In addition to her acting, Barbara is well known industrywide for her warmth, her congeniality, and her screaming.
"This is a great girl," an electrician on the set once confirmed. "She's the only girl I know whom the gaffer will grab by the ankle just because she screams so good. Not every girl is accorded that honor, you know."
She was known as the best-pitched screamer in Hollywood. The slightest surprise would cause Hale to jump a mile with an "Eeek!" that would register on the Richter scale. "Barbara's screams stop traffic outside the studio," TV Guide said. "She has the best shriek in Hollywood," Burr seconded.
It was probably because of her shriek that Barbara also became the target of the veteran pranksters who prowled the set of the Mason series. Examples of minor gags abound: There was the time they put a mouse in Della's desk drawer just before the cameras rolled. Eeek! Or when Burr put a baby alligator in the drawer of her courtroom table. Eeek!! Or the box of flowers that arrived for her one day, which she opened to find a dozen rosesand a bunch of white miceinside. Eeek!!!
Throughout the series, Barbara had to endure finding her shoes nailed to the floor, or her dressing room walls painted black. One time Burr sent her flowers every day for a week (a harbinger of a gag to come) complete with "secret admirer" notes. Telephone messages left at her home rounded out the joke, until William Talman squealed to Barbara that Burr was the culprit. Another time, Burr saw her "borrow" a cigarette from a coworker. Recognizing an opportunity too good to resist, he rounded up eight co-conspirators and for the rest of the day they continually approached an ever-mystified Hale, offering her cigarettes even when she had one already lit.
Barbara wasn't safe from the pranks in the sanctity of her dressing room. One time she opened the door to find a large, inflated weather balloon inside, hooked up to a cylinder that was prominently marked POISON GAS. Even her bathroom wasn't safe. Burr once rigged up a fire alarm in the lavatory and timed it to go off just as she sat down.
But probably the best of the backstage gags involved The Case of the Green Dressing Room.
It all started when Barbara mentioned that she would like to get a little green plant to brighten up her dressing room. The next day, Burr thoughtfully gave her a plant. The next day, he gave her another plant. The next day, another. Then another. Then another. The gag escalated until one day Burr rented every plant and flower in a florist shop, hired a truck, and shipped them all over to the studio to be set up in Barbara's dressing room. When she came to work that day she said, "It was like a jungle." She could only get in by crawling on her hands and knees.
But this was just the beginning. Still not convinced that Barbara had enough green in her life, Burr spent an entire night cooking up loads of lime gelatin. Then he filled every container in her dressing roomwash basin, flower pots, glasses, ashtrays, cigarette boxes, pin trays, everythingwith the green Jell-O.
|The Perry Mason TV Show Book Copyright © 1987 by Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill. All rights reserved. Presented here by permission of the copyright holder. Commercial use prohibited. Web page Copyright © 1998 D. M. Brockman. Last edited 04 Nov 2004.|