It was on this day, August 30, 1968, American television and movie actor, William Whitney Talman, Jr. died of lung cancer. Talman, was noted for having played Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger in the long-running series Perry Mason
Talman, born in Detroit, Michigan, 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 where he began his acting career on the stage.
Playing opposite Raymond Burr in “Perry Mason”, Talman, as Burger, went on to lose all but three cases in the nine-year series. He called his record “the longest losing streak in history.”
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.”
Talman is also known for being the first actor in Hollywood to film an antismoking 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.
Talman died on August 30, 1968, at the age of 53, and was buried in the Court of Liberty, lot 833 at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.