Barbara Hale, a wavy-haired model and Hollywood leading lady of the 1940s and 1950s who warbled with Frank Sinatra in his first big film role and had a long television career as the devoted secretary Della Street to Raymond Burr’s tireless defense lawyer Perry Mason, died Jan. 26 at her home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She was 94. Although Ms. Hale had a flourishing career in movies — often in wholesome roles opposite stars such as James Stewart, James Cagney and Robert Mitchum — she found her big-screen career overshadowed by her work on CBS’s “Perry Mason.”
The series aired from 1957 to 1966, making it one of the longest-airing courtroom shows in history, and Ms. Hale earned an Emmy Award for her role as Street. Two decades later, she reprised her role in more than two dozen made-for-TV movies for NBC.
Mason, who solved murder mysteries with his savvy as a cross-examiner, is the creation of novelist Erle Stanley Gardner. There had been many Mason iterations: a low-budget movie series in the 1930s with titles such as “The Case of the Lucky Legs” and “The Case of the Curious Bride” and then as a radio show on CBS from 1943 to 1955, with a rotating cast of Masons and Streets. The television series was propelled by the chemistry among its top cast: Burr as the brilliant courtroom tactician, William Hopper as the private investigator who helps Mason pull off his legal victories in down-to-the-wire dramatics, and Hale as the glamorous and unflappable secretary who gamely stays late at the office every day. The perpetually stymied adversary was the district attorney played by William Talman. Ms. Hale, who won a 1959 Emmy for best supporting actress in a dramatic series, stayed with the show until it folded. Burr once called her “a remarkably intuitive actress. She has an instinct for doing exactly the right thing when it is needed.” The actor, who cultivated orchids in his spare time, named one after her.