William Talman (William Whitney Talman)

William Talman

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. 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 City. He was ultimately commissioned a major during the war. Before his iconic television role, Talman worked on the Broadway stage and in movies. In the Collier Young-produced thriller, Beware, My Lovely (1952), about a war widow who is terrorized by a madman in her home, a photograph of Talman is used for the picture of her late, heroic husband. Talman played a sadistic psychopathic killer in Ida Lupino’s 1953 film noir, The Hitch-Hiker. The New York Times wrote, “William Talman, as the ruthless murderer, makes the most of one of the year’s juiciest assignments.” 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. 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.”

Talman, as Burger, would go 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,” when Burger disqualified himself from prosecuting a long-time 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. The deputies reported finding Talman and seven other defendants either nude or semi-nude. All were arrested for possession of marijuana (which 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.” Despite this Talman was fired by CBS which refused to give a reason. Talman was later rehired after Perry Mason producer Gail Patrick Jackson made a request to CBS following a massive letter-writing campaign by viewers. Aside from his major supporting role in Perry Mason, Talman also guest-starred in various television series. He appeared in a first season episode of The Invaders, “Quantity: Unknown”. This would be his last on-screen acting role before his death. Talman died on August 30, 1968, at the age of 53, and was buried in the George Washington Section, 2nd Terrace, at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. His widow, Margaret “Peggy” Louise Talman, joined him there at the time of her death in January 2002, aged 73.

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Born

  • February, 04, 1915
  • USA
  • Detroit, Michigan

Died

  • August, 30, 1968
  • USA
  • Encino, California

Cause of Death

  • lung cancer

Cemetery

  • Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
  • Los Angeles, California
  • USA

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