Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr by Michael Seth Starr

This is the biography of actor Raymond Burr, best known for his roles in Perry Mason and Ironside, and how being gay in 1950's Hollywood affected his life and relationships.
I grew up watching the Perry Mason movies as a kid during the 1980's. My grandmother loved Raymond Burr. My grandfather, who passed away when my mom was 10, was his twin, especially in Ironside. They looked exactly alike. As I grew older my mom told me Burr was gay. I would not believe her. I just couldn't believe Perry Mason was gay. My grandmother flat out wouldn't accept it at all. I even taped a Biography done on him where they talked to his partner of over 30 years, and she refused to watch it and told me to "keep it up" lol
It's amazing to me how much Burr had to lie about so many aspects of his life. Three wives, a deceased son, a false military record, all to hide the fact that he was gay, even though it was Hollywood's best kept secret; everyone knew, but no one talked about it.
The book is very good in giving you insight into Burr's movie roles, including his famous turn in Rear Window, although the author's recollection of the movie is very different from mine. Also a behind the scenes look at the making of his most famous roles, Perry Mason and Ironside. Delves into his close friendships, his relationship with his partner, Robert Benivedes, his love of orchids, food, and his numerous trips overseas to meet and entertain the troops during the wars (more trips than Bob Hope, but he never wanted the fame for it).
The only thing keeping me from making this a 5 star book is the author's non-stop insistence over Burr's weight. I know he was a big man. But to call him enormous, huge, and other adjectives I just ignored when reading it is ridiculous. He was not that big of a man, and wasn't truly heavy until the later years of the Perry Mason movies, when I was introduced to him.
Interesting facts throughout, Quincy Jones wrote the Ironside theme song, but it left me wondering about quite a few things. What did Burr's partner think of his trysts with other men? Why lie about a military record? Who really was Frank Vitti?
I guess some questions will just stay unanswered. What I was left with was knowing that Burr was truly a generous, generous man who loved his friends, and fiercely protected his private life.

4 stars

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