A Perry Mason executive producer wanted Raymond Burr to play Hamilton Burger
Burr turned heads on the set of Perry Mason instantly, even when portraying his eventual fictional opponent, Hamilton Burger.
For any Perry Mason fan, it must be very difficult to think of anyone other than Raymond Burr as the impeccable Los Angeles defense attorney. When the series was being planned, executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson, who broke barriers and fought for the creation of Perry Mason, had another role in mind for the eventual star of the series.
According to a 1962 Liverpool Echo newspaper article, "Gail Patrick Jackson wanted actor Raymond Burr for the part of Hamilton Burger (the prosecutor who loses his case regularly to Mason...)."
Though he insisted on playing the part of Mason, Burr agreed to test with the Burger role. "Test after test was made as the search for the right man went on, with Burr generally playing the role of Hamilton Burger for each new actor who tried his skill as Perry Mason."
The long monologues and quick responses were something that became a staple of the drama series. As the search for the right Perry Mason continued, producers realized there was only one man for the job, and he was already standing out on a regular basis.
"One by one, the actors were completely dominated and overshadowed by the performance which Burr gave as the prosecutor," the article stated.
Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the famed character, agreed Burr was a clear-cut choice. When watching the several renditions Burr made as Hamilton Burger, Gardner flatly stated, "That's our Perry Mason!" Eventually, Gail Patrick Jackson agreed.
"With that decision reached, Raymond took over and he has let nothing interfere with his efforts to portray Mason on the television screen," Jackson said.
William Talman landed the role of Burger, and portrayed the character in 255 of the 271 episodes of Perry Mason. Hamilton Burger, the original name from the Perry Mason stories created by Erie Stanley Gardner, was set to be changed in the early stages of the TV show, but Gail Patrick Jackson stepped in and put an end to that rather quickly.
Today, it's impossible to see anyone other than Raymond Burr play Perry Mason. Perhaps the only exceptions are the actors who filled in for Burr when he was dealing with medical issues, even those episodes weren't the same. Even when the decision on who would play Mason was being made, it was a hard argument to make for anyone other than the man who eventually became forever associated with the LA lawyer.
"A more demanding role for a continuing series has never been written," continued Patrick. "I think it might not have been possible to accomplish what we have done with anybody other than Ray."