won't step into the courtroom next season
unless a few matters are settled
As this TV Guide goes to press, a mystery surrounds the Perry Mason Show on the CBS network.
It revolves around two questions: (1) Will Raymond Burr return as Perry Mason in the 1961-'62 season, as CBS and the owners of the show insist that he will? and (2) will harmony be restored to the once-happy Perry Mason family of production staff and performers?
There has been friction between Raymond Burr and his producer, the pretty former actress Gail Patrick Jackson, for some time--although each has taken pains to keep it in the family. Mrs. Jackson has never admitted it. Burr has admitted it only to close friends.
Early in May, burr's agent Lester Salkow quietly informed CBS that his client would not return for the 1961-'62 season, which would be the show's fifth on the air. The news leaked, finally, in the third week of May.
No reasons were given in the news breaks. Speculation began. Burr was demanding more money, some said. Burr was demanding part ownership of the show, others said. Perry Mason is owned jointly by CBS and by Paisano Productions, a company made up of Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the character; Mrs. Jackson; and her husband Cornwell, Gardner's former literary agent.
There were other rumors. Burr was too sick to go on, one said. The role is one of the most taxing in television, and during the season just past Burr was in the hospital for one stretch of three weeks and another of four.
Actually, he is now completely recovered. "I've never felt better in my life," he told TV Guide last week.
CBS was saying nothing. FCC Chairman Minow, in his opening philippic against the networks, overlooked one thing that all networks are good at, it is saying nothing when everyone is hoping to hear something.
On May 19, TV Guide reporters called Burr. He was in the Midwest on a series of personal appearances, but his assistant William Swan confirmed the reports.
"Ray has stated flatly that he will not be on the show next season," Swan said. "He leaves June 10 for Australia, where the show is going on the TV. He will come home through Europe. After that he hopes to devote his time to his principal concern--using television to work for world peace."
Gail Jackson, reached at her home, was up and around for the first time since a recurrence of a virus infection had put her into the hospital in New York while she was vacationing there three weeks previously. The whole things was a complete surprise to her, she said. She said that Burr had sent her roses on her first day back to work at the studio after her illness, and that as far as she was concerned, everything between them was just what the flowers implied.
"I thought Ray was as happy with us as we were with him," she said. "After all, he wanted the part desperately. He lost weight to get it, and we were very happy to give him a showcase for his great talent.
"If he's unhappy with us, I'm extremely sorry. But we start the Perry Mason show for the next season on July 13--and I hope it's with Ray. Everybody else's contract's been picked up."
One CBS spokesman declared that Burr had signed. Another said he had not.
Burr, back in Hollywood after his Midwest jaunt, said he had not signed.
"I've informed them that I will not do the show next season," he said. "I don't want more money. I don't want part ownership. I don't want to produce or direct. All I want is what I've been asking for since the first six months of the show. Mrs. Jackson knows that. CBS has been trying to see Mrs. Jackson and has not been able to."
Burr's demands are simple--in his mind, at least. He wants some of the enormous burden of carrying the show all but single handedly taken off his broad shoulders. He wants better-written and more intelligent scripts. He wants some control over stories in which he must appear.
This issue may be settled by the time this magazine is in it readers' hands. No actor is indispensable, but Burr, winner of two Emmy Awards and innumerable others (including last year's TV Guide Award) has become perhaps the most popular actor in any dramatic series on television. It is hard to think of another actor filling his shoes as Perry Mason.