Raymond Burr said finding time was his biggest problem in the '50s

With a lot of success comes very little time to enjoy it. Burr was one busy man who put all of his time into Perry Mason.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Many of us have a variety of interests and hobbies that we wish we could dedicate all of our time and energy to. However, full-time jobs, children, dating, friends and other life events can get in the way. For Raymond Burr, time was always counting down.

Burr probably watched the clock more times during his run on Perry Mason (1957) than he did on any other project. Time was of the essence for him on a daily basis while working on the series. When the towering actor decided to jump head first into television, many people had their doubts and warnings about the state of TV.

According to a 1958 interview with the Clarion-Ledger, many people told him that acting was a business and "to the hell with art." Burr took their advice and started to approach acting with a business mentality. His approach paid off. Perry Mason gathered a lot of success and even sparked a remake in 2020 under the same name. 

Of course, the approach also left Burr with too much to do and very little time to get it done. Burr said he would do as much work as most actors did in one year each month. 

According to the interview, season two started with 17 episodes already filmed, but Burr would have to work overtime in order to finish the rest of the season on time.

"It's just impossible for one man to shoot an hour-long show week after week," Burr said. "Next season I am hoping we'll only make 26."

Season two had a total of 30 episodes — way too many for one person to handle. According to the interview, Perry Mason would shoot six days a week. Burr also spent most of his week nights in his dressing room at the 20th Century Fox lot where he would either catch up on work, or avoid the 50 mile trek in traffic back home.

"I find that I have to budget my time more carefully than ever before," Burr said. "After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, and if anything is important now, it's time."

Part of his business approach to Hollywood involved going on tour and meeting people face-to-face. Many of those people were ones whose job included appraising Perry Mason in publications.

"I feel it's important to know critics and make an in-person evaluation of them," Burr said. "Quite frankly, I can name 20 critics whose opinions mean nothing to me. I don't care a hoot what they say about me or the show."

"On the other hand, I can name 18 or 20 others whose opinions are important to me," Burr continued. "Whatever they say, I pay attention. If they say a show is good, I go along with them. If they say it isn't, I start checking into the show to see what's wrong."

Perry Mason opened season two as the nation's 64th ranked show on television. The series continued to rise in popularity as the season went on. So, with an already successful show on-air, why did Burr push himself so hard and leave little time to recover?

"With all that is going on today, with all the opportunities that are available, a person should be pretty darned sure that when he kicks off he leaves this world a better place — or at least not a worse one," Burr said.

He's a man whose almost punishing work schedule and ethic grabbed the attention of co-stars, producers and fellow actors. They both admired him and were puzzled by him. His lack of time inspired him to make the best of the time he did have.

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8 Comments

frances3agape 2 months ago
Burr was brilliant, a good actor and, from what I've read, a fine person.
Mom loved Burr and PM, having all but a couple of Gardner's books.
Having only seen Burr's PM, I was surprised when learning that there had been both an old radio program and several movies in the 1930s. And HBO has a retro PM series.
But, I can't bear to watch because in my mind Burr is THE Mason
cperrynaples 2 months ago
Burr was pretty busy in the '50's BEFORE PM! He was in Rear Window, You're Never Too Young with Martin & Lewis, A Place In The Sun, and of course the American edit of Godzilla where he played a "wild and crazy guy"...LOL!
justjeff cperrynaples 2 months ago
An unidentified commentor on Amazon rated a 3 disc collection of Burr's radio appearances as five stars, and wrote the following...

"You will hear Raymond Burr in these shows: CBS Radio Workshop, Dr Kildare, Dragnet, Escape, Family Theater, Fort Laramie, Lineup, Lux Radio Theater, Michael Shayne, Nightbeat, Pat Novak for Hire, Presenting Charles Boyer, Railroad Hour, Richard Diamond, Rocky Fortune, Romance, Screen Directors Playhouse, Suspense,The Silent Men, The Whistler, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Burr appeared in over 60 movies between 1946 and 1957. In 1976 Richard Schickel cited his performance in Pitfall (1948) as a prototype of film noir in contrast with the appealing television characters for which Burr later became famous. He received favorable notice for his role as an aggressive prosecutor in A Place in the Sun (1951), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Shelly Winters. Perhaps his best-known film role of the period was that of a suspected murderer in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window (1954), starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Burr emerged as a prolific television character actor in the early to mid-1950s. He made his television debut on the April 24, 1952 episode "The Tiger" of Gruen Playhouse on the DuMont TV network. (At about the same time, Burr guest-starred on an episode of The Amazing Mr. Malone on ABC.) This part led to other roles in such programs as Dragnet, Chesterfield Sound Off Time, Four Star Playhouse, Mr. & Mrs. North, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, The Ford Television Theatre, and Lux Radio Theatre. During this time Burr's distinctive voice also could be heard on network radio, appearing alongside Jack Webb in the short-lived Pat Novak for Hire on ABC radio, as well as in early episodes of NBC's Dragnet. He also made guest appearances on other Los Angeles-based shows, such as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and landed a starring role in CBS's Fort Laramie (1956), which depicted 19th-century life at old Fort Laramie. One year later, Burr became a television star as Perry Mason."
cperrynaples justjeff 2 months ago
Yep, forgot his radio work! Fun Fact: Burr did the pilot of TV Dragnet on CSOT, but not the series! And yes Chesterfield cigarettes sponsored '50's Dragnet!
Runeshaper 2 months ago
"...a person should be pretty darned sure that when he kicks off he leaves this world a better place — or at least not a worse one..." Love this! :)
cperrynaples Runeshaper 2 months ago
Obviously Donald T***p wouldn't understand that quote...LOL! Yep, you can't spell HIS name on this page again! But yeah after the "blood poisoning" statement, I understand...LOL!
Andybandit 2 months ago
That is why PM is a good show. RB put his heart and soul in his show.
McGillahooala 2 months ago
Perry Mason is a great show. The music, the acting, the stories; all great.
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