Barbara Hale, the Loyal Della Street on ‘Perry Mason,’ Dies at 94
The Hollywood Reporter 1/27/2017 by Mike Barnes and Duane Byrge
Barbara Hale, who played the steadfast secretary Della Street opposite Raymond Burr on the legendary courtroom drama Perry Mason for nine seasons and 30 telefilms, has died. She was 94.
Hale, a former contract player at RKO and Columbia who made more than 50 films before landing her signature role, died Thursday at her Sherman Oaks home in Los Angeles. Survivors include her son William Katt, best known as the star of the 1980s ABC series The Greatest American Hero. He reported her death on Facebook.
Hale was mulling retirement to raise her three young children with her husband, actor Bill Williams (The Adventures of Kit Carson), when producer Gail Patrick Jackson approached her about playing Della on Perry Mason.
She quickly accepted the gig when she discovered that Burr, her old friend from RKO, was going to star as the fictional defense attorney on the series based on the Erle Stanley Gardner mystery novels.
Hale received two Emmy nominations (winning in 1959) for playing the quiet beauty who was the rock of stability on Mason’s team. She liked the fact that Della was unmarried and without kids so it wouldn’t confuse her real-life children.
Barbara Hale was born April 18, 1922, in DeKalb, Ill. After graduating from Rockford (Ill.) High School, she studied art and drawing at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (not surprisingly, she often sketched during lulls on the Perry Mason set) and modeled for a comic strip called Ramblin’ Bill. That got her tryout at RKO.
Hale met fellow RKO contract player Williams (real name: Herman Katt) on the set of West of the Pecos (1945), and they married in 1946. They were together until his death in 1992.
After the Perry Mason series ended, Hale appeared in the star-studded Airport (1970), in the lamentable The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) and alongside her son in the John Milius surfing picture Big Wednesday (1978). She also played Katt’s mom on a 1982 episode of The Greatest American Hero.
“We’re all a little lost without her,” Katt wrote, “but we have extraordinary stories and memories to take with us for the rest of our lives.”