burr's Ironside co-star, Don Galloway, when asked about Burr's sexual orientation, told People, "I don't know. I never discussed with Raymond his sexuality." The Sunday Mail invented a feminine Burr "wearing a pink frilly apron and doing the ironing. He fussed around like the woman of the house."
Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr by Michael Seth Starr
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books (September 1, 2009)
Amazon: Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr
Now in paperback, the complete story of the actor's career, including his secret gay life. Raymond Burr (1917-1993) was an enigma. A film noir regular known for his villainous roles in movies like Rear Window, he eventually became one of the most popular stars in television history as the lead actor on two top-rated dramas, Perry Mason and Ironside, which between them ran virtually uninterrupted for 20 years. But Raymond Burr was leading a secret gay life at a time in Hollywood when exposure would have been career suicide. To protect his secret, Burr fabricated a tragic past for himself as a grieving husband and father. He claimed to have been twice widowed - he said his first wife had died in a plane crash, and his second marriage had ended with his wife's early death from cancer. And there was also a dead son - 10-year-old Michael, who lost his battle with leukemia. Neither of the wives nor Michael ever existed. But that didn't stop these lies from being perpetuated again and again, even in Burr's New York Times obituary. Hiding in Plain Sight examines the totality of Raymond Burr's career and his personal life, including his 35 years with partner Robert Benevides. The author interviewed over 30 people who knew or worked with Burr, including Angela Lansbury, Barbara Hale, Robert Wagner, Gale Storm, and more.
More Real Life Romances at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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