Fred MacMurray was nearly cast as Perry Mason

The Absent-Minded Attorney?

CBS Television Distribution

Perry Mason existed before Raymond Burr, and the character has carried on in his wake, as well. While nobody will ever be as recognizable in the courtroom, many actors have argued the case as the iconic criminal defense lawyer.

In the 1930s, Warner Bros. released six Perry Mason films, in which three different actors played the title attorney. Warren William was the first to play Mason in the series, appearing in the first four movies, The Case of the Howling Dog, The Case of the Curious Bride, The Case of the Lucky Legs, and finally The Case of the Velvet Claws. He was succeeded by actors Ricardo Cortez (in The Case of the Black Cat) and Donald Woods (in The Case of the Stuttering Bishop).

Next, Perry Mason appeared in a CBS Radio serial. There, the fictional lawyer was portrayed by several different actors before John Larkin settled into the role in 1947. While the show began as an adaptation of the Erle Stanley Gardner stories, it grew to diverge from the source material, focusing instead on action instead of courtroom drama. 

The character's continued popularity ushered Perry Mason onto the small screen, as CBS readied a new incarnation on TV. While we know that Raymond Burr would star in the title role, according to Michael Starr's 2008 biography, Burr was nowhere near the first choice. Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr lists, among the hundreds of actors who auditioned, William Holden, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., William Hopper, Richard Egan, Mike Connors, Richard Carlson, and Fred MacMurray. 

The book claims that author and creator Erle Stanley Gardner assumed CBS would choose MacMurray as the man for the job. "Apparently Fred MacMurray is the person who will probably be selected" as Perry Mason, Gardner wrote in a memo. 

However, after some convincing, Raymond Burr was allowed the chance to audition as Perry Mason. 

"In twenty minutes, you captured Perry Mason better than I did in twenty years," Gardner supposedly said to Burr after the audition.

The rest is courtroom conjecture!

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10 Comments

seltaeb 22 days ago
Raymond Burr played Cheif Thad Brown on the 1st televised episode of Dragnet titled "The Human Bomb" which aired on December 14, 1951. Also in the ending credits, he is listed as Ray Burr.
cperrynaples 26 days ago
Fun Fact: Conners subsituted for Burr in one episode and was considered as a replacement! I'll always remember how casually he threw a strike at the bowling alley in the last scene!
AgingDisgracefully 27 days ago
Just think...not only would the Not Guilty have been exonerated, but they'd also receive a case of Hunt's ketchup, The Condiment of Justice.
Bapa1 27 days ago
.........and William Demarest as Uncle Hamilton.
cperrynaples Bapa1 26 days ago
Actually, I was thinking William Frawley as Lt. Tragg!
MrsPhilHarris 28 days ago
Can not imagine Fred MacMurray as Perry Mason.
RIGHT! MacMurray only wanted limited hours and that wouldn't work for Mason!
McGillahooala 28 days ago
Glad it worked out like it did but Fred wouldn’t have been a bad choice.
Runeshaper 28 days ago
Very interesting. Burr was the right man to play Mason.
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