Movie actress Barbara Hale visited Duluth in October of 1946 for the world premiere of her newest film, Lady Luck. Hale, who was 24 years old at the time, had begun her movie career in 1943 and by the time of her Duluth visit had appeared in 14 films, six in major roles, and all but one produced by RKO Pictures.
Accompanying her on the trip was her husband, Bill Williams. They had just been married on June 22 of that year and said the trip to Duluth was something of a honeymoon. Williams was also under contract with RKO and had started his movie career in 1944.
The couple arrived in town at the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Depot at 200 South 5th Avenue West on the morning of October 23, 1946. Their afternoon was busy with a press conference in Hotel Duluth, interviews by representatives of local high school newspapers, and a theater party.
Lady Luck premiered on Thursday night, Oct. 24, at the Granada Theater at 107 East Superior Street. The film tells the story of Mary Audrey, played by Hale, who strongly opposes gambling because of her father’s addiction to it. She meets a gambler named Larry Scott, played by Robert Young, and they fall in love and decide to marry. Larry promises to Mary that he’s giving up the betting life. Unfortunately, they choose Las Vegas for their wedding, and Larry soon gets involved in gambling again. Also in the cast are Frank Morgan (best known for playing the title character in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and James Gleason.
Hale and Williams appeared at the Granada premiere that night, and then made appearances at the theater before every showing of the film through that Sunday, October 27. Over that period, the Granada was showing the movie five times a day—at 1:21 p.m., 3:21 p.m., 5:21 p.m., 7:21 p.m., and 9:21 p.m. The charge for admission was 50 cents up to 5:00 p.m. and 60 cents after 5:00, including tax. At one of the Friday night showings, the two actors were given certificates of ambassadorship from the Duchy of Duluth, presented by the 1946 Duchess of Duluth, Shirley Elden. The Duchess of Duluth was an annual title awarded in the late 1940s and 1950s. The winner was selected from nominees by a panel of judges and announced at the Fall Festival in the Armory on London Road. Elden was the first Duchess of Duluth.
In the following decade, Hale would appear in more than twenty films, most notably in: The Boy with the Green Hair (1948), with Pat O’Brien and Robert Ryan; Jolson Sings Again (1949), which had a script written by Duluth native Sidney Buchman; The Jackpot (1950), with co-star James Stewart; Lorna Doone (1951), in which she plays the title character; and A Lion in the Streets (1953), with co-star James Cagney.
Hale is best remembered, however, for her portrayal of Della Street in the CBS television series Perry Mason, which ran from 1957 to 1966. Street was the confidential secretary and invaluable assistant to attorney Mason, played by Raymond Burr. Hale appeared in most of the 271 episodes of the show. Hale would win an Emmy in 1959 for best supporting actress in a dramatic series.
Hale and Williams would have three children and remain married until his death in 1992. One son, William Katt, would also become an actor. She died in California on January 26, 2017, at the age of 94.