He actually looks as if he expects to win a case.
August 3, 2014 1:02 PM   Subscribe

DA Hamilton Burger may be the best-known loser of early TV, but his portrayer William Talman's life (content excerpted from the Perry Mason TV show book) was far more interesting. At the height of his fame in 1960, Talman arrested at a nude pot party, and was fired and blacklisted as a result. It took Raymond Burr, the cast, and the fans to eventually get him his job back. At the end of his life, on the verge of dying, he made a powerful anti-smoking PSA (the PSA itself)
posted by julen (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Fondly remember his work on Perry Mason. A good sport if there ever was one and his chemistry with Burr was underrated...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:42 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Talman's performance as the hitcher in The Hitch-Hiker is outstanding - a real contrast to his turn as Hamilton Burger.
The film is really well put together - fun story, excellent performances and direction - it's one of my favorites.

He was also my favorite DA on Perry Mason - thanks for the great post.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:09 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

I always got such a kick out the character's comically appropriate name ("What a Ham Burger!") which gave me a laugh years later when Warren E. Burger was named Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:36 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: at a nude pot party
posted by oceanjesse at 2:43 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

Thanks. That PSA brings a lump to my throat -- emotional, not cancerous. I spent a lot of happy hours watching him and Burr, and always thought the whole cast did a great job on Erle Stanley Gardner's books.
posted by bearwife at 3:00 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Actors in L.A. smoking drugs in various states of undress?! I cannot fathom such goings-on.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:00 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]

See also: Yul Brynner's anti-smoking PSA released in October 1985, a few days after his death.
posted by Ranucci at 3:04 PM on August 3

The real life side of L.A. Confidential. Funny how neither pot nor nudity are really arrestable offenses now. These days you have to be pretty publicly stupid to get arrested in L.A. (drunk driving seems to be a favorite).
posted by doctor_negative at 3:47 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

How many marijuanas do you need to smoke to turn a clothed pot party into a nude pot party?
posted by birdherder at 3:54 PM on August 3

The fascinating part is that they were all arrested on various lewd behavior and nudity charges, only to have the judge point out that being naked inside someone's house isn't a crime. The cops/DA might have had more traction with possession charges, but they might not have been able to charge everyone with that.

Erle Stanley Gardner is reputed to have made Hamilton Burger (in the books) everything he hated about prosecutors but liked Talman's portrayal/humanised (yet always losing, as required) version on TV. You can tell Talman is making the most of a often thankless role and find a way to enjoy himself.
posted by julen at 4:00 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

I'm a little scared to watch that anti-smoking PSA because it's a bit of a childhood legend. At some point I found out that the prosecuting attorney's name on Perry Mason was "Ham Burger" and I used to incessantly point that out whenever the show was on. Somewhere along the line my ridicule spilled over to the actor and I'd childishly make fun of having "Ham Burger" as a credit on a resume. Eventually my Mom got fed up with my antics and lectured me about how the guy who played "Ham Burger" had been brave enough to go on television "while he was dying of lung cancer" to warn of the dangers of smoking at a time when it wasn't socially acceptable to even acknowledge that cigarettes were deadly.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:25 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Raymond Burr was once confronted by a woman who said that she couldn't believe that he never lost a case and that she felt sorry for the D.A. Burr replied that "Hamilton wins many cases and I lose many. You see, madam, you're only able to watch the cases I try on Sunday."
posted by TDavis at 5:16 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]

Dude was the Washington Generals of TV.
posted by Repack Rider at 5:43 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

It took Raymond Burr, the cast, and the fans to eventually get him his job back.

So Perry Mason got him off in real life? Cool!
posted by TedW at 5:46 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]

All I have to do is read the words "Perry Mason" and the theme song gets stuck in my head. Totally fine with that, actually.
posted by sageleaf at 5:50 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

It took Raymond Burr, the cast, and the fans to eventually get him his job back.

And the producer as well. It seems network meddling got in the way of a nice thing where everyone was happy and it took a little pushing to get it back on track...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:09 PM on August 3

True! That producer was Gail Patrick (as an actress, her most notable credit is probably as Cary Grant's other wife in My Favorite Wife) Jackson (who was married and co-producers with her husband who was Erle Stanley Gardner's literary agent).
posted by julen at 6:27 PM on August 3

birdherder: "How many marijuanas do you need to smoke to turn a clothed pot party into a nude pot party?"

I think a series of experiments are urgently called-for to answer this question.
posted by Reverend John at 6:28 PM on August 3

The Hitch-Hiker (full movie) on YT.
posted by telstar at 7:19 PM on August 3

"The Hitch-Hiker" was directed by a woman, Ida Lupino!
posted by telstar at 7:53 PM on August 3

Ida Lupino!
posted by Pudhoho at 8:28 PM on August 3

When they reintroduced his character, how did they do it? Kill off his replacement, have his own character be the prime suspect and have Perry defend him?
posted by BiggerJ at 11:01 PM on August 4

They just showed a bunch of Assistant DAs prosecuting cases or out-of-town cases on the show. So they made it easy for themselves to just slide Burger back in when they got the network to relent.
posted by julen at 5:15 AM on August 5

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