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BURR, RAYMOND
(1917–1993). Canadian actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Black Magic (Gregory Ratoff and Orson Welles, uncredited 1949); The Magic Carpet (Lew LANDERS 1951); The Whip Hand (William Cameron MENZIES 1951); Bride of the Gorilla (Curt SIODMAK 1951); "The Mask of Medusa" (1953), episode of Tales of Tomorrow; Tarzan and the She-Devil (Kurt NEUMANN 1953); Gorilla at Large (Harmon Jones 1954); Casanova's Big Night (Norman Z. McLeod 1954); Godzilla [American version 1956] (Inoshiro HONDA; 1954); The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomena (documentary; narrator) (Robert Guenette 1976); The Thirteenth Day: The Story of Esther (tv movie) (Leo Penn 1979); The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (tv movie) (Philip Leacock 1980); The Return [The Alien's Return] (Greydon Clark 1980); Peter and Paul (tv movie) (Robert Day 1981); Airplane II: The Sequel (Ken Finkleman 1982); Godzilla: 1985 (Koji Hashimoto 1984); Delirious (Tom Mankiewicz 1991).
 
Raymond Burr was a really nice guy; my father told me so. He met him in Vietnam, at the height of his Perry Mason fame, when he was making one of his unheralded visits to that country to interact with American soldiers and show his support for the troops. It took a while, though, for Hollywood to recognize the sweet disposition that lurked within this large, imposing figure, as casting directors took one look at him and initially thought of him as a natural villain.

Though born in British Columbia, Burr moved to California as a teenager and, after service in the military during World War II, drifted into film acting; among other small roles in his early years, he can be observed as a Communist plotting to destroy America with biological warfare in The Whip Hand. But he earned his first starring role, in Bride of the Gorilla, as a man working in the Southern American jungle who, because of a native curse, begins turning into a gorilla every night. In a film that is largely an embarrassment to everyone involved, Burr actually manages to do some real acting; but then again, when you're working with Lon CHANEY, Jr., even a phoned-in performance might seem impressive. With this film in his resume, I suppose it was only natural that in another film, Gorilla at Large, he was suspected of being the man who was donning a gorilla suit to commit murders; but even though this film was much better than people might think (featuring Lee J. Cobb and Anne Bancroft, of all people), it clearly wasn't going to do much to advance his career. That job was left to Alfred HITCHCOCK, who shrewdly recognized that Burr could be both menacing and unexpectedly sympathetic as the murderer observed by James Stewart in Rear Window (1954).

Now clearly ready for bigger and better things (which would take the form of the long-running television series Perry Mason [1957-1965] and Ironside [1967-1975]), the young Burr earned one more genre credit by starring in the American version of Inishiro HONDA's Godzilla as reporter Steve Martin, visiting witness to the catastrophes caused by the enormous dinosaur. Viewed today, with a knowledge of the now-available Japanese original, Burr's scenes can seem intrusive, visibly different from the rest of the film in their quality and ambience, but he did bring some genuine emotion to the role and undoubtedly contributed to the film's American success. At the time, he surely had no idea that two decades later, after his star would spectacularly rise and spectacularly fall, he would be summoned back to play the same part in a big-budget sequel to the original film, Godzilla 1985—still completely superfluous to the plot, but doing his best to contribute something to the film.

In the uneasy period between the end of Ironside and his successful return to the Perry Mason character in a series of television movies, Burr accepted a number of supporting roles in very weak films, suggesting a film career in freefall, though he was effective in a cameo performance as a judge in the otherwise ineffective Airplane II: The Sequel. But he stoically endured whatever circumstances he found himself in, sustained by his longtime relationship with actor Robert Benevides, until liver cancer ended his life in 1993. He remains part of the cultural zeitgeist today almost entirely due to endless reruns of Perry Mason, so that only science fiction fans may still appreciate his talents outside the courtroom.

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