The thing I miss most about Life and their annual Year in Pictures edition, honestly, is the obituaries. There’s two that I still remember quite clearly. One was a quiet lament that we’d never get to see Raul Julia play King Lear, which yeah, that would have been awesome. But I also remember a quiet observation that Raymond Burr had spent his last years growing orchids with his partner. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I remember doing a bit of a double take, because it made it pretty explicit that Raymond Burr was, for all emotional purposes, married to a man. No drama, no judgement—just, “Hey, this is who he is survived by.”
It was, apparently, an open secret. He did not come out during his lifetime, but there are lots of quotes available from people who either knew or suspected. He had a brief marriage about which I can find very little—he met Isabella Ward at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he worked and did many plays. They were married for four years but seem to have only been together for a few months of that. He isn’t even mentioned in her obituary, which is practically the only information I can find about her online. Conversely, he met Robert Benevides in 1960, and the two remained together until Burr’s death in 1993.
Much else about his life is difficult to piece together, frankly, because he lied. A lot. He invented two wives, one of whom allegedly died of cancer and the other of whom allegedly was on the plane Leslie Howard was on that was shot down. The first wife, the World War II one, allegedly gave birth to a son who allegedly died of leukemia at age ten. Burr was allegedly in the Navy, where he allegedly sustained a belly wound allegedly at Okinawa. He was allegedly romantically linked to Natalie Wood. In fact, literally none of these things can be documented, and in fact some of them have been conclusively proven false. It seems not unlikely to me that the lies were primarily intended to make the truth seem more unlikely.
Because of course the lies would’ve started around about the time that, say, Tommy Kirk lost his Disney contract for being gay. Patsy Kelly may have survived being out, but she was never a big name. Burr met Benevides on the set of Perry Mason, and probably the main reason the gossip wasn’t as common was that costar William Hopper presumably would’ve lost his job if the show went off the air, and William’s mother Hedda was protecting that. After all, William Talman was taken off the show for a while for being at a party where other people were using marijuana, and that violated his morality clause. A serious relationship with a man? Would not have gone over well.
And frankly, Burr had to fight to get the career he had. He was rejected as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, the TV show, for being overweight; he nearly didn’t get Perry for the same reason. And in fact he for many years refused to go on The Tonight Show because he would’ve lit into Johnny for saying cruel things about his weight when he wasn’t there to defend himself, and he didn’t think that was fair. A great deal of his career, I believe, stems from the fact that he looked not unlike David O. Selznick, which is why Hitchcock cast him as Thorwald in Rear Window. It’s an incredible performance and led the way for the role for which he’s known best.