William Talman (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
William Talman in The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
William Whitney Talman, Jr.

(1915-02-04)February 4, 1915
DiedAugust 30, 1968(1968-08-30) (aged 53)
Resting placeForest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California - Plot: Court of Liberty, Lot 833.
Other namesBill Talman
OccupationFilm and television actor
Years active1940–1967
  • Lynne Carter (married 1942–1952)
  • Barbara Read (married 1953–1959)
  • Margaret Flanagan (married 1963–1968; his death)

Family and education

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.[1]

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.

Acting career

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.[2]

In the 1952 film Beware, My Lovely, in which Ida Lupino played a war widow terrorized by a madman in her home, a photograph of Talman was used for the picture of her late, heroic husband.

In 1953, Talman played a sadistic, psychopathic killer in a movie directed by Lupino, the film noir The Hitch-Hiker.[3] The New York Times wrote, "William Talman, as the ruthless murderer, makes the most of one of the year's juiciest assignments."[4]

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.[5]

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."[6]

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" in which Burger disqualified himself from prosecuting a longtime 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.[7] The deputies reported finding Talman and seven other defendants either nude or seminude. All were arrested for possession of marijuana (the charge 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."[8] Despite this Talman was fired by CBS, which refused to give a reason.[9][note 1][10] Talman was later rehired after Perry Mason producer Gail Patrick Jackson, staunchly supported by Talman's friend, Raymond Burr, made a request to CBS following a massive letter-writing campaign by viewers.[11]

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”, which was his last on-screen acting role before his death.[12]

Personal life

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; she had two sons, Damon and Quentin, from a prior marriage. They were 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.[13] 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[14]) in January 2002, at age 73.

Antismoking advocacy and death

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.[15] 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 [...]"[16] 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."[17]

Four weeks after filming the second public service announcement, Talman died of lung cancer (which had metastasized to his liver, bones and brain[15]) on August 30, 1968, at the age of 53, and was buried in the Court of Liberty, lot 833,[18] 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, however, and the cause of her death was also lung cancer.[14]

Theatre credits

Date Title Role Notes
November 7–30, 1940 Beverly Hills Ted Farlow Fulton Theatre, New York City
Directed by Otto Preminger[19]
November 10, 1941 – June 6, 1942 Spring Again Arnold Greaves Henry Miller's Theatre and Playhouse Theatre, New York City
Directed by Guthrie McClintic[20]
April 29, 1947 – February 14, 1948 A Young Man's Fancy Harold Greenley Plymouth Theatre and Cort Theatre, New York City[21]


Year Title Role Notes
1949 Red, Hot and Blue Bunny Harris [22]
1949 The Woman on Pier 13 Bailey [22]
1950 The Kid from Texas Minniger [22]
1950 Armored Car Robbery Dave Purvus [22]
1951 The Racket Bob Johnson [22]
1952 One Minute to Zero Col. John Parker [22]
1953 The Hitch-Hiker Emmett Myers [22]
1953 City That Never Sleeps Hayes Stewart [22]
1954 Lux Video Theatre Brad Ringer "Pick of the Litter"[23]
1955 Crashout Luther "Swanee" Remsen [22]
1955 Smoke Signal Captain Harper [22]
1955 Four Star Playhouse Eddie '"Eddie's Place"[24]
1955 Big House, U.S.A. Machinegun Mason [22]
1955 Cavalcade of America Wes Hardin "The Texas Ranger"[25]
1955 Two-Gun Lady Marshal Dan Corbin [22]
1955 TV Reader's Digest "Old Master Detective"[26]
1955 Science Fiction Theatre Norman Conway "The Water Maker"[27]
1955 The Ford Television Theatre Jack "South of Selangor"[28]
1956 Screen Directors Playhouse Barney "Number Five Checked Out"[29]
1956 Uranium Boom Grady Mathews [22]
1956 The Man Is Armed Hackett [22]
1956 Telephone Time Lew Reese "Scio, Ohio"[30]
1956 Telephone Time "The Sergeant Boyd Story"[30]
1956 I've Lived Before Writer[22]
1956 Climax! "The Louella Parsons Story"[31]
1956 Climax! Joe MacKenzie "Sit Down with Death"[31]
1956 Climax! Stan "Dark Wall"[31]
1957 Joe Dakota Writer[22]
1957 The Persuader Mark Bonham / Matt Bonham [22]
1957 Hell on Devil's Island Bayard [22]
1957 Trackdown Blaine Sand "Like Father"[32]
Perry Mason Hamilton Burger 212 episodes[33]:49781
1958 Climax! Detective "Scream in Silence"[34]
1958 Tombstone Territory Logan Beatty "The Return of the Outlaw"[35]
1958 Wagon Train Walt Archer "The Sarah Drummond Story"[36]
1958 Alcoa Theatre Lt. Herman Brule "Disappearance"[37]
1958 Cimarron City Mr. Conway "To Become a Man"[38]
1960 Have Gun – Will Travel George Jondill "The Shooting of Jessie May"[39]
1961 Have Gun – Will Travel Sheriff "Long Way Home"[39]
1963 Stump the Stars Himself July 8, 1963[40][41]:22247
1963 Gunsmoke Race Fallon "Legends Don't Sleep"[42]
1966 The Wild Wild West Sheriff "The Night of the Man-Eating House"[43]
1967 The Virginian Writer, "A Welcoming Town"[44]
1967 The Invaders Colonel Frank Griffith "Quantity: Unknown"[45]
1967 The Ballad of Josie District Attorney Charlie Lord (final film role)[22]


  1. Hal Ericson writes in the book Encyclopedia of Television Law Shows: Factual and Fictional Series About Judges, Lawyers and the Courtroom, 1948–2008, "Though the charges were later dropped, CBS invoked the morals clause in Talman's contract, suspending him from Perry Mason on the grounds the viewers would reject the presence of a 'tainted' performer."


  1. Rootsweb Genealogy page on William Talman
  2. "Who's Who in the Cast". A Young Man's Fancy. Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  3. "The Hitch-Hiker". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  4. New York Times review of The Hitch-Hiker
  5. Bawden, James (April 29, 2014). "Dream Factory Time: Gail Patrick". Classic Images. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  6. Nogler, Pat (July 20, 1958). "An Open Case: Snooping Behind Scenes Pays Off". Pasadena Independent Star-News.
  7. District Attorney of TV Show is arrested on marijuana charge
  8. Finally! Victory for Berger
  9. Network fires District Attorney on Mason Show
  10. Erickson, Hal (2009). Encyclopedia of Television Law Shows: Factual and Fictional Series About Judges, Lawyers and the Courtroom, 1948–2008. McFarland. p. 222. ISBN 9780786454525. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  11. Back as DA on TV Show
  12. "The Invaders" Quantity: Unknown (1967) on IMDb
  13. "He Never Comes in First". 1963-04-27. Retrieved 2016-07-14.
  14. Lerner, Barron H. (July 8, 2002). "Medical: Remembering the Man Who Always Lost to Perry Mason and then Died of Cancer". Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  15. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Fourth Estate, 2011, page 266-267.
  16. Kelleher, Brian; Merrill, Diana (1987). "The Perry Mason TV Show Book". Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  17. "William Talman Anti-smoking Ad". Retrieved 2016-03-19.
  18. Smith, Peggy (May 28, 2014). "United States Cemetery Project". Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  19. "Beverly Hills". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  20. "Spring Again". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  21. "A Young Man's Fancy". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  22. "William Talman". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  23. "Lux Video Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  24. "Four Star Playhouse". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  25. "DuPont Cavalcade Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  26. "TV Reader's Digest". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  27. "Science Fiction Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  28. "Ford Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  29. "Screen Directors Playhouse". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  30. "Telephone Time". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  31. "Climax". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  32. "Trackdown". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  33. Davidson, Jim (2014). "The First TV Series (1957–1966); Index of Perry Mason Actors". The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice (e-book). ASIN B00OOELV1K.
  34. "Climax". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  35. "Tombstone Territory". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  36. "Wagon Train". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  37. "Alcoa-Goodyear Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  38. "Cimarron City". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  39. "Have Gun — Will Travel". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  40. "Perry Mason - 50th Anniversary Edition". TV Shows on DVD. TV Guide Online. Archived from the original on 2016-03-13. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  41. Davidson, Jim (2014). "The First TV Series (1957–1966); Season 6". The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice (e-book). ASIN B00OOELV1K.
  42. "Gunsmoke". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  43. "The Wild Wild West". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  44. "The Virginian". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  45. "The Invaders". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
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