William Talman in The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
|Born||William Whitney Talman, Jr.
February 4, 1915
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||August 30, 1968
Encino, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California - Plot: Court of Liberty, Lot 833.|
|Other names||Bill Talman|
|Occupation||Film and television actor|
William Whitney Talman, Jr. (February 4, 1915 - August 30, 1968) was an American television and movie actor, best known for playing Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger in the television series Perry Mason.
William Talman was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Ada Barber and William Whitney Talman, a vice president of an electronics company. His maternal grandparents, Catherine Gandy and James Wells Barber, were immigrants from England.
Talman founded the drama club at the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He continued to act at Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan. After college, he worked in summer stock and at an iron foundry, paper mills, boat yards, and as an automobile salesman.
Talman served for 30 months in the United States Army in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, beginning his service as a private on February 4, 1942, at Camp Upton in Yaphank, Long Island, New York. He was ultimately commissioned a major during the war.
Talman began his acting career on the stage. He was the leading man in the summer stock company at Ivoryton, Connecticut, where he met his first wife, and he played the male lead in Dear Ruth during part of the play's New York run. He appeared on Broadway in Beverly Hills, Spring Again and A Young Man's Fancy, and toured with the road companies of Yokel Boy and Of Mice and Men.
In 1953, Talman played a sadistic, psychopathic killer in a movie directed by Lupino, the film noir The Hitch-Hiker.The New York Times wrote, "William Talman, as the ruthless murderer, makes the most of one of the year's juiciest assignments."
His performance was also noted by Gail Patrick Jackson, executive producer of the CBS-TV series Perry Mason (1957-66). Raymond Burr had initially auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger, but Patrick encouraged him to lose 60 pounds and read for the lead role -- which Burr successfully did. Patrick already had an actor in mind for the Los Angeles district attorney: "I'd seen a brilliant little movie, The Hitch-Hiker, and had to have Bill Talman as Burger -- and he never disappointed us," Patrick said.
In 1958, a journalist asked Talman how he felt about Burger losing to Mason week after week. Talman said, "Burger doesn't lose. How can a district attorney lose when he fails to convict an innocent person? Unlike a fist or gun fight, in court you can have a winner without having a loser. As a matter of fact, Burger in a good many instances has joined Mason in action against unethical attorneys, lying witnesses, or any one else obstructing justice. Like any real-life district attorney, justice is Burger's main interest."
Talman, as Burger, went on to lose all but three cases in the nine-year series, including a record two separate murder trials in the final episode. He called his record "the longest losing streak in history." Talman had the title role in the 1960 episode, "The Case of the Prudent Prosecutor", when Burger disqualified himself from prosecuting a long-time personal friend, Jefferson Pike, who was accused of murder. At the end of the episode after Pike was cleared by Mason, Burger said, "You know, I think I won this case."
Talman was fired from Perry Mason for a short period in 1960. Sheriff's deputies, suspicious of marijuana use, raided a party on March 13, 1960, in a private home in Beverly Hills at which Talman was a guest. The deputies reported finding Talman and seven other defendants either nude or seminude. All were arrested for possession of marijuana (which was later dropped) and lewd vagrancy, but municipal judge Adolph Alexander dismissed the lewd vagrancy charges against Talman and the others on June 17 for lack of proof. "I don't approve of their conduct," the judge ruled, "but it is not for you and me to approve but to enforce the statutes." Despite this Talman was fired by CBS which refused to give a reason.[note 1] Talman was later rehired after Perry Mason producer Gail Patrick Jackson made a request to CBS following a massive letter-writing campaign by viewers.
Aside from his major supporting role in Perry Mason, Talman also guest-starred in various television series, including Wagon Train, Have Gun-Will Travel, Cimarron City, and Gunsmoke. After the 1966 cancellation of Perry Mason, Talman appeared on The Wild, Wild West and in a first-season episode of The Invaders, "Quantity: Unknown." This was his last on-screen acting role before his death.
Talman was married three times. His first marriage, to actress Lynne Carter, lasted from just before Talman left for active service in 1942 to September 1952 and produced one daughter, Lynda. His second wife was actress Barbara Read. They married in 1953 and had one daughter, Barbie, and one son, William Whitney Talman III. The couple divorced on August 23, 1960. His third wife was Margaret Flanagan whom he married in 1963. Margaret had a son (Steve) and daughter (Debbie) from a previous marriage. William and Margaret had two children: a son, Timothy, and a daughter, Susan. Widow Margaret Talman outlived Talman by nearly 34 years, until her death (also from lung cancer related to smoking) in January 2002, at age 73.
Talman is also known for being the first actor in Hollywood to film an antismoking public service announcement for the American Cancer Society. A lifelong heavy smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and knew he was dying when he filmed the commercial. The short film began with the words, "Before I die, I want to do what I can to leave a world free of cancer for my six children [...]" Talman requested that the commercial not be aired until after his death.
He had made another such public service announcement, which opened with his voice-over and a picture of his home, followed by filmed shots of his wife and kids, then a still of himself "with a friend of mine you might recognize," Raymond Burr, from the Perry Mason TV series. He then said, "You know, I didn't really mind losing those courtroom battles, but I'm in a battle now I don't want to lose at all. Because if I lose it, it means losing my wife and those kids you just met. I've got lung cancer [...] So take some advice about smoking and losing from someone who's been doing both for years [...] If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, quit! [...] Don't be a loser."
Four weeks after filming the second public service announcement, Talman died of lung cancer (that had metastasized to his liver, bones and brain) on August 30, 1968, at the age of 53, and was buried in the Court of Liberty, lot 833, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles. His widow, Margaret "Peggy" Louise Talman, joined him there at the time of her death in January 2002, aged 73. After William Talman's death, she continued his antismoking efforts. Within a few years she had resumed smoking, and her cause of death was also lung cancer.
|November 7-30, 1940||Beverly Hills||Ted Farlow||Fulton Theatre, New York City
Directed by Otto Preminger
|November 10, 1941 - June 6, 1942||Spring Again||Arnold Greaves||Henry Miller's Theatre and Playhouse Theatre, New York City
Directed by Guthrie McClintic
|April 29, 1947 - February 14, 1948||A Young Man's Fancy||Harold Greenley||Plymouth Theatre and Cort Theatre, New York City|
|1949||Red, Hot and Blue||Bunny Harris|||
|1949||Woman on Pier 13, TheThe Woman on Pier 13||Bailey|||
|1950||Kid from Texas, TheThe Kid from Texas||Minniger|||
|1950||Armored Car Robbery||Dave Purvus|||
|1951||Racket, TheThe Racket||Bob Johnson|||
|1952||One Minute to Zero||Col. John Parker|||
|1953||Hitch-Hiker, TheThe Hitch-Hiker||Emmett Myers|||
|1953||City That Never Sleeps||Hayes Stewart|||
|1954||Lux Video Theatre||Brad Ringer||"Pick of the Litter"|
|1955||Crashout||Luther "Swanee" Remsen|||
|1955||Smoke Signal||Captain Harper|||
|1955||Four Star Playhouse||Eddie||'"Eddie's Place"|
|1955||Big House, U.S.A.||Machinegun Mason|||
|1955||Cavalcade of America||Wes Hardin||"The Texas Ranger"|
|1955||Two-Gun Lady||Marshal Dan Corbin|||
|1955||TV Reader's Digest||"Old Master Detective"|
|1955||Science Fiction Theatre||Norman Conway||"The Water Maker"|
|1955||Ford Television Theatre, TheThe Ford Television Theatre||Jack||"South of Selangor"|
|1956||Screen Directors Playhouse||Barney||"Number Five Checked Out"|
|1956||Uranium Boom||Grady Mathews|||
|1956||The Man Is Armed||Hackett|||
|1956||Telephone Time||Lew Reese||"Scio, Ohio"|
|1956||Telephone Time||"The Sergeant Boyd Story"|
|1956||I've Lived Before||Writer|
|1956||Climax!||"The Louella Parsons Story"|
|1956||Climax!||Joe MacKenzie||"Sit Down with Death"|
|1957||Persuader, TheThe Persuader||Mark Bonham / Matt Bonham|||
|1957||Hell on Devil's Island||Bayard|||
|1957||Trackdown||Blaine Sand||"Like Father"|
|Perry Mason||Hamilton Burger||212 episodes:49781|
|1958||Climax!||Detective||"Scream in Silence"|
|1958||Tombstone Territory||Logan Beatty||"The Return of the Outlaw"|
|1958||Wagon Train||Walt Archer||"The Sarah Drummond Story"|
|1958||Alcoa Theatre||Lt. Herman Brule||"Disappearance"|
|1958||Cimarron City||Mr. Conway||"To Become a Man"|
|1960||Have Gun - Will Travel||George Jondill||"The Shooting of Jessie May"|
|1961||Have Gun - Will Travel||Sheriff||"Long Way Home"|
|1963||Stump the Stars||Himself||July 8, 1963:22247|
|1963||Gunsmoke||Race Fallon||"Legends Don't Sleep"|
|1966||Wild Wild West, TheThe Wild Wild West||Sheriff||"The Night of the Man-Eating House"|
|1967||Virginian, TheThe Virginian||Writer, "A Welcoming Town"|
|1967||Invaders, TheThe Invaders||Colonel Frank Griffith||"Quantity: Unknown"|
|1967||Ballad of Josie, TheThe Ballad of Josie||District Attorney Charlie Lord||(final film role)|