Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Barbara Hale

Quick: Name the bombshell of an actress who played a nightclub singer in a film noir and treated the audience to Put the Blame on Mame. No. We're not talking about Rita Hayworth in Gilda. The answer is today's birthday girl Barbara Hale pictured above in 1955s The Houston Story co-starring Gene Barry and Edward Arnold.

Barbara was born April 18, 1922 in DeKalb, Illinois. The art student turned to modeling as a money-making career and was signed by RKO Studios. Barbara was featured and starred in several pictures including two entertaining Falcon with Tom Conway, The Falcon Out West and The Falcon in Hollywood, Higher and Higher with Frank Sinatra, Jolson Sings Again with Larry Parks, The Jackpot with Jimmy Stewart, The Window with Bobby Driscoll and Arthur Kennedy, The Far Horizon with Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston, Unchained and Lorna Doone.

In 1946 Barbara married fellow RKO contractee Bill Williams. TV's Kit Carson can be seen in movies such as Son of Paleface, The Stratton Story, The Cariboo Trail, and The Body Snatcher. Yes, The Body Snatcher. Look for him next time. It's not all about Karloff (see blogs in November). The marriage would last until Bill's death from cancer in 1992. Was there ever a more attractive couple? Who else can claim to have given the world The Greatest American Hero. Acting son William Katt would also work with his mother on television in the 80s in the Perry Mason TV movies.

In my child's mind, this is how I thought grown-up ladies should look. I didn't quite realize that the real world is not exactly like the movies. Roddy McDowall doesn't grow up to be Tyrone Power. However, I did own certain office attire that when my weight was managed I would head to work thinking that today I looked like Della Street.

In the 1950s Barbara devoted most of her time to her young family. On interview extras included with the Perry Mason anniversary DVD release, she mentions speaking to Gail Patrick Jackson about an idea she had for customizing costumes for dolls to be sold in specialty boutiques. Gail had other plans. As a co-executive producer for a proposed Perry Mason television series, she wanted Barbara for Della Street. Previous movie secretaries to Erle Stanley Gardner's crime-busting attorney included Claire Dodd to Warren William, June Travis to Ricardo Cortez and Ann Dvorak to Donald Woods. The pilot might not even sell. It shouldn't cut into her time too much.

The justifiably popular and famous series ran from 1957 - 1966. Barbara Hale won an Emmy as Della Street and the show gave her a best friend in her talented, prankster of a co-star Raymond Burr. She guested on an episode of Ironside and for the longest time fans contented themselves with reruns of Mason to see the dynamic duo.

In 1985 television hit a rating bonanza with Perry Mason Returns in which Della is accused of the crime of murder. Does she know a good attorney? 30 TV movies would follow in the next ten years. Do you remember The Case of the Lost Love when Jean Simmons came between Perry and Della? Well, she tried to.

I sincerely wish continued health and happiness to a lovely and inspiring woman.

Thanks to Big Dave's Barbara Hale Annex for use of the photos.


  1. So glad to have stumbled across this post completely by chance - what a lovely piece of writing about a fine actress! A pleasure to read!

  2. Thank you very much, Elizabeth, for your kind words.

  3. Sunday, April 18, 2010

    "In my child's mind this is how I thought grown-up ladies should look. I didn't quite realize that the real world is not exactly like the movies. Roddy McDowall doesn't grow up to be Tyrone Power. However, I did own certain office attire that when my weight was managed I would head to work thinking that today I looked like Della Street."

    I love that. Thanks for a great post on a swell dame.

  4. I second Jacqueline's appreciation of that particular paragraph in your excellent appreciation of Ms. Hale.

    I was a bit startled to see our working woman role model doing the blonde vamp bit at the beginning of the post, but love to see this actress' lovely, intelligent face anywhere!

    I love Barbara Hale's often pithy remarks and expressive, wordless commentary on the type of people who wandered through Perry's offices over the years.

    It's great to see you posting again.

  5. Thank you, Moira.

    My computer had a "nervous shakedown" and left me accosting folks at the bus stop who didn't want to talk classic films! We (me and computer) are better now.

  6. Glad you're back, great post!

  7. A bit late but I've just seen THE HOUSTON STORY and enjoyed your Barbara Hale post.
    It is utterly out of left field to see Barbara as a blonde playing a femme fatale and singing (dubbed ) 'Put The Blame on Mame' !!!!
    Although I just couldn't accept Barbara in this role, I have to say her 'singing' of the famous GIlda song was actually very good. It had a different arrangement and it worked fine in the nightclub setting.
    Barbara is and always will be Della Street. That role ws perfect for her.
    I never did understand why she want bigger in movies.

    Vienna's Classic Hollywood

  8. Sorry. That last sentence should have read ..."why she wasn't bigger in movies."

    1. Three years later and I see your post. My, how time flies. It is fun and a little bit startling to watch the film portion of Barbara's career. She became so embedded in our minds and hearts as Della Street.

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