Sunday, January 29, 2017

HALE and FAREWELL - One of the stars of the Classic TV era: Barbara Hale

The blog salutes Barbara Hale (April 18, 1922 – January 26, 2017) one of the nicest stars in Hollywood.

Here she is, with Raymond Burr, as he finds new and startling evidence about the single bullet theory.

As "Della Street" she didn't do much, but she did it very well. The show ran for over 200 episodes, from 1957 to 1966, and between 1985 and 1995 there were an additional 30 made-for-TV moves. That's a lot of Street walking. Through it all, Barbara as Della made the most of the knowing glance and the concerned stare.

"Hi beautiful," was Paul Drake's consistent greeting to her. But, no, she wasn't exactly beautiful. She wasn't exactly sexy. She just was a good-looking comfortable presence. Nobody would have the temerity to suggest that she was more mistress than secretary to Perry Mason, nor would they have any reason to think that she had any great ability to give the great lawyer any legal advice. Barbara Hale simply made everything better just by being around.

An irony is that Barbara really was sexy early in her movie career. HOW sexy was she...

She padded her career (didn't need padding elsewhere) with B-movies. She was a spunky cowgirl in "The Falcon Out West," and co-starred with Robert Mitchum in "West of the Pecos." Also in the cast was Bill Williams. He was the lucky one, and married Barbara. Bill would later gain fame among baby-boomers as "Kit Carson" during the 50's "Western craze" that saw dozens upon dozens of "oaters" filling up prime-time and Saturday mornings. Bill Williams' real last name was Katt. He never officially changed it, and his son with Barbara, was "William Katt." He played Paul Drake Jr. in some of the "Perry Mason" made-for-TV movies.

Barbara considered me a pretty big fan of both herself and her husband. She gifted me with a couple of odd autographed photos. One was of herself with Raymond Burr, signed by both of them, and the other, a photo of Bill as "Kit Carson," and signed by him. I can choose to think she had a small stash of these around and gave them to very special people, or that she had a bigger collection and had some fun forging Raymond Burr and Bill Williams.

Either way, I treasure them.

Real Barbara fans would also point out that she played Jolson's wife in the sequel, "Jolson Sings Again," and was a big enough star to snare the lead as that attractive cookie "Lorna Doone" (1951). She was back to Westerns in the next few years: Last of the Comanches, Seminole (get your mind out of the gutter, that's an Indian tribe), Houston Story, The Oklahoman and 7th Cavalry. But then came the "Perry Mason" years, and...yes...that famous theme song.

It was a dignified, dark and moody theme song and it conveyed an aura of mystery But...

....if you listen to the music without conjuring up an image of Raymond Burr, you might agree that the original title, "Park Avenue Beat" is appropriate...and this is actually some pretty sexy R&B jazz. It's the kind that could be played while a stripper performs, or in a nightclub as hip couples grind against each other with their full bodies (and full bodied couples grind against each other with their hips).

Let Fred Steiner describe the origins of this double-named tune:

"The original title was "Park Avenue Beat," and the reason for that was I conceived of Perry Mason as this very sophisticated lawyer; eats at the best restaurants, tailor-made sutis and so on. Yet at the same time he was mixed up with these underworld bad guys, and murder and crime.

"So the underlying beat is R&B, rhythm and blues. In those days, jazz, R&B whatever, was always associated with crime. Those old film noir pictures, they've always got jazz going. It's like whenever you see a Nazi (in a film) they play Wagner. It's kind of symphonic R&B, that's why it's called "Park Avenue Beat," but since then it's been known as "The Perry Mason Theme."

"It's gone through several changes depending of the timing…they would change the main titles year in and year out. " Mostly, the changes have been in tempo. There's one big difference in the Perry Mason theme used for the 1980's made-for-TV movies: after the ominous introduction, there's a cymbal crash before the main theme begins. You get that version as well as two of the many vinyl cover versions released back in the day.

First up, Johnny Gregory's take, which does add some kind of weird instrumentation just for added color. Thankfully, it wasn't a zither. Johnny did try, as usual, to liven up to two minutes + a theme that originally lasted for half that time.

Yes, Hatch is the guy who was behind so many Petula Clark hits of the early 60's...and he radically changes the tempo to make this more of a teen dance number, that frug-head.

I wonder if Perry Mason ever heard "Park Avenue Beat" and imagined Della Street stripping to it! OK OK, that remark is "irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial..."

The Perry Mason Theme…. Johnny Gregory

The Perry Mason Theme…. Hatched by Tony


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