Perry Mason’s Secretary, actress Barbara Hale, Has Died at Age 94

Reading the life story of actress Barbara Hale you leave with an impression of a woman easy to get along with, a woman concerned about her family, and a woman with values.

For years, Americans invited her into their homes every week. In those days, likability was important. She had one husband and never remarried after his death over 20 years ago. She also had three children. This isn’t your typical Hollywood story.

Like me, she’s Scots-Irish. Maybe that’s why I liked her so much.

Chicago Tribune

Barbara Hale, best known for her Emmy Award-winning role as Perry Mason’s loyal secretary Della Street on the long-running 1950s and ’60s TV series starring Raymond Burr, has died. She was 94.

Hale died Thursday, according to her son, actor William Katt, who posted the news on his Facebook page. Katt’s agent, Jacqueline Sander, said Hale died at home, at peace with her family and friends.

“We’ve all been so lucky to have her for so long. She was gracious and kind and silly and always fun to be with …,” Katt wrote on Facebook. “We’re all a little lost without her but we have extraordinary stories and memories to take with us for the rest of our lives.”

Based on characters in author Erle Stanley Gardner’s popular mystery series, the hourlong “Perry Mason,” about a crime-solving defense attorney, ran for nine seasons on CBS, from 1957 to 1966.

Hale viewed the devoted Della as “a woman who knew what everybody was thinking.”

“She was informed and very observant of everything that went on,” Hale said of the character in a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “That was my challenge as an actress — to be a necessary part of the office without being too aggressive.

“Della was quietly overpowering: She knew when to speak and when to keep her mouth closed.”

Hale was a former RKO and Columbia Pictures contract player with a string of movies and TV dramatic anthology series appearances behind her when producer Gail Patrick Jackson offered her the role of Della.

The onetime Chicago fashion model, who was married to actor Bill Williams (TV’s Kit Carson) and had young children at home, wasn’t interested in working full time on a weekly TV series. But at Jackson’s urging, she agreed to read the pilot script.

“I called back after reading it and said: ‘Good luck, dear,’ ” Hale recalled in a 1993 interview with the Los Angeles Times, saying she didn’t think an actor could sustain Mason’s lengthy courtroom monologues on a weekly basis.

But when Jackson told her that Gardner had chosen Burr to play Mason, Hale said she thought they had an actor who could pull it off.

He’s so professional and so fine and looks great for the part. Well, I think he’s just a marvelous choice,” Hale recalled telling Jackson. “She said, ‘Now, Barbara. You must do it.’ ”

After discussing the offer with her husband and obtaining a promise from Jackson that CBS was only going to shoot 18 episodes, Hale agreed to play the part. The series she thought would never go beyond 18 episodes earned her the Emmy Award in 1959 and another Emmy nomination in 1961.

She learned early on that her portrayal of Della also had made an impression at home.

“When [my son] Billy was in the first grade, we went to school for the first parent meeting, and on his desk were little projects he’d made — pictures of Daddy and Mommy and his sister and his animals,” she recalled in the 1993 Chicago Tribune interview.

“And underneath my picture … he’d written in inch-high block letters, ‘This is my mom. I love her. She is a secretary.’ ”

Billy went on to become actor William Katt, which also was his father’s real name.

After “Perry Mason” went off the air in 1966, Hale served as a commercial spokeswoman for the Amana Corp., played Dean Martin’s wife in the movie “Airport” and made TV guest appearances.

9 thoughts on “Perry Mason’s Secretary, actress Barbara Hale, Has Died at Age 94

  1. I am not especially moved by celebrity deaths but I do feel some sadness on the passing of Barbara Hale. I loved her as Perry Mason’s faithful secretary so much that I named one of my dogs Della, after Barbara Hale’s Della Street character. Nice to know she was a fine woman in real life. I am going to pull out my Perry Mason DVD sets and watch a few episodes tonight.

  2. In a prior post (either Mannix or MTMoore) you said celebrity deaths come in threes, & you wondered who was next. Looks like it was Barbara Hale. 😦

    I’m too sleepy to write anything significant, but loved most all old time TV, watched Mannix, Dick Van Dyke, Perry Mason, all the old doctor shows, etc. TV was a big part of life in those much younger years!

    Amazing Hale was 94, Mannix was 91. Poor Mary died much younger at 80. I think people born BEFORE WW2 had better genes or something. Those of us born after WW2 will probably never make it to our 90s.

    • Yep, death comes in threes in Hollywood. But Mary didn’t exactly die young you know. I think around 80 is the average lifespan. Angela Lansbury may be the next to go. She’s way up there in age now. Sad to see all the old great ones go.

      • Angela’s daughter, Didi, was Charles Manson’s lover. But regarding Mizz Hale and the Perry Mason show: great post-noir framing and shooting. The first 3 seasons in particular were incredibly made. I loved the settings and urban backdrops. Top production value, despite its later repetitiveness. Visually speaking, probably the best legal themed show that ever aired on American TV.

  3. Perhaps our generation (WWII) is living longer because food and produce were freshly prepared , not processed or shipped around the globe. We had Victory Gardens in most backyards and ran and played outdoors for exercise. Works for us😊🤗👌🏻

    • Maybe TV above all is to blame. In Australia TV did not start until 1956. Sitting on ones arse increased after that. With radio, folks could move and still listen and perhaps turning off was not so hard. TV is hypnotizing, the name “idiot box” is accurate.

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