The story behind Raymond Burr's arm sling has the twists and lies of a Perry Mason mystery
Learn the real reason the star severed all the muscles in his shoulder.
Read to Me
"The Case of the Careless Kitten" is an outlier amongst the hundreds of Perry Mason mysteries for one major reason — there is not a single scene inside a courtroom. Look closer and you'll spot another curiosity in this episode. The ace attorney carries his left arm in a sling throughout the tale.
It is not the only episode in which we see Burr's arm immobilized. In fact, it is the last of four season-eight installments with an injured Perry. He wears it well, camouflaging the shadowy sling against the dark fabric of his suit.
Which leads to the question — what happened to Raymond Burr? Well, it takes the investigative skills of a Paul Drake to get to the bottom of this tall tale.
The July 24, 1965, issue of TV Guide arrived with a painting of Perry Mason on the front. "Raymond Burr: Alone on a Treadmill," the cover line declared. In the feature story, "Pleading His Own Case" by Dwight Whitney, we learned that Burr took several trips to Vietnam to entertain the troops as part of the USO. It goes on to say that during his third trip, the TV star suffered a severe shoulder injury when the helicopter transporting him came under fire.
As recently as 1997, his partner, Robert Benevides, reiterated the story, as told to the author in Jim Davidson's The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice (2014).
While the tireless workaholic certainly did travel to Vietnam to support the troops, Burr's shoulder injury has a more mundane explanation, in a more peaceful corner of the tropical Pacific.
In the notes of a phone call between Perry Mason producer Gail Patrick Jackson and character creator Erle Stanley Gardner, we learn the kernel of the truth.
"Found out what was really wrong with Burr," Patrick wrote, as quoted by Jim Davidson in his book. "…apparently he tore a bicep tendon lifting a boulder on Kawaii [sic]."
Benevides eventually fessed up and corroborated this account. "Gail Patrick Jackson had it right," he said in The Perry Mason Book. In actually, Burr was returning from one of his Vietnam visits. He flew from Saigon to Hawaii, then island-hopping over to the Coco Palms Resort on Kauai. He and Benevides went searching for shells one morning along the beach when Burr tried to upend a boulder. The action ripped all the muscles out at his shoulder and they "became bunched up down near his elbow." A doctor "stapled" the muscle back to the shoulder. Ouch.
Give credit to Burr for continuing to film throughout that undoubtedly painful injury. Even with Perry himself, the truth comes out eventually.