To her fans, Barbara Hale seemed born to play the role of Della Street, savvy and streetwise secretary of Raymond Burr's indefatigable public defender "Perry Mason" (CBS, 1957-1966), but she nearly walked away from the opportunity. Having arrived in Hollywood during World War II, the Illinois native was put to work in bit parts and as a pin-up for home studio RKO. Just as she began to merit better roles - in Joseph Losey's pacifist parable "The Boy with the Green Hair" (1947) and the nifty noir "The Window" (1949) - her contract expired. Floating to Columbia, Hale matured as a leading lady opposite Jimmy Stewart in "The Jackpot" (1951) and James Cagney in "A Lion is in the Streets" (1953) but marriage and motherhood prompted the actress to seek out short-term television work, which kept her closer to home. A shot as a regular on "Perry Mason" failed to spark Hale's interest until she learned her co-star would be Raymond Burr, an old friend from her days at RKO. Burr and Hale weathered nine seasons of the highly-rated courtroom drama and remained lifelong friends, reuniting 20 years after the cancellation of the original series for a run of successful telefilm follow-ups, which found Perry and Della slowed by age but unwavering in their shared devotion to the law. Widowed in 1992 and mourning the loss of Burr the following year, Hale retired in 1995, content in her legacy as a consummate character actress and the definitive Della Street.