Street where she lived

Start here:

Secretary, twenty-seven, quiet, fast as hell on her feet, had been places. Worked in a carnival or side show, knows all the lines, hard-boiled exterior, quietly efficient, puzzled over the lawyer, chestnut hair, trim figure, some lines on her face, a hint of weariness at the corners of her eyes.

This was Erle Stanley Gardner’s description of one Della Street, a character in his then-unpublished novel Reasonable Doubt. An editor at William Morrow liked the character but wasn’t prepared to accept the novel; Gardner rewrote the story, retitled it The Case of the Velvet Claws, and gave Della Street a new day job: secretary to criminal-defense lawyer Perry Mason.

That was 1933. Barbara Hale was eleven years old and had no idea that she’d become Della Street in 1957 for what would be 271 episodes of the Perry Mason TV series plus dozens of TV-movies thereafter. When she arrived in Hollywood, she got mostly uncredited bit parts along the lines of “stocking salesgirl” (from Gildersleeve on Broadway, 1943); it took her a few years to become a household word, and a little bit longer to realize that Della Street would take over her life.

Barbara Hale in black and white

Barbara Hale with summer grooming tips

Barbara Hale looking pretty

Portrait of Barbara Hale, in landscape

Okay, maybe not her entire life:

I had a Radarange. (It said “Amana,” it did. And it probably said “hernia” to the burglar who stole it.)

Barbara Hale died yesterday at her home in Sherman Oaks, California, of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was ninety-four years old.


  1. McG »

    28 January 2017 · 7:44 am

    The downside to modern longevity is that it leads to learning people have passed away years after you’ve thought them already gone.

    It’s like losing them twice.

  2. Mike »

    28 January 2017 · 1:46 pm

    Perry really never had a clue about Della, did he?

  3. ETat »

    28 January 2017 · 5:43 pm

    What did she do after Perry Mason show? it’s a long stretch from 27 to 94….

  4. CGHill »

    28 January 2017 · 6:09 pm

    Well, she was 35 when she first took the role, which lasted nine years (through 1966). She got occasional work for several years after that, and returned to the role in TV-movies, which ran from 1985 to 1995, after which she essentially retired.

  5. Rule 5 Sunday: Making Anime Great Again : The Other McCain »

    29 January 2017 · 8:44 pm

    […] Proof Positive’s Friday Night Babe is Daisy Lowe, his Vintage Babe is Jane Greer, and Sex in Advertising asks, “Wouldn’t You Rather Be A Pepper Too?” At Dustbury, it’s Diane Birch and Barbara Hale. […]

  6. Roger O Green »

    30 January 2017 · 12:22 pm

    And I watched almost every TV movie, and most of the original series (I was 4 when it started, but I caught most on reruns). Della Street was sharp, and Perry relied on her. It was nice she got to work with her son, William Katt, on Mason.

RSS feed for comments on this post