RIP Barbara Hale, who played “Della Street” on Perry Mason

I love the Perry Mason show. I still watch it, mostly for the camaraderie–a combination of friendship and professional respect–among the three principals: Perry, Della, and Paul. One reason Della (Barbara Hale) joined the show was her old friendship with Raymond Burr.

I had just finished watching another old episode when I read the sad news that “Della Street” had died.

Barbara Hale was 94. The New York Times obituary is here.

She never seemed unhappy about being identified with one character throughout her career. In 1993 she told the Chicago Tribune that Della Street was “a woman who knew what everybody was thinking.”

“She was informed and very observant of everything that went on,” she continued. “That was my challenge as an actress, to be a necessary part of the office without being too aggressive.” –New York Times

Variety’s obituary is here.

1950s America as a Melting Pot…on the old Perry Mason series

I love the glimpsed snippets of American life that reveal how its myriad subcultures blend, enrich each other, and create something new.

I noticed one of those snippets the other day, on an early episode of Perry Mason. It was a comment by Mason’s nemesis, Lt. Tragg, played as grumpy, smart, and fair.

At the conclusion of “The Case of the Haunted Husband,” Perry explains why Tragg himself should have been able to guess the real killer (not Mason’s client, of course).

Tragg grasps the answer and concludes the episode with the Yiddish exclamation, “Oy Gevalt,” a wry combination of “I’ll be damned” and “Woe is me.”

It’s odd enough that a crusty, gentile Los Angeles detective would say it. But I figured, “Hey, it’s a sly joke played by a Jewish screenwriter,” so I waited for the credits to roll.

The writer was Gene Wang.

That’s America.

Oy Gevalt