Raymond Burr was a Canadian born actor probably best known for his TV roles in Perry Mason and Ironsides.
In 1959 and 1961 he won Emmy Awards for his role as Perry Mason. For his role in Ironsides he was nominated for the Emmy Awards six times and for the Golden Globe Award twice.
Raymond William Stacey Burr was born in New Westminster British Columbia on May 21, 1917, His father William Johnston Burr was a hardware salesman of Irish descent and his mother Minerva was a music teacher and concern pianist. Her family was of English and Scottish descent.
Burr’s parents divorced and he moved with his mother and younger brother and sister to Vallejo California. He graduated from Berkeley High School.
Throughout his lifetime Raymond Burr invented stories about his personal life. He talked about a happy childhood, about running around as a pre-teen with a group of college kids who thought he was much older, about serving in the U.S. Navy, about being wounded in World War II, about college education at various institution of higher learning, about world tours, about excelling at high school sports, about a parade of young ladies he dated, about a son who died early from leukemia and whose mother was a Scottish actress. Most of these fantasies were accepted as truth while Burr was alive and were accepted by his first biographer.
Raymond Burr was married for a very brief period of time to Isabella Ward. They married January 10, 1949 and only lived together less than a year. They divorced after 4 years. He never married again.
Outside acting Burr had varied other interests. He cultivated orchids, collected seashells, collected wine and started a vineyard. He enjoyed cooking, fishing, flying and sailing.
In the mid-1950s Burr met a young actor on the set of Perry Mason. This young man, Robert Benevides was about a dozen years younger than Raymond Burr. The two become a couple in 1960 and were together until Raymond Burr’s death from cancer on September 12, 1993.
Raymond Burr’s homosexuality was an open secret in Hollywood. However, given the culture at that time it was covered up to protect careers. In those days the studios would arrange dates for the gay actors with starlets so the men would appear heterosexual.
Burr and Benevides jointly cultivated the orchids and turned their interest into an orchid business, Sea God Nurseries. They added over 1,500 new orchids to the catalogs. One they named the “Barbara Hale Orchid” after Perry Mason’s devoted secretary.
The two men cultivated grapes too and had a vineyard in California. After his death Benevides named the vineyard Raymond Burr Vineyard as a memorial to his friend. They also had land in Fiji where they raised cattle and orchids and copra (coconut meat). They spent a few months there each year and Burr planned this retreat as a retirement place. When medical problems prevented this plan he sold the property.
Raymond Burr gave large sums of his money to charities. He sponsored foster children with medical needs, donated to a School of Law in California, supported medical and education institutions in Denver. These are just a few examples of his generosity. He was a well-known philanthropist.
When Raymond Burr died he left his entire estate to Robert Benevides excluding his own relatives. A niece and nephew challenged the Will and were not successful. Tabloid estimates of Burr’s estate placed it at over $30 million. A spokesman for the beneficiary said this estimated amount was too high.