Beautiful, bubbly Barbara Hale, born in DeKalb, IL, April 18, 1922, was attending art school and, as they say, she laughs, “See you in the funny papers? Well, my teacher, Mr. Ketchum, was involved with many comic strips, including ‘Ramblin’ Bill’, and I was used as a model on some of them. This was when I was studying art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.” It wasn’t long before her modeling work attracted the powers that be in Hollywood, for Barbara was under contract to RKO-Radio in 1943.
After a number of pictures, including “The Falcon Out West” (‘45) with Tom Conway, she learned of a new western being made, “West of the Pecos”. “I wanted to do it so bad, so I went to Herman Schlom, the producer, and told him, ‘Please let me do this.’ I really wanted that part! He said, ‘Barb, no one would ever believe you were a man,’ (laughs) as the part called for the girl to dress as a boy. I went to makeup and wardrobe and was dressed as a man. I went back to his office, back to Annie, his secretary, and waited and waited. She didn’t say anything; she didn’t let on. I sat there in a chair with a newspaper all day. Schlom went back and forth, and finally asked Annie who the guy was, and she told him it was someone who wanted to see him about a part. Well, he let me come in; I put my foot on his desk, and to make a long story short, I said, ‘This is Barb. Please can I do that picture? And I got the part! (Laughs)”
Robert Mitchum was the star of “West of the Pecos” (‘45), and right after it, he made “The Story of GI Joe” and his career took off. “Robert Mitchum never changed. He was the dearest, most wonderful man. He sang a lot, and was full of prunes. He was a great kidder, very sweet to me!”
Richard Martin played Chito Rafferty in the film…“Richard Martin! What a darling man! I talked to him a few years ago, we were supposed to meet, but before we could get together, he passed away. What a shame!”
Rita Corday was the second female lead. “Rita and I roomed together up in Lone Pine, which is where we shot the picture. Another thing, I told the director, Edward Killy, about casting a smaller role in the film for Bill Williams. (Barbara’s future husband.—ed.) Killy was sort of a stocky man, and had a cigar. He was a short man, and that cigar was about as big as he was. (Laughs) He smoked all the time! But he said, ‘Sure, Barb, I’ll get Bill Williams up here in Lone Pine.’ He knew I had a crush on Bill. So Killy said, ‘I’ll give him one scene at the beginning of the shoot and another at the end of the picture, so Bill can stay the whole time!’ That was so nice of him.”
Barbara couldn’t ride a horse before coming to California. “RKO taught me how to ride. A wrangler named Whitey is the man who taught me to ride side-saddle, every which a-way. We rode together for weeks. He was just dear. In ‘West of the Pecos’ I had just started riding. In this scene, I was supposed to race by the camera. The wranglers were so dear, they kidded me like I was their little sister. Whitey asked, ‘Are you ready, Honey?’ Then he slapped the horse on its backside. It ran down the hill and into the barn, while I was hanging on for dear life. I wasn’t supposed to go all the way to the barn, you know! (Laughs) Around this time, I started doing bigger pictures, like ‘Higher and Higher’ with Frank Sinatra, so this was my first, and last, B-western.”
After leaving RKO which she terms “a big, happy group, like a college sorority; like a college campus,” Barbara signed with Columbia, where she starred in the big budget “Jolson Sings Again” (‘49) with Larry Parks.
“‘Last of the Comanches’ (‘53) with Brod Crawford was my first western at Columbia. We shot that in Tuscon and it soon got to be near Christmas. Everyone was so worried we’d go over Christmas, but a big department store opened just for the cast and crew, so we could do our Christmas shopping. Then, the hotel caught on fire! (Laughs) I went to Brod’s room to collect his presents, because I didn’t think he would remember and I wanted his two little boys to have their Christmas. Well, I discovered one present was filled with ammo! (Laughs) The picture was loaded with many wind scenes but the wind wouldn’t blow when we were up there. (Laughs) We had many wind scenes coming up. Finally, Andre de Toth, the director, had to send to the studio for those great big wind machines. The same day they arrived, the winds started blowing. (Laughs) Someone stated about Columbia’s head, Harry Cohn, ‘Well, that’s his luck!’ (Laughs) Andre de Toth is a grand fellow. In fact, we used to date—before I met Billy, of course. When he directed me in ‘Comanches’, my daughter was just two years old.”
Lloyd Bridges was the second lead in that western. “He was just great, but my husband Bill got so jealous of him… he drove down with the baby! (Laughs) Bill and I met at RKO and were just good friends for a long while. Then I decided this was something more than friendship but it took me two years to get him to marry me! (Laughs) We were married 47 years.”
Asked if Williams enjoyed the “Kit Carson” TV series he starred in from ‘51-‘55, Barbara is quick to state, “Oh my yes, but that was the beginning of television, and it was hard work. They shot a single episode in two days and worked Saturdays which resulted in three shows filmed in one week. Then they’d have five days off, and start all over again!”
Asked about a story Mara Corday related in our WESTERNS WOMEN book about Barbara bringing food to the set one night, Barbara remembers vividly! “Yes, I brought peanuts, sandwiches, everything! It was on Saturday night and they had to finish that third show and they weren’t allowed to stop for supper. It was around 11 PM Saturday night. That was what you had to do in early TV days! (Laughs) It was the time of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Range Rider…Jocko Mahoney, a very dear friend.”
Bill and Barbara played guest star cameos in “Slim Carter” in ‘57. “Yes, and Bill Hopper, Paul Drake from ‘Perry Mason’, was in it. At this time, we were asked to open a market for a friend of ours. Well, on the way up, Willie (Bill Williams) and I were involved in a terrible automobile accident, and it left him with a broken arm. It was a bad crash! Anyway, in ‘Slim Carter’, we played a couple who were married for 50 years. In real life, we only made it to 47. But it was a wonderful life, I was blessed.”
“Lone Hand” (‘53) was the first time Barbara worked with Joel McCrea. “We also did ‘The Oklahoman’ together. We shot ‘Lone Hand’ in Colorado, beautiful location country. Joel’s son Jody wanted to be an actor, and Joel didn’t want him to be. He wanted him to get his education first. So, he worked him hard, worked him not only as an actor, but had him getting coffee, moving sets. The poor thing worked his bones off! Joel finally asked, ‘Well, Jody, how do you like the business?’ Jody said, ‘I never worked so hard in my life!’ (Laughs) Joel was the kindest man, right next to James Stewart and Randolph Scott. On ‘Lone Hand’, Alex Nicol and Charles Drake were very nice. I liked them. Jimmy Hunt, who played the little boy, was just wonderful. Regarding James Arness, Lee Marvin and other future stars I worked with, it never occurred to me they’d one day be big stars. Lee Marvin was a fine, fine actor.”
In “The Oklahoman” Barbara recalls Gloria Talbott as “a tiny, little thing” and Michael Pate (with whom she worked twice) “made a wonderful Indian; he played a good Indian in that, yet in another picture we did, he was a soldier, with no ethnic background. Michael could play anything, and whatever he played, he was always wonderful. A very good actor.”
Barbara recalled “7th Cavalry” (‘56) with Randolph Scott was “shot in Mexico, and the area residents cooked their tortillas, or whatever, for us on a huge rock. Every day, 10 extras who were very sweet, I would try to talk to them. One day, we were sitting at the table and four of the extras appear with a bowl of soup. I got the proud piece! I looked down and a hog snout was staring back at me! Oh, wonders! You can imagine what I thought! (Laughs)”
One of Barbara’s most amusing stories relates to Rock Hudson and “Seminole” (‘53). “The director was Budd Boetticher, who I saw only two years ago up in Lone Pine, the first time we’d seen one another since he and his first wife took Bill and I to the bullfights in Mexico. That’s something I will never do again! Poor Rock Hudson! He lived in a house on the side of a hill, with stilts! There was a terrible earthquake, and Rock came running out of that house and refused to ever go back in again! Later, I went to his dressing room, to run over our lines. Then the trailer started going back and forth, back and forth. We thought it was another earthquake! Rock jumped 30 feet out the door. (Laughs) It turned out to be the crew, rocking the trailer as a practical joke! (Laughs)”
Regarding Anthony Quinn, the film’s co-star, “Tony Quinn was a beautiful man; I saw him a few years ago, and he came over and gave me a big hug, telling me, ‘It’s been too many years.’ And Hugh O’Brian was funny. For ‘Seminole’, he called me and said, ‘Barb, guess what I did? I shaved my head!’ It was a Mohawk haircut, and Hugh was so proud of his Mohawk. Of course, it looked terrible. (Laughs)”
Barbara worked with eminent producer A. C. Lyles on “Buckskin”. “I’ve known A. C. for many years. Long before that picture. I still talk to him from time-to-time. He tells the funniest jokes of anyone I know!”
Barbara switched to television in the mid-‘50s for “GE Theatre: The Windmill”, where her leading man was James Stewart making his TV debut. “That was a wonderful show. James Stewart and I both got on this wagon hurrying out of town. It was what is called a 2-up. Anyway, as we were zooming out of town, the wranglers started shouting, ‘Stop!’ It seems the wheel was coming off! Thank God for those wranglers! God bless ‘em.”
Regardless of all the films she did, Barbara is best remembered for her role of Della Street on TV’s “Perry Mason”, the long-running hit show which made Raymond Burr a household name. “Gail Patrick, the producer, called and said she wanted me to do the show. I said, ‘Oh Gail, I can’t. My children are too young. I simply can’t do it.’ I had been asked to do Ray Milland’s show, ‘Meet Mr. McNulty’, and Danny Thomas’ show. My agent even made me go see Danny, but I didn’t want to work at the time; a guest shot was alright. The day I went to see Danny, at my agent’s insistence, I found out I was pregnant, and you couldn’t be pregnant on TV in those days. (Laughs) Anyway, Gail said I would be a secretary, not married, so there would be no children on the show, which might confuse my own children, and there wouldn’t be another husband, to upset my own husband. (Laughs) Gail kept after me, she finally said there’d only be 18 shows, it wouldn’t be that long. 18 was okay, but it turned into 300 shows and ran from ‘57-‘66, and later came back and ran from ‘85-‘94!” Barbara Hale has had quite a career, and quite a life. She’s one lady who is beautiful both inside and out!
Barbara’s Western Filmography
Movies: West of the Pecos (‘45 RKO)—Robert Mitchum; Last of the Comanches (‘53 Columbia)—Broderick Crawford; Lone Hand (‘53 U.I.)—Joel McCrea; Seminole (‘53 U.I.)—Rock Hudson; Far Horizons (‘55 Paramount)—Fred MacMurray; Seventh Cavalry (‘56 Columbia)—Randolph Scott; Oklahoman (‘57 Allied Artists)—Joel McCrea; Slim Carter (‘57 U.I.)—Jock Mahoney; Buckskin (‘68 Paramount)—Barry Sullivan. TV: GE Theatre: The Windmill (‘55); Celebrity Playhouse: He Knew All About Women (‘55); Custer: Death Hunt (‘67). TV Movie: Red, White and Black (‘70).