A Perry Mason executive producer wanted Raymond Burr to play Hamilton Burger

Burr turned heads on the set of Perry Mason instantly, even when portraying his eventual fictional opponent, Hamilton Burger.

For any Perry Mason fan, it must be very difficult to think of anyone other than Raymond Burr as the impeccable Los Angeles defense attorney. When the series was being planned, executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson, who broke barriers and fought for the creation of Perry Mason, had another role in mind for the eventual star of the series. 

According to a 1962 Liverpool Echo newspaper article, "Gail Patrick Jackson wanted actor Raymond Burr for the part of Hamilton Burger (the prosecutor who loses his case regularly to Mason...)." 

Though he insisted on playing the part of Mason, Burr agreed to test with the Burger role. "Test after test was made as the search for the right man went on, with Burr generally playing the role of Hamilton Burger for each new actor who tried his skill as Perry Mason." 

The long monologues and quick responses were something that became a staple of the drama series. As the search for the right Perry Mason continued, producers realized there was only one man for the job, and he was already standing out on a regular basis.

"One by one, the actors were completely dominated and overshadowed by the performance which Burr gave as the prosecutor," the article stated.

Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the famed character, agreed Burr was a clear-cut choice. When watching the several renditions Burr made as Hamilton Burger, Gardner flatly stated, "That's our Perry Mason!" Eventually, Gail Patrick Jackson agreed. 

"With that decision reached, Raymond took over and he has let nothing interfere with his efforts to portray Mason on the television screen," Jackson said. 

William Talman landed the role of Burger, and portrayed the character in 255 of the 271 episodes of Perry Mason. Hamilton Burger, the original name from the Perry Mason stories created by Erie Stanley Gardner, was set to be changed in the early stages of the TV show, but Gail Patrick Jackson stepped in and put an end to that rather quickly

Today, it's impossible to see anyone other than Raymond Burr play Perry Mason. Perhaps the only exceptions are the actors who filled in for Burr when he was dealing with medical issues, even those episodes weren't the same. Even when the decision on who would play Mason was being made, it was a hard argument to make for anyone other than the man who eventually became forever associated with the LA lawyer. 

"A more demanding role for a continuing series has never been written," continued Patrick. "I think it might not have been possible to accomplish what we have done with anybody other than Ray." 

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21 Comments

JohnGrant 11 months ago
Did Burger ever win a case? In reality, someone like him would be fired.
Moverfan JohnGrant 7 months ago
Is the district attorney appointed or elected in LA County? I agree you have to wonder how he kept the job either way, especially if he had such a lousy record with every other lawyer in town.
CaptainDunsel 12 months ago
For anyone interested in seeing the screentests (or at ;east a healthy sampling) just spin on over to YouTube. A search for "Perry Mason Screen Test" will bring up a whole passel of entries.

Here's a good one collection. About 20 minutes introduced by Barbara Hale.
KJExpress CaptainDunsel 12 months ago
Cool. Thanks!
Avie 12 months ago
"Test after test was made as the search for the right man went on, with Burr generally playing the role of Hamilton Burger for each new actor who tried his skill as Perry Mason."

Thev whole above article is kind of pointless WITHOUT A LIST OF ALL THE ACTORS WHO SCREEN TESTED FOR PERRY MASON opposite Burr. THAT would be fascinating but, apparently, the unnamed author of the piece didn't think it important enough to include.
sistervic 12 months ago
I miss Perry Mason on Sunday. I been watching the show since the 50s, I love the show, it's family oriented.
jlr0926 12 months ago
It's hard to see anyone other than Burr as PM....he was just so good in the role. While I really enjoy the new HBO production, the lead is a bit miscast. You hear the name Perry Mason and you see Burr in your mind's eye. Same thing with Columbo. Actors who were so good, the actor and the character are 1 in the same.
Avie jlr0926 12 months ago
As I wrote above, without seeing the list of all the actors who screen tested for the role of Perry we can't know if any of them might have been as good or better a match for the part as Burr.
forthekids 12 months ago
I'm glad that Ray Burr got to play"Perry Mason"on tv..I couldn't see him play"D.A. Hamilton Burger"nor..could I see anyone else play"Perry".
SteveMcnary 12 months ago
Ironically, both Raymond Burr & William Talman played creepy, violent criminals in several film noir movies. Burr was especially creepy but, that's what made him a great actor.
jlr0926 SteveMcnary 12 months ago
Hitchcock's Rear Window....Burr was truly creepy
Muleskinner 12 months ago
Never miss a PM episode on MeTV.
OldSkool56 12 months ago
Raymond Burr makes the best Perry Mason.
MrsPhilHarris 12 months ago
One of my favourite shows. I would love, love, love it to air at 7 or 8 in the evening. ⚖️
JHP MrsPhilHarris 12 months ago
me too for sure:)
Andybandit 12 months ago
I am glad that Raymond Barr played Perry Mason and he didn't Hamilton Burger.
justjeff 12 months ago
Fun fact: Erle Stanley Gardner copped the name "Perry Mason" from a favorite "boys magazine" he enjoyed in his youth. Perry Mason was the name of the magazine's editor...
Runeshaper 12 months ago
Raymond Burr = Perry Mason. He was definitely the best actor to play that part.
Pacificsun 12 months ago
Am fascinated by the conservative approach Raymond Burr took for his role in bringing Perry Mason alive. While a little more animated (reactive) in the beginning he settled down to an extremely consistent portrayal. So subtle in his emotional reactions, gets to a point of wondering if he'll ever display something more telling! Perhaps RB imagined the long-term potential of the Series, and was not only mindful of his own energy-level. But knowing there was already enough going on during each episode, he just needed to be the stable centerpiece. The PM Series is one I can watch repeatedly through the cycle, because there is always something more to be appreciated.

MeTV Staff writers, thank you for the Perry Mason backstories, always appreciated!
jlr0926 Pacificsun 12 months ago
I've been watching a lot of PM lately and noticed this difference in Season 1 vs. later seasons. PM seems jumpy/nervous almost in some of the early episodes. There's a tension in the portrayal that you don't see in later episodes where he is just so smooth, calm and collected (which is how I think PM should be played)
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