53 (passed away Aug. 30th, 1968)
Feb. 4th, 1915
Detroit, Michigan, USA
William Talman's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles1955 - Crashout
1953 - City That Never Sleeps
1951 - The Racket
1950 - Armored Car Robbery
1949 - The Woman on Pier 13
Guest TV Roles
Colonel Frank Griffith
William Talman is best known for his role as Hamilton Burger, the district attorney who perpetually lost to Perry Mason in the long-running series "Perry Mason" (1957). He was an accomplished screenwriter and stage and screen actor, and appeared in numerous roles on television as a character actor from the mid-1950s until his death from lung cancer in August of 1968.
He was born William Whitney Talman Jr. on February 4, 1915, in Detroit, Michigan, the first son of William Talman Sr. and Ada B. Talman. His father was vice-president of an electrical company that manufactured industrial heat-measuring recording devices and yachts. During an interview with "TV Guide" in April of 1963, Talman told writer Richard Gehman that his father made a good deal of money, "enough to send me to school in a limousine each day. Public school. That meant I had to fight my way in and out."
In school Talman had an avid interest in athletics, especially boxing and baseball. He developed his interest in boxing early in life by fighting on the local parish boxing team of the Episcopal Church. At one point in his life he played semi-professional baseball. He was educated at Cranbrook School and later attended Dartmouth College, where his interest in acting first took hold.
He left Dartmouth in his sophomore year after an incident in which a freshman he knew "loaned" him a car so that he could go visit a girlfriend at Smith College. A bus forced the car off of the road and it hit a tree. A boy who was with them was killed and it later turned out that the car was stolen. Talman was asked to resign from Dartmouth, which he did. Although invited back the next year, he never returned.
Talman began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1940s. His first roles were in "Beverly Hills," "Yokel Boy" and "Of Mice and Men." He was appearing in "Spring Again" at Henry Miller's Theatre in January of 1942 when he received his draft notice for induction into the U.S. army. Prior to leaving for active duty he married actress Lynne Carter.
Talman entered the army as a private and saw 30 months of service in the Pacific, where he won a commission to the rank of major. During the war, his assignments included the managing of a school that trained soldiers to put on shows. At one point he was in charge of training boxing and baseball teams. He was proud of the fact that his teams won both the boxing and baseball championships of the Western Pacific.
Talman returned to Broadway after the war. Two of his more notable postwar roles were in Joseph M. Hyman and Bernard Hart's production of "Dear Ruth" in 1946 and Henry Adrian's production of "A Young Man's Fancy" in 1947. In 1949 the actor moved to Hollywood and began making films. His first picture was The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), in which he played gangster Bunny Harris. Other movie and television roles soon followed.
Talman married actress Barbara Read in 1953. The couple had two children, Barbie and Billy, but they divorced in September of 1959. In a tragic turn of events, his former wife took her own life in December of 1963 by closing up her house and turning on the gas jets. Notes she left behind blamed ill health for her action.
He married Margaret (Peggy) Flanigan and adopted her two children from a previous marriage, Steve and Debbie. After the "Perry Mason" show ended in 1966, Talman went on a six-week tour of Vietnam to entertain the troops. Upon his return home, it was discovered that he had lung cancer. His last film was The Ballad of Josie (1967), with Doris Day (I).
Near the end of his life, Talman did something that, while common nowadays, was an extraordinarily courageous thing for an actor to do at that time. A heavy smoker for most of his life, he was angered by a newspaper article he read about actors being afraid to make anti-smoking messages for fear of losing opportunities to make lucrative cigarette commercials. He decided to do something about it. Talman volunteered to make a short film for the American Cancer Society, part of which was shown in late 1968 and 1969 as a television anti-smoking commercial. He was the first actor to ever make such a commercial. When the message was being filmed, Talman knew he was dying, was in a great deal of pain and was in fact under heavy sedation for it. The short film begins, "Before I die I want to do what I can to leave a world free of cancer for my six children . . . "
William Talman died of cardiac arrest due to complications from lung cancer at West Valley Community Hospital in Encino, California, on August 30, 1968, at the age of 53. Although his life was short, he left an enduring legacy through his writing, his acting, his heroism, and his never-ending championing of the underdog.
- In an interview Talman recalled an incident that happened shortly after the release of _The Hitch-Hiker (1953)_ (qv), in which he gave a chilling portrayal of escaped murderer and serial killer Emmett Meyers. He was driving his convertible in Los Angeles with the top down, and he stopped at a red light. Another driver in a convertible who was stopped next to him stared at him for a few seconds, then said, "You're the hitchhiker, right?" Talman nodded, indicating that he was. The other driver got out of his car, went over to Talman's car and slapped him across the face, then got back in his car and drove off. In recalling the story, Talman said, "You know, I never won an Academy Award but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one."
- When he came down with lung cancer, he was the first actor to do a TV commercial on the danger of smoking.
- Interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California - Plot: Court of Liberty, Lot 833.
- He was actually fired from the _"Perry Mason" (1957)_ (qv) series after a party at which he was a guest was raided by Hollywood police officers. Although he denied any wrongdoing, he was released from the show due to the morals clause in his contract. Although the cast and crew persuaded the network to rehire him, it damaged his acting career. He worked very seldomly as an actor after the incident.
- Once worked in nightclubs as a dancer and emcee. One of his children, Timothy, went on to become a musical comedy dancer, once performing on Broadway in 'Cathy Rigby' (qv)'s revival of "Peter Pan" in 1990.
- Appears as district attorney Hamilton Burger, with 'Raymond Burr' (qv) as lawyer Perry Mason, on a 44¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Early TV Memories issue honoring "Perry Mason" (1957), issued 11 August 2009.
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