Friday, January 27, 2017

Obituary: Barbara Hale

When it rains, it pours when it comes to deaths of people in show business. For the third consecutive day, a person prominent in television has passed away. Barbara Hale, the last surviving regular cast member of the classic courtroom/murder drama Perry Mason, has died. She was 94 years old.

As the article notes, she was part of an acting family. Her longtime husband, Bill Williams, who died in 1992 and who she said she avidly pursued as a young woman until she got him to marry her, was an actor. He was seen in many roles, including several Perry Mason episodes. Her son William Katt is also an actor. Barbara Hale, which is her real name, went to school in Illinois and later became a model. It wasn't long before movie studios took notice of her looks, and she was signed by RKO in the 1940s.

Perhaps the best known movie--to me--she did during that time was her role as Al Jolson's last wife in the biopic sequel Jolson Sings Again. She played the Erle Galbraith role although I don't think her character was named after her. I haven't seen my DVD in a few years, so I will have to brush up.

But it was her role as dependable secretary Della Street in the Perry Mason series that she is best remembered. She also played the role in the movie sequels, even after co-stars William Talman and William Hopper had died in 1968 and 1970, respectively. Those television movies were quite popular and kept her busy long after most actresses would have retired.

I just recently finished purchasing and watching the DVD set of Perry Mason. It still holds up great fifty years after it ended production.


Ms. Hale wed Bill Williams, whose real name was Herman Katt, in 1946. He died in 1992. Besides their son, of Woodland Hills, Calif., survivors include two daughters, Johanna Katt and Juanita King, both of Van Nuys, Calif.; two half-brothers; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In 1993, Ms. Hale told the Chicago Tribune that playing Della Street for so long was appealing for many reasons — among them, the character did not threaten to throw off her family life when she was a young mother.

“When we started, it was the beginning of women not working at home,” she said. “I liked that she was not married. My husband didn’t have to see me every week married to another man, and our children didn’t have to see me mothering other children.

“When [my son] Billy was in the first grade, we went to school for the first parent meeting, and on his desk were little projects he’d made — pictures of Daddy and Mommy and his sister and his animals. And underneath my picture . . . he’d written in inch-high block letters, ‘This is my mom. I love her. She is a secretary.’ ”

In this 2014, one of several parts, she talks about Perry Mason:

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