William Talman (actor)

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William Talman
File:Hitchhiker Talman.jpg
William Talman in The Hitch-Hiker (1953).
Born William Whitney Talman, Jr.
(1915-02-04)February 4, 1915
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died August 30, 1968(1968-08-30) (aged 53)
Encino, California, U.S.
Cause of death lung cancer
Resting place Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California - Plot: Court of Liberty, Lot 833.
Occupation Film and television actor
Years active 1949–1967
Spouse(s) Lynne Carter (1942-1952) (divorced) 1 child
Barbara Read (1953-1959) (divorced) 2 children
Margaret Flanagan (1963-1968) (his death) 2 children

William Whitney Talman, Jr. (February 4, 1915 – August 30, 1968) was an American television and movie actor, who played Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger in the long-running series Perry Mason.

Family and education

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 City. He was ultimately commissioned a major during the war.

Acting career

Raymond Burr and William Talman in Perry Mason (1958)

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.[2] The New York Times wrote, "William Talman, as the ruthless murderer, makes the most of one of the year's juiciest assignments."[3]

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.[4]

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."[5]

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.[6] 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."[7] Despite this Talman was fired by CBS which refused to give a reason.[8] Talman was later rehired after Perry Mason producer Gail Patrick Jackson made a request to CBS following a massive letter-writing campaign by viewers.[9]

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.[10]

Personal life

Talman was married three times. His first wife was the actress Lynne Carter – their marriage 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. They 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. William and Margaret had two children: a son, Timothy, and a daughter, Susan. Widow Margaret Talman outlived Talman by 34 years, until her death in January 2002, at age 73.

Anti-smoking advocacy and death

Talman is also known for being the first actor in Hollywood to film an anti-smoking public service announcement (PSA) 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. 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... " Talman requested that the commercial not be aired until after his death.

He had made another such PSA, 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."

Four weeks after filming the second PSA, 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.


Year Title Role Notes
1949 Red, Hot and Blue Bunny Harris
1949 Woman on Pier 13, TheThe Woman on Pier 13 Bailey, younger henchman
1950 Kid From Texas, TheThe Kid From Texas Minninger
1950 Armored Car Robbery Dave Purvis
Martin Bell
1951 Racket, TheThe Racket Officer Bob Johnson
1952 One Minute to Zero Col. Joe Parker
1953 Hitch-Hiker, TheThe Hitch-Hiker Emmett Myers
1953 City That Never Sleeps Hayes Stewart
1954 Lux Video Theatre Brad Ringer Pick of the Litter
1955 Big House, U.S.A. William 'Machine Gun' Mason
1955 Four Star Playhouse Eddie Eddie's Place
1955 Crashout Luther Remsen
alias Swanee Rawlins
aka Reverend Remington
1955 Smoke Signal Capt. Harper
1955 Cavalcade of America Wes Hardin The Texas Rangers
1955 Two-Gun Lady Marshal Dan Corbin
1955 TV Reader's Digest Old Master Detective
1955 Science Fiction Theatre Norman Conway The Water Maker
1955 Ford Television Theatre, TheThe Ford Television Theatre Jock McLain South of Selangor
1956 Screen Directors Playhouse Barney Number Five Checked Out
1956 Uranium Boom Grady Mathews
1956 The Man Is Armed Hackett
1956 Telephone Time Lew Reese Scio, Ohio
1956 Telephone Time Undetermined Role The Sergeant Boyd Story
1956 I've Lived Before writer
1956 Climax! The Louella Parsons Story
1956 Climax! Joe MacKenzie Sit Down with Death
1956 Climax! Stan Dark Wall
1957 Joe Dakota writer
1957 Persuader, TheThe Persuader Matt Bonham
Mark Bonham
1957 Hell on Devil's island Bayard
1957 Trackdown Blaine Sand Like Father
Perry Mason Hamilton Burger 208 episodes
1958 Climax! Gene Scream in Silence
1958 Tombstone Territory Logan Beatty The Return of the Outlaw
1958 Wagon Train Walt Archer The Sarah Drummond Story
1958 Alcoa Theatre Lt. Herman Brule Disappearance
1958 Cimarron City Mr. Conway To Become a Man
1960 Have Gun – Will Travel George Jondill The Shooting of Jessie May
1961 Have Gun – Will Travel Sheriff Long Way Home
1963 Stump the Stars Himself July 8, 1963
1963 Gunsmoke Race Fallon Legends Don't Sleep
1966 Wild Wild West, TheThe Wild Wild West Sheriff The Night of the Man-Eating House
1967 Virginian, TheThe Virginian writer
A Welcoming Town
1967 Ballad of Josie, TheThe Ballad of Josie District Attorney Charlie Lord
1967 Invaders, TheThe Invaders Colonel Frank Griffith Quantity: Unknown


  1. Rootsweb Genealogy page on William Talman
  2. The Hitch-Hiker on IMDb
  3. New York Times review of The Hitch-Hiker
  4. Bawden, James (April 29, 2014). "Dream Factory Time: Gail Patrick". Classic Images. Retrieved 2015-04-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nogler, Pat (July 20, 1958). "An Open Case: Snooping Behind Scenes Pays Off". Pasadena Independent Star-News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. District Attorney of TV Show is arrested on marijuana charge
  7. Finally! Victory for Berger
  8. Network fires District Attorney on Mason Show
  9. Back as DA on TV Show
  10. William Talman on IMDb

External links