In the middle of the 20th century, Hollywood was not one of the most accepting places for gay people. In California, the vineyard family that runs today, Benevides Robert, had a partner named Burr Raymond who died in 1993. Such an option to openly express their sexual orientation was never available to them, as the world they knew was based on a certain level of machismo. The popularity of gay stars was often dependent on this machismo, and the industry worked diligently to paint a rosy picture of familial harmony for both gay and straight stars. This was often achieved through collusion between movie and TV studios and gossip columnists.
Benevides is quietly funny, filling our lifetimes with experiences, as we spent hours together that passed all too quickly. In front of us, the vine-covered hills undulated like a great swatch of green corduroy. It was late morning when I sat down on the outside deck of Raymond Burr’s tasting room in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California.
The Benevides/Burr family, like so many of their pursuits, was a joint venture, named in tribute and memory of Burr, the vineyard.
“My dad discovered the initial parcel of land for me–eight acres,” states Benevides. “I’ve desired to possess real estate, and I never had, ever since I was ten years old and read The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.”
“We’ve been producing wine ever since,” stated Raymond. “Our inaugural wine was bottled in ’89. In ’86, we planted the grape vines. That was back in 1985. Cooking for others was his ultimate passion, but he adored cooking because he had a vision of owning a winery,” Raymond mentioned. “He had always nurtured this dream of owning a winery because he enjoyed cooking. He suggested, ‘I believe we should cultivate some grape vines.'” Eventually, the main focus shifted towards acquiring a stunning estate close to family. Initially, the primary goal was to obtain a splendid property in proximity to loved ones.
The vineyard, powered by solar energy and free from chemicals, is currently a prime example of environmentally friendly industry. “Our vineyard is designed to not require any tilling. Instead, we cultivate vegetation, such as grass, in the spaces between rows and regularly maintain it by mowing. This approach provides a habitat for a diverse community of beneficial insects. Applying chemicals to eliminate certain insects would also harm the beneficial ones, so we refrain from using such methods,” Benevides explains.
Probably one of my favorites is our Cabernet Sauvignon, which is good with spaghetti dinner. It depends on what I’m eating. As for favorites, I like them all, just like a child. The bench land makes the vines struggle for their heartiness, ultimately resulting in better quality grapes that produce Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. We have a few bottles of Port for friends.
Burr ascribed fabricated spouses and a probable non-existent offspring, whereas Benevides was commonly mentioned in writing as his “business associate” or “companion,” hurdles that heterosexual couples rarely encounter, as frequently depicted in Raymond Life.
He said, “I don’t have any more desire to do that, it was such a difficult task for me. But I enjoyed how easy it was for him to talk to Raymond, especially since we had spent the day together at home.”
Benevides carefully pronounces each word, “I don’t have any more to do that. You’ve already been doing stuff for me, working on my scripts, and doing production stuff for me. Raymond already told me, why don’t you just go into the production side and set up an office at Universal City, where I was a producer on?”
I have worked for two entertainment companies, RB Productions and Productions Harbour, in the Bahamas called Harbour Island. It is interesting to note that RB Productions was the one I used to have a license plate that said “Jaguar,” while everyone else in the company used RB Productions as well. It is also worth mentioning that the secretary at RB Productions had the initials B.R. Strange, isn’t it? Both Benevides and I used RB as our initials. Later on, we used Productions Harbour to go to a little island called Harbour Island in the Bahamas.
Benevides remains close to cast and crew members from both Perry Mason and Ironside. “I am still very much in love with Barbara [Hale, who played Della Street in the Perry Mason shows], and she with me. I just had two dinners and a brunch with her in Los Angeles. We get along wonderfully. She’s the only one from that cast (the original Perry Mason) that is still alive. From the cast of Ironside, I still keep in touch with Don Galloway [who portrayed Detective Sergeant Ed Brown]. He’s the reason I have a tattoo,” he says, rolling up his sleeve to show me a modest bird on his forearm.
Don wanted to put his wife’s name in the heart of Singapore, so he had a tattoo on his arm at Raffles Hotel. There was a tattoo shop called Two Thumbs Johnny run by a gentleman Siamese in the corner around Raffles. We had been drinking pink gins. Cioppa decided he wanted the Singapore Lion to go all the way up and down his arm. Finally, we convinced him to get a little sweet bird of youth on his head.
The couple loved to travel and in addition to running their business empire, they built a local hospital and other services for the Islanders later on. One of their favorite spots was the Fijian island of Nye-tumba (pronounced Nye-tum-ba), which they purchased. They also had several other getaway spots in different locales.
Raymond was constantly searching for a tranquil seaside retreat, and each time he stumbled upon a charming coastal spot he liked, he would contemplate the possibility of constructing a spacious resort on the adjacent land. Meanwhile, our attention was captivated by the allure of Hawaii.
“Why don’t you write a letter to the Commerce of Chamber in Fiji?” Raymond asked repeatedly. He explained that it would be difficult for us to get to another island by taking a little boat to a small dock, then a 45-minute taxi ride, and finally a plane to Fiji. Although I feel almost ashamed to bring it up, there is another island just a few minutes away from the market where we came from. The gentleman said that the island has already been sold, but I received a letter saying that it has been sold back to me. They said that the island is about 10 acres in size. They also mentioned that there is a shady person over there, but of course, there is no Commerce of Chamber in Fiji.
“The cows were grass trimmers,” chuckles Benevides. “The livestock were primarily employed to trim the grass surrounding the coconut trees – the cows served as grass cutters.” They would eventually own an island spanning 4,000 acres, which consisted of cattle and coconut trees.
“We sold it in ’85, and in ’65, he fell in love with it. We stayed there for two days, drinking champagne. The sign said ‘It’s a stormy and cloudy day on the island.’ A shaft of light came down as he opened a bottle of champagne. ‘We’re getting close!’ He said and shook my hand, Raymond. I was putting myself to sleep and taking Dramamine because I was getting seasick on the little boat. We went out to the island.”
Have you ever met Robert before? He has a serious love for green thumbs and orchids. I wonder why farmers, vintners, land barons, and Hollywood superstars don’t add another job description to their resumes, such as an orchid enthusiast.
Robert Burr, also known as Raymond “Ray” Burr, was a big fan of blue flowers. He had many blue flowers in his greenhouse, which resembled a humid jungle. In the American hybrid orchid catalog, he registered about 200 orchids and created over 2,000 crosses. The couple also owned two greenhouses located on their vineyard property in Sonoma County. Over the years, they remained in several different locations, including Benevides Nursery and God Sea. Raymond remembers that he needed a license to import a lot of weird stuff, so he obtained a license for that purpose. He raised a lot of exotic plants and tried to raise all sorts of plants, even on the cliffs beyond his house in Malibu.
Raymond’s great friend, Ruth, immediately fell in love with him. She was named Doctor Good by Doctor Robert, who picks up a pot and announces, “Behold! There are brilliant flowers blooming in the season, but there is so much more than that. I’m not.”
“She zoomed past me,” I unlocked the door and recognized it was Ruth, thus I couldn’t spot anyone through the peephole. At the moment we were preparing to leave the hotel, there was a gentle tap on the door. He proceeds, recounting their initial encounter as the laughter starts quietly and intensifies.
“Where is Mr. Burr?” Where is he? Where is he?” Rushing along the row of plants, waving, with arms lifted high, Mr. Benevides bursts into his most impressive falsetto Ruth Westheimer impersonation. They created a comical image, you can envision.” “He could have easily carried her in his pocket,” he chuckles.
Next month, I will go to Guerneville for Lazy Bear, which is the most fun week of the year for me, a festival in Borneo, then an opera festival in Wales, and finally to Valencia in Spain. This month, I am only going to L.A. I made a promise to myself that I would travel every month, as Benevides spends a lot of his time traveling the world.
Every year, Raymond’s birthday is commemorated with various festivities, ranging from laid-back barbecues and tastings to wine cruises. The vineyard’s wine club frequently organizes events, with a strong emphasis on creating a welcoming atmosphere. Raymond highly values making people feel at ease. At his vineyard, often described as a hidden treasure, he takes pleasure in educating visitors about the wines that are quietly crafted. When he is not traveling, he spends his time in his home, which is adorned with beautiful art, and which he shared with Burr in Sonoma.
Here is the output where the sentence structure is reversed: “I like people. We get very charmed by a lot of people. We have the laid back, easy quality. Come here and enjoy a picnic and have a good time. That’s our basic premise.”
While Raymond Burr had never had the chance to taste the bottled product from the grapes he nurtured and Robert turned into a literal fruition, each bottle is a heartfelt tribute to him.
I think he deserves to be named after him, and now we’re making great wines at his memorial idea, but I didn’t like that he didn’t want it. We talked about the possibility that we might name it after him, but he didn’t want it. Finally, I decided it should be called Burr Raymond Vineyards, but we still hadn’t released any wines in ’93 when he died. “Benevides reflects” was his dream, not mine.