Classic Movie Travels: Barbara Hale, Chicago Illinois

Classic Movie Travels: Barbara Hale, Chicago Area

Barbara HaleBarbara Hale

“It hit every paper the next day: the Cinderella story. Of course they said it was a starring role. I had one line, but you know about those things.” -Barbara Hale

Actress Barbara Hale was one who performed on many different mediums, but ultimately carried out one of her most memorable roles later in life. Though many know her work on the Perry Mason series, Hale also experienced noteworthy moments in her career on radio and film.

According to the Joiner History Room in DeKalb County, Illinois, Barbara Bernice Hale was born on April 18th, 1922 at the DeKalb Public Hospital in DeKalb, Illinois. Her father owned a farm in DeKalb and her mother sold produce. When Hale was about five years old, she and her family moved to Rockford, Illinois, where she grew up.

In 1940, Hale graduated from Rockford High School and planned to be a commercial artist. She enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts to paint, but found herself modeling for her peers more often than painting. She was soon offered a modeling job when waiting at a bus stop outside of the Drake Hotel while wearing a striking red coat. Hale was encouraged to model for the Chicago Models Bureau, since a representative of the agency was looking to secure a model who would photograph well outdoors in a red coat. Hale moved to Chicago and lived with Connie and Al Seaman of the Chicago Models Bureau for a year. Along the way, Hale modeled various pieces and also posed for War Bond posters.

One day, Seaman sent along Hale’s photographs to talent scout Arthur Willi at RKO. Willi came to Chicago to meet with Hale at the Sherman Hotel and Hale signed a contract with RKO as a stock player. On her first day at the studio, the casting director sent her to a sound stage to deliver one line in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943). Nervous about her performance, director Gordie Douglas reassured her that she did well and asked when she had arrived. The fact that it was her first day on the lot and she was already delivering lines on film was a Cinderella story that the press could market well—and so they did.

Frank Sinatra and Barbara Hale, Higher and Higher.Frank Sinatra and Barbara Hale, Higher and Higher.

Hale remained under contract with RKO Radio Pictures throughout the late 1940s. After fulfilling various walk-on roles, she appeared in Higher and Higher (1943) with Frank Sinatra and even sang with him. She played the lead female role West of the Pecos (1945) and received top billing in both Lady Luck (1946) and The Window (1949). Hale co-starred in Jolson Sings Again (1949), with Larry Parks playing Al Jolson and Hale as Jolson’s fictitious wife, Ellen Clark. [Jolson]

After the success of the sequel to Jolson’s biopic, Hale appeared in Lorna Doone (1951), The Jackpot (1951), A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), Seminole (1953) and The Far Horizons (1955). Hale’s final lead role in motion pictures was with Joel McCrea as co-star in The Oklahoman (1957).

Al Jolson and Barbara Hale, Jolson Sings AgainAl Jolson and Barbara Hale, Jolson Sings Again

Hale was considering retirement from acting when she accepted her most memorable role as legal secretary Della Street in the television series Perry Mason. The show ran from 1957 to 1966, and she also reprised her role in 30 Perry Mason television films (1985–95).

Barbara Hale and Raymond Burr, Perry MasonBarbara Hale and Raymond Burr, Perry Mason

Though the Perry Mason series was a success, she also continued to work in films. She appeared as a featured role in Airport (1970), playing the wife of a jetliner pilot. Her final film appearances were in The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) and Big Wednesday (1978).

Hale passed away in her home at age 94 on January 26th, 2017.


Barb City Manor retirement center, once DeKalb Public Hospital where Barbara Hale was born.Barb City Manor retirement center (formerly DeKalb Public Hospital)

Though Hale passed away, her fans may still visit various locations that were of importance to her life and career. Hale’s birthplace of DeKalb Public Hospital still stands, although it is no longer used as a hospital. It has since been transformed into the Barb City Manor retirement center.

Barbara Hale childhood home 1428 Latham Place in Rockford IllinoisHale’s childhood home

Her childhood home stood at 1428 Latham Place in Rockford. This home is privately owned.

Rockford Central High School IllinoisSite of Rockford High School

Rockford High School is now defunct. The building stood at 2015 Madison St. in Rockford, Illinois, but was demolished in 2015.

Drake Hotel 140 E. Walton Place in ChicagoThe Drake Hotel

Chicago also has some locations of relevance to Hale. The Drake Hotel remains a functional, upscale hotel, located at 140 E. Walton Place in Chicago.

Sherman Hotel now a Holiday Inn ChicagoHoliday Inn (site of Hotel Sherman)

The Hotel Sherman was demolished and a Holiday Inn now stands in its place.

The next time you are in the Chicago area waiting for a bus, be sure to wear a red coat for Barbara!


–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.


This entry was posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Classic Movie Travels: Barbara Hale, Chicago Illinois

  1. I need a new coat. I think I’ll hunt for a red one – Barbara Hale red!

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  3. I loved Hale in the Perry Mason series. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen any of the films she was in. I may have to catch “The Giant Spider Invasion” though – that sounds like the type of film I’d like. I do wonder however, how she would have faired as a painter though – funny how some people like her just accidentally get into the world of acting.

  4. Javier Valverde says:

    I’ve always been a fan of Barbara Hale so this article was very informative. I wish she had had a bigger screen career because she certainly had the talent for it. She could have gotten roles that went to Bette Davis or Joan Crawford had she been in a studio other than RKO. Very saddened to hear that she passed away this year. May she rest in peace.

  5. David Hollingsworth says:

    Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with Barbara Hale as much as I should be. However, looking at her bio and the list of films she made; I think I have to brush up on her.

  6. Gloria Elizabeth says:

    I enjoyed her work in the Perry Mason series. I’m a native Southern Californian and spent a year in the mid-1980s in New York. I was so homesick for California that I watched the Perry Mason re-runs every weekday at 11 AM on the local TV station just so I could feast my eyes on those Los Angeles exteriors.

  7. Brittaney B says:

    How have I never heard of Barbara Hale?! Thanks for bringing her to my attention. I’m going to keep an eye out for her films.

  8. Sara Stewart says:

    I love the photos and wonder if she continued her art, even though she became an actress.

  9. I always enjoyed watching Barbara Hale. When I was younger, my family and I were Perry Mason fans……I thought she was a beautiful lady (thought one day she would marry Perry Mason (Raymond Burr).

  10. Kassidy J Jacobs says:

    She was such a stunner! So sad to hear of her passing. I wish she would have been signed with a better studio so she could get all of the roles she deserved. I need to research her and buy a red coat in her honor!

  11. wanda DeLeon says:

    I’ve been a Barbara Hale fan since my 6th grade of school. I’m 60yrs old. I wish they played more of her movies on TV than what they do. I watch Perry Mason over and over. Would love to see Government girl,Desert hell etc.

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