Excerpt from “Hiding in Plain Sight – The Secret Life of Raymond Burr”

Raymond reverted to villainous form in his next movie, Mara Maru, reuniting with Errol Flynn, with whom he’d costarred three years earlier in The Adventures of Don Juan. In Mara Maru, Flynn played Greg Mason, a luckless salvage fiver hunting for a cache of sunken diamonds in the waters off Manila. Ruth Roman played his love interest; Raymond was Benedict, a shady promoter involved in the salvage operation (“Ruth Roman and Raymond Burr struggle in supporting roles,” noted the Chicago Tribune).

Once again, Raymond’s weight was a problem. He fluctuated wildly from enormous to simply overweight, often in a short time frame. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was visiting Raymond on the set of Mara Maru and noticed the difference. “I thought my eyes had gone bad when I walked on the Mara Maru set at Warners and spotted Raymond Burr,” she wrote in November 1951. “In A Place in the Sun he weighed a strapping 300 pounds. But now, as a romantic leading man, he tips the scales at 185. We forgot movies for a spell and had a long chat about dieting.”

The cast also featured Paul Picerni, who was five years younger than Raymond. He played Ranier, a detective who switches allegiances thoughout Mara Maru between Benedict and Mason (depending on who looks like the winner). Picerni was a Warner Brothers contract player who’d tested with Raymond for several movies in years past.

On the Mara Maru set they became fast friends, drinking brandy, and getting the giggles one day while shooting a particularly wet scene (a typhoon that rocked Mason’s boat). Raymond often invited Picerni back to his dressing room to play cribbage. He was “very subtle” in his approach, but it was often apparent to Picerni, who was straight, why the burly actor had taken such an interest in him.

“He talked about his wife in England and his two sons [sic]. I guess that threw me off,” Picerni said. “And then we’re playing cribbage and suddenly I see the look in his eyes, and I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s on the make!’ Nothing ever happened. He was a great guy and very subtle in his homosexuality, I guess.”

Picerni was more straightforward in his biography:
“When I took a look up from my cards…I saw him staring at me. With his big blue eyes. For the first time in my life, I felt like a DAME. Then it hit me: He’s been giving me all this bullshit about his wife and his two kids in London, when in fact he was gay, and he was makin’ a move on me!”

It wasn’t the last time, either. Raymond hit on Picerni again (unsuccessfully) when Picerni guest starred on Perry Mason, trying to loosen him up with a few glasses of scotch. “But I loved Ray,” Picerni said. “He was a delightful guy with a great sense of humor.”

Michael Seth Starr

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