Barbara Hale (born April 18, 1922) is an American actress best known for her role as legal secretary Della Street on more than 270 episodes of the long-running Perry Mason television series. She reprised the role in 30 Perry Mason movies for television.
Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois, to Luther Ezra Hale, a landscape gardener, and his wife, Wilma Colvin. She is of Scots-Irish ancestry. Hale graduated in 1940 from Rockford High School in Rockford, Illinois, then attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, planning to become an artist. Her performing career began in Chicago when she started modeling to pay for her education. Hale’s family included a sister, Juanita, for whom Hale’s younger daughter was named.
Hale moved to Hollywood in 1943, and made her first screen appearances playing small parts (often uncredited). Her first role was in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day. She was under contract to RKO Radio Pictures through the late 1940s. She appeared in Higher and Higher (1943) with Frank Sinatra and sang with the crooner; played leading lady to Robert Mitchum in West of the Pecos (1945); enjoyed top billing in both Lady Luck (1946) opposite Robert Young, her first “full stardom” and “her fifth A picture”, and The Window (1949) with Arthur Kennedy, and co-starred in Jolson Sings Again (1949), with Larry Parks playing Al Jolson and Hale as Jolson’s wife, Ellen Clark.
She played the top-billed title role in Lorna Doone (1951), co-starred with James Stewart in The Jackpot (1951), with James Cagney in a 1953 drama, A Lion Is in the Streets, and opposite Rock Hudson in 1953’s Seminole. She then appeared in 1955’s The Far Horizons with Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston, also working with some of Hollywood’s best-known leading men of the day.
Hale’s flourishing movie career more or less ended when Hale accepted her best known role as legal secretary Della Street in the television series Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr as the titular character. The show ran from 1957 to 1966, and she reprised the role in 30 Perry Mason television films (1985–95).
She co-starred with Joel McCrea in a 1957 western, The Oklahoman, but there were few leading roles thereafter. Hale did have a featured role in the 1970 ensemble film Airport, playing the wife of a jetliner pilot (Dean Martin).
Hale’s career became inextricably linked with that of Perry Mason co-star Burr, including her 1971 guest-starring role on his next series, Ironside, in an episode titled “Murder Impromptu,” followed by their 1980s and early ’90s TV movies together.
Her last onscreen appearance to date came in a TV biographical documentary about Burr that aired in 2000.
Barbara Hale also is remembered as a spokesperson for Amana, makers of Radarange microwave ovens, memorably intoning, “If it doesn’t say Amana, it’s not a Radarange.”
In 1945 during the filming of West of the Pecos, Hale met actor Bill Williams. They married June 22, 1946, and became the parents of two daughters, Jodi and Juanita, and a son, actor William Katt. Katt played detective Paul Drake, Jr., with her in several made-for-television Perry Mason movies. She also guest-starred as the mother of Ralph Hinkley (played by Katt) in a 1982 episode of The Greatest American Hero (Episode 29, “Who’s Woo in America”), and appeared as his mother in the movie Big Wednesday (1978).
Bill Williams died of cancer in 1992, after 46 years of marriage. Hale herself is a cancer survivor, and a grandmother. She is a follower of the Bahá’í Faith.
Hale was recognized as a Star of Television (with a marker at 1628 Vine Street) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. She won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series in 1959 and was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor or Actress in a Series in 1961.
She was presented one of the Golden Boot Awards in 2001 for her contributions to western cinema.