Barbara Hale: Back to the Street

Just some brief notes today on a distant cousin of mine, Barbara Hale (1922-2017). (When I say “distant” I mean our common ancestor was in 17th century Virginia. My great-grandmother Lucilla was the last Hale in my direct line). Barbara Hale is best remembered today as the mother of William Katt of The Greatest American Hero, and her own role as a regular on Perry Mason (1957-66, 1985-95).

Hale was from DeKalb, Illinois and started out studying at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. As often happens when good-looking people aspire to become artists, drawing led to modeling. And modeling led to acting. She started out in the early ’40s as a bit player in movies series like the Gildersleeve and Mexican Spitfire comedies, and mysteries like The Falcon. In short order she advanced to real roles in films like West of the Pecos (1945) with Robert Mitchum, The Boy with Green Hair (1948) with Dean Stockwell, Jolson Sings Again (1949), The Window (1949) with Bobby Driscoll, Lorna Doone (1951, in the title role), A Lion is in the Streets (1953) with James Cagney, and The Oklahoman (1957) with Joel McCrea.

On Perry Mason Hale played the title character’s secretary and sidekick Della Street, essentially the co-star of the show. After the series wrapped, she guest starred on shows like Lassie, Adam-12, Marcus Welby M.D., and The Greatest American Hero, natch. She had a supporting role in the original Airport (1970), but most of her films were low budget stuff like Buckskin (1968); The Red, White and Black (1970), The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), and Big Wednesday (1978), alongside her son. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s she appeared in countless new Perry Mason tv movies alongside Raymond Burr. After Burr died in 1993, he was replaced by Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook. Hale’s last credit was A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995).