Raymond Burr was no Perry Mason when it came to real-life lawsuits

If only he had his fictional counterpart by his side!

CBS Television Distribution

One of the great tragedies of growing up is realizing just how often our suspended disbelief misleads us. Our instincts about the likelihood of a jolly, red-suited man fitting down our chimneys at Christmas? We should've listened to our gut! It never really seemed like our expression would freeze that way, so why did we believe Mom when she told us to stop making funny faces? 

Then we learn that not only is the Easter Bunny not real, but Andy Griffith isn't a sheriff, either. Captain Kirk is a guy named William, and he only technically went to space in some weird orbital mission that nearly broke the atmosphere. I Dream of Jeannie? Barbara Eden never lived inside a lamp. The Brady family wasn't a family. The castaways were never trapped on Gilligan's Island, they were just actors pretending. It's all very traumatic.

But if there was one thing on TV that seemed more real than most, it was Raymond Burr's legal acumen as Perry Mason. It's well-documented that Burr studied plenty to prepare for Mason, and that hard work is apparent in every episode. It's so easy to take for granted. He must be a lawyer, look at him!

The truth, though, was that Burr was just as susceptible to the flaws of our legal system as any of us. In the 1994 book Raymond Burr: A Film, Radio, and Television Biography, author Ona L. Hill outlines a few of Burr's personal court battles, and how his life diverged from that of his onscreen persona. 

"[Burr] did not learn the proper procedures in a Phoenix, Arizona case, when George J. Shaheen finally got around to suing him on September 6. 1962, for a $1,085 debt for food, which Raymond had owed him since 1949. His first mistake was not answering the summons within five days after receiving it on March 2, 1962. He then failed to show up for a court-ordered deposition in June 1962. Mistakenly believing the statute of limitations had expired, Raymond lost the case on a default motion and had to pay Shaheen the $1,085 plus $800 more in court costs."

The real Perry Mason could've benefitted from another year in law school. At the very least, maybe the outcome would've been different had a team of television writers devised the ending!

"Years later, he lost $95,000 in a land deal on bad advice. He turned around and tried to sue the attorneys he had trusted, and lost that case too."

Woof! It sounds like the hounds of justice were always barking at Raymond Burr's heels, and there was little he could do to replicate his fake winning record as Perry Mason!

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4 Comments

Snickers 21 days ago
Come on MeTv, Barbara Eden's genie did not live in a lamp, she lived in a bottle.
McGillahooala 1 month ago
In related news, Bela Lugosi was not partial to drinking blood.
MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
$1,085 debt for food. I wonder if it was a store or a restaurant? 🤔
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Sounds like Burr had some rough goings on.

I am really enjoying the Perry Mason articles, btw. Thanks, MeTV!

However, and I am not a stickler for typos, but I CAN understand how Burr would fail to show up for a court-ordered deposition in June "192". (-:
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