November 05, 2021
Despite having worked in the world of cinema for sixty years, interpreting as many films, Raymond Burr has inextricably linked his name with that of the television personality which made him famous, the lawyer Perry Mason.
His private life, on the other hand, was a completely different story. The stories he told became the greatest monument to 'mythomania' in the history of Hollywood.
He was a man who used his stories to reinvent himself and be accepted in Hollywood. From claims of having married twice to losing a son, no one knew Richard Burr was gay.
Raymond Burr outside the Royal Courts of Justice during a promotional tour for 'Perry Mason' in London in 1961 | Photo: Radio Times via Getty Images
THE LIFE OF RICHARD BURR
In private life, Burr has been described as the most reserved of men. His official biography stated that he was married three times and had a child, but it is unclear how much truth there is to the story.
According to various accounts, Burr's first wife was Annette Sutherland, an English actress he married in 1941. They had met while he was touring Britain in the early 40s.
Sutherland, by his accounts, died in the same 1943 plane crash in which actor Leslie Howard died. The plane, en route from Lisbon to London, was shot down by the Germans over the Bay of Biscay.
Portrait of Raymond Burr circa 1947 | Photo: Getty Images
The story about Sutherland's death seemed quite false, as there were only three adult women on that flight's passenger list, and Annette Sutherland was not one of them.
Burr also mentioned that he and Sutherland adopted a son, Michael Evan Burr, who is said to have died of leukemia at the age of ten in 1953.
In a rare public commentary on his personal life, Burr said he took the time to tour the United States with their son in the last years of the boy's life.
Raymond Burr as Perry Mason on location for the "Perry Mason" show on August 3, 1962 | Photo: Getty Images
He had wanted the boy to see the beauty of the country and its people. But Burr was already a well-known actor at that time, and such news would surely have reached the press.
Instead, there has been no trace, no photos or anything, of the birth, existence, and death of that boy. Besides, many of the colleagues who worked with Burr doubted the story.
This story was disputed because between 1952 to 1953, he filmed eight movies and seven TV episodes and would not have had time to take a year off.
Portrait of Raymond Burr for the "Perry Mason" series on January 1, 1957, in Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images
Burr's only marriage that was documented took place on January 10, 1948, with Isabella Ward. They had first met in 1943 at the Pasadena Playhouse where Burr taught.
They met again in 1947 and got married the following year. However, their union lasted only a few months, after which they were divorced in 1952, and neither of them remarried.
Ward was also known to have disputed the story of Burr having had a first wife because he would have told her. She also said he had no son, but it wasn't in her place to say anything about it.
Raymond Burr poses for an exclusive photo session at his home in Hollywood, California on March 11, 1977 | Photo: Getty Images
Burr later revealed that he was married for a third time to Laura Andrina Morgan in 1953, but she died of cancer in 1955. He said he knew she was dying and agreed to marry her because she wanted to be married.
Despite the fictional biography and occasional efforts to portray Burr romantically linked to a few actresses, including Natalie Wood, insiders were aware of his homosexuality.
When a reporter asked Wood about her sexual relationship with Burr in 1966, she laughed it off. She had said that the publicists made that up to protect him.
Natalie Wood and Raymond Burr at the premiere of "A Cry in the Night" in Los Angeles on August 17, 1956 | Photo: Getty Images
Even though she loved him dearly, and they were close friends, she believed that they could never have been lovers in a million years. However, Burr had said the affair was ended by studio chiefs who didn't want them to be together.
Those aware of his sexuality kept the news hidden from the general public as this could have affected his career and made him lose roles as a leading man.
Nonetheless, Burr, never delving into the matter, still hinted at his wives and dead son in interviews dating back to his early years. He did not want to alter his public image, even though he no longer had to invent new relationships or deceased children.
Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale and other "Perry Mason" stars at an award event, circa 1958 | Photo: Getty Images
BURR'S REAL PARTNER
Besides having been married once, in 1960, his life changed when he met Robert Benevides. They met while on the "Perry Mason" set and were inseparable for the next 33 years before Burr's death.
Three years after they met, Benevides, who was pursuing a performing career, was encouraged by Burr to go into production, and that was what changed Benevides's career path.
Burr and Benevides, who was also Korean War veteran, later became business partners. They both shared a love for travel and philanthropy, which they explored together.
Photo of Robert Benevides on the set of "O.B.I.T" on November 4, 1963 | Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images
Benevides was credited as a production consultant on the "Perry Mason" film in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, with their love for orchids, they started the 'Sea God Nurseries.'
They also went into the winery business and began a vineyard in California's Dry Creek Valley. Sadly, Burr, who passed away in 1993, never got to taste the winery's wine.
Being a passion project for Burr, Benevides named it Raymond Burr Vineyards, and each bottle of wine produced is said to be a heartfelt tribute to Burr.
Raymond Burr as wheelchair-bound San Francisco detective, Robert Ironside in the 'Ironside' television series, circa 1970 | Photo: Getty Images
He knew that Burr never wanted the winery named after him because they had talked about it, but this was a way for Benevides to keep his name alive.
The vineyard's wine club is never without a busy moment. They host regular events from casual barbecues and tastings to wine cruises and even the celebration of Burr's birthday each year.
After Burr was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1993, he threw a lavish party to say goodbye to his closest friends. At 76, Burr died on September 12, 1993.
Raymond Burr during the filming of the TV series "Perry Mason" on December 8, 1989 | Photo: Getty Images
After his death, Burr left his entire estate to his life partner, Benevides, and left nothing for his family. The children of his late brother contested the will.
They had accused Benevides of having plagiarized and taken advantage of Burr when he was weak. However, they did not win their case.