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Welcome to Down These Mean Streets, a weekly trip back to the Golden Age of Radio where we rub elbows with the era's greatest private eyes, cops, and crime-fighters. Since 2013, I've been podcasting everything from cozy mysteries to police procedurals, spotlighting characters ranging from hard boiled gumshoes to amateur sleuths. 

Be sure to tune in each Sunday for adventures of a radio detective and the behind-the-scenes stories of their shows. Join me as we spend time with Sam Spade, Johnny Dollar, Sgt. Joe Friday, and more!

Happy Birthday, Raymond Burr

May 21, 2021

Known to generations of television audiences as Perry Mason, Raymond Burr (May 21, 1917 – September 12, 1993) found some of his earliest successes during the Golden Age of Radio.

In a role far removed from the upstanding defense attorney he played on TV, Burr appeared as the thick-headed Inspector Hellman, a thorn in the side of Jack Webb’s Pat Novak For Hire. It was a performance closer to his screen work; Burr was known as a big screen heavy, and he memorably played the villainous neighbor Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Burr also popped up in supporting roles on Yours Truly, Johnny DollarRichard DiamondThe CBS Radio Workshop, and more. But his highest-profile radio work came in Fort Laramie, where he starred as cavalry Captain Lee Quince. Burr’s Quince was a thoughtful, contemplative soldier - one who struggled with the harsh realities of his orders and who often rubbed his superiors the wrong way. He was working on Fort Laramie when he got the audition to play Mason. After he won the role, he arrived at a recording session and told co-stars Harry Bartell and Vic Perrin, "Men, we're all going to be rich!" Many of Burr's radio co-stars and fellow actors appeared on Perry Mason, including his Fort Laramie comrades in arms.

After nine seasons and winning a pair of Emmys for his work as Mason, Raymond Burr embarked on an eight season run as another TV detective - wheelchair-bound Robert T. Ironside in Ironside. Burr returned to his signature role in 1985 for the highly-rated TV movie Perry Mason Returns, and he’d follow it up with 25 more Mason movies (and one Ironside reunion picture) before he passed away from cancer in 1993.

In honor of his birthday, here are some of Raymond Burr's old time radio performances - roles that show off his versatility outside of Perry Mason's courtroom.

"Father Leahy and Joe Feldman" - A priest puts Pat Novak (Jack Webb) on the trail of a man newly escaped from prison, and the search leads to murder on the San Francisco waterfront. Raymond Burr is on hand to menace Novak and muck things up as Inspector Hellman. (4/2/49)

"The Henry J. Unger Matter" - In this Johnny Dollar adventure, the fabulous freelance insurance investigator (Edmond O'Brien) is menaced by the titular Mr. Unger, a convict out of jail and eager for revenge. Raymond Burr plays the calculating villain who successfully gets Dollar on trial for murder! (7/20/50)

"The Hollywood Story" - Richard Diamond (Dick Powell) heads to the West Coast to take on a job for a powerful movie producer (Raymond Burr). The man's young girlfriend has threatened him with blackmail, but soon Diamond finds her dead and spots his client fleeing the scene. (8/23/53)

"Playing Indian" - In the first episode of Fort Laramie, Burr's Captain Quince investigates when settlers are killed in what appears to be an attack by rogue Native Americans. But he soon suspects the culprits are disguising themselves and he sets a trap in a homesteader's cabin. (1/22/56)

"Murder on Mike" - Burr is in full villain mode in this "tale well calculated to keep you in Suspense." He plays a writer of radio murder plays who's sick of the critical notes he receives from his director. Burr decides to stage the man's murder, and he records the entire thing for broadcast. (7/28/57)