Grandma used to like his show, he’s partly responsible for the ever-aging demographics over at CBS (the network of Murder, She Wrote) and he was just the sort of straight-shooting man’s man no one ever suspected was into men. He kept his lover Robert Benevides on the Perry Mason payroll as a “consultant” and the two lived together for thirty-five years doing gay things like growing orchids. He told some tall tales about dead wives and screwing Natalie Wood, but old Ray basically wrote the book on keeping the open secrets of Hollywood totally secret.
The Evidence Mom Ignored
Occupation: stage and television actor; after playing Perry Mason and the similar role of Detective Robert Ironside for a total of twenty-five years, Raymond Burr was typecast as a law and order guy; basically gave birth to the formulaic crime dramas that CBS is still pooping out all these years later. 2 out of 10 gay points
Appearance: wore a lot of suits; started out clean-cut and grew a beard in his Daddy years; was once caught in a pink bathrobe by some workmen, when Burr answered the door of his Malibu home early on a Sunday morning. 3/10
Demeanor: booming voice and straight-acting; aside from the bathrobe incident, not a femme-y gesture in sight; known for his fabulous dinner parties; though a trick or two tried to go to the gossip press, Hedda Hopper was Ray’s hag and no one really suspected a thing. 1/10
Beards: claimed to have two wives, both complete fictions, as well as a child, all of whom died; once “dated” Natalie Wood, which saved him in the gossip columns for years; like many modern Hollywood ‘mos, would attend movie premieres with costars or hag pals like Hopper. At the premiere of Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born, he actually approached the press area with a female USO costar, Hopper, and a random, nervous-looking military twink named Frank Vitti who Burr introduced as “just back from Korea.” Vitti started showing up at many events with Burr, and was later referred to in the press as Burr’s “nephew” who had his own room in Burr’s Malibu pad. 6/10
Minstrelsy: Being a full-time law man and professional closet case, Burr didn’t have much time to do the game show circuit or pop up on the Tonight Show to talk about his orchids. 0/10
Total Score: 12 points – Barely Any Smoke (see scale)
He played the game better than anyone, and working with one of the tightest-knit ensembles in television and getting chummy with Hollywood gossip queen Hedda Hopper (who vowed to keep his secret and said she’d “stand up and swear anything” for him) certainly helped. Ray was also never in the kind of spotlight that movie stars like Rock Hudson were in, so we totally give Mom a pass. She could have never known.
Now, a couple clips. The first, a CBS season preview from 1961 that Burr and costar Barbara Hale did, in character as Perry Mason and Della Street. As you can see, he played this ultra-sober butch role pretty much his entire life.
For lack of any flaming appearances on camera, this charming little bit of montage Youtubery was prepared just recently, in honor of the big gay biography. We believe those are some shots of Burr on set with Benevides, but we’re not sure. The kicker: it’s set to Connie Francis singing “Where the Boys Are.”
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Montgomery Clift
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Freddie Mercury
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Rock Hudson
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Paul Lynde
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Charles Nelson Reilly
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Anthony Perkins
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Elton John
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Truman Capote
Mom Thought They Were Straight?: Village People
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