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

Finally, a Winner

Talman also found himself losing frequently in divorce courts. His first two marriages cost him dearly. Although he was grossing $65,000 in the early sixties, two separate alimony payments (one was $700 per month), his agents' fees, plus income taxes, reduced his take-home pay about to little more than 10 percent of his income.

Luckily for Talman, he did have one more win under his belt. That was his marriage to Peggy Flanigan. The parents of six children, the compatible and amiable pair shared common interests in watching bullfights, boxing, and baseball. Luckily, they both also shared a good sense of humor. It was an essential ingredient in getting them through tough times, like Talman's court case, his dismissal from the show, the hopeless situation of trying to get ahead of his alimony payments, and the thought of losing everything to lawyers and ex-wives.

Despite his zero-for-umpteen judicial record, and his personal problems, this "loser" went out a winner.

After the Mason show left the airwaves, Talman appeared in several roles. His last movie was The Ballad of Josie, made in 1967, in which he costarred with Doris Day, Peter Graves, Andy Devine, and George Kennedy.

But Talman was a smoker, a three-pack-a-day man. Not surprisingly, he contracted lung cancer. Knowing it was terminal, Talman made a bold, humanitarian move. He launched a campaign against smoking. For his last TV appearance he urged people to stop lighting up. "Before I die I want to do what I can to leave a world free of cancer for my six children," Talman said in his raspy voice. The American Cancer Society ran his message on TV. "Don't Be a Loser" became the slogan of television's most famous loser. (More recently, the late Yul Brynner used the same approach.)

Talman was vacationing in London with his family during the summer of 1968 when he became ill and had to return home. He died of cardiac arrest in Encino on August 30, 1968. He was fifty-three. Talman's widow, Peggy, vigorously carried on her husband's antismoking efforts after his death.


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.