RAYMOND BURR, Canadian actor, died (b. 1917) OK….we’re going to rename September 12 “Closet Day”, what with Chevalier, Perkins and Burr you have three of the biggest closet cases in Hollywood and film (I mean, of course, there are others.)
But Raymond is Closet Case…writ large. An Emmy-nominated actor as well as being a vintner, Burr is perhaps best known for his roles in the television dramas Perry Mason and Ironside, Burr’s official biography stated that he had been previously married, but both his wives and one child had died.
In 1942, while working in London, he met Annette Sutherland, an aspiring actress from Scotland and that year they married. Despite protests from her husband, Sutherland insisted on fulfilling her contract and traveled to Spain with the tour company while Burr returned to America. Shortly before her death, Burr received a letter that Sutherland was working in Spain and would return to England and then America; Sutherland then boarded a flight from Lisbon to London and it has been widely reported that Sutherland then perished on BOAC Flight 77-A, the same flight that claimed actor Leslie Howard. However, Burr’s biographer Ona L. Hill writes that “no one by the name of Annette Sutherland Burr was listed as a passenger on the plane” and that Sutherland was on a separate commercial plane traveling between Lisbon and London around the same time as Flight 777-A, which was also shot down by the Germans.
In truth, however, only one of Burr’s wives, Isabella Ward, can actually be documented. The other two, including Annette Sutherland, do not seem to have ever existed (Even Sutherland was said to be a British actress, and yet British Equity has no record of anyone by that name). The same goes for Burr’s “son,” who is said to have died from an “incurable disease” sometime in the 1950s. Since Burr was already a known presence in Hollywood, it would seem logical that this tragedy would be widely reported in the press, as was the tragic death of Red Skelton’s teen-aged son Richard from leukemia in the late fifties. Yet there is no record anywhere of the “son’s” birth, existence, or death, which strongly implies “he” never existed. One possible explanation for this cynically bizarre deceit is that by claiming such a heart-wrenching personal “history,” Burr could scare reporters into backing off from digging into his personal life (the actor was known to be gay, which at the time was ruinous for a popular TV star).
Perry Mason started in 1957, shortly after actor Tab Hunter was arrested in an infamous homosexual raid. During the run of the series, Burr kept fairly private, perhaps because his co-star William Hopper (Paul Drake) was the son of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Still, author Robert Hofler alleges in his 2005 book, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, that Burr and Rock Hudson hosted Gay parties at a rented home in Palm Springs.
Around 1958, Raymond Burr started living with former actor Robert Benevides. They remained together, as both a couple and as business partners, for 35 years until Burr’s death. Sonoma County residents were well acquainted with Burr and Benevides, who together owned and operated first an orchid business, then a vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley. Burr was devoted to his longtime hobby, cultivating and hybridizing orchids. He later developed this passion into an orchid business. Burr even developed an orchid he named the Barbara Hale Orchid.