The Perry Mason TV Show Book
William Talman: TV's Hamilton Burger

Trouble at School

William Talman had a multifaceted career. Besides his television and theater jobs, he had been a tennis pro in his younger days and later worked in nightclubs as a dancer and emcee. Talman's father first got him interested in acting when he helped get the subsequently successful Detroit Player's Club off the ground.

When it came time for college, Talman chose Dartmouth over his father's alma mater, the University of Michigan. By his own admission, he wasn't much for showing up for class, but he could write a heck of an English paper.

He got in his first serious trouble while at college. He was involved in a fatal car crash while he was driving a stolen automobile. "During my sophomore year I was enamored of a girl at Smith and decided one weekend to call on her," Talman told the press in the early sixties. "A freshman offered to lend me 'his' car." While Talman was driving the car, a bus forced him off the road, and the car hit a tree. A boy riding with him was killed instantly. Talman and the other passengers went first to the hospital and then to jail.

His freshman "friend" eventually admitted the car had actually been stolen. When the truth came out, Talman was out of hot water--almost. He was asked to resign from Dartmouth. It was little consolation that the next year he was invited back.

About that time, Willie Talman got religion. After leaving school, he hooked up with Dr. Frank Buchman's Moral Rearmament Movement, traveling through Canada and England. His mother had been the influence for his stint as an evangelist, brief as it was.

When spreading the word didn't pan out, Talman, ironically, landed a job for a while in the Wayne County district attorney's office. But he quickly decided it was not his forte.

A friend took him aside and convinced him to go east, to Broadway. Talman got his first screen test shortly before he made his theater debut in Of Mice and Men. Howard Hughes, a movie mogul at the time, signed him on for a while before he went on to star in Yokel Boy and Dear Ruth. These were his last theater performances before he became involved with the Mason show. He did get some time off later on in the series to appear on stage in Born Yesterday.

Talman was also a director. He directed about one hundred shows for the army overseas in the forties. Back on the home front, he directed and produced Honest John, starring Buddy Ebsen, at the Las Palmas Theater in 1950.

Talman made his big screen debut in 1949, playing Bunny Harris in Red Hot and Blue. After his performance in The Woman on Pier Thirteen, in 1950, he was signed to his first extended contract at RKO. He went on to appear in such films as The Kid from Texas and One Minute to Zero, both in 1952; The City That Never Sleeps (1953); Two-Gun Lady (1956); and The Persuader in 1957. He played Bailey in the racketeer setup in I Married a Communist.

He was on hand when Gail Jackson announced auditions for the cast of "Perry Mason," and he won the role of the world's worst DA. It was a thankless job, but someone had to do it. And Talman did it wonderfully. His portrayal was blessed by Gardner himself. "Bill Talman is really a wonder," the author said. "He actually looks as if he expects to win a case."

Webmaster's Note: Alan K. Rode writes to say that Talman was an Actor's Equity representative when he first arrived in Hollywood. Ric Burger recommends the 1951 film The Racket, a nice bit of noir, that features both Ray Collins and William Talman in interesting roles.


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 27 Mar 2006.