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Raymond Burr name gone from historic New Westminster theatre

The marquee at The Columbia theatre announces the opening show for the Lafflines Comedy Club which has relocated to the historic venue. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
The marquee at The Columbia theatre announces the opening show for the Lafflines Comedy Club which has relocated to the historic venue.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

The Burr Theatre is no more, now that Barry Buckland has redubbed the Downtown New Westminster landmark "The Columbia Theatre, Home of Lafflines."

The reason comes down to rights, and the wishes of the life partner of the TV and film star Raymond Burr, and the local theatre society that bears his name.

Both felt it inappropriate that the former star of Perry Mason would be commemorated with his name on a comedy club.

"I don't think that comedy is something anyone remembers Raymond Burr for. He was a man of a certain stature and comedy was not something that he did," said Robert Benevides, Burr's life partner and executor of his estate, speaking from his home in Sonoma County, California.

Lafflines owner Buckland purchased The Burr in 2009 and moved his comedy club there this month. When Buckland had to put a name on the marquee, he could not use "The Burr" because the rights are held by Burr's estate, so he opted to use the Columbia Theatre name, the original name of the 1927 building.

The City of New Westminster bought the theatre in 2000 and leased it to the Burr society. The organization operated it as a theatre, and opening night always began with a toast to the theatre's namesake.

"The legacy of Raymond Burr is associated with the theatre arts, not comedy," said Ted Eddy, president of the group. "Any effort on our behalf to honour him, whether in a building structure or a scholarship, would be related to legitimate community theatre and not attached to a commercial enterprise."

In addition to promoting performing arts, Eddy's group has established a scholarship in Burr's name at Douglas College's theatre department.

In California, where a teenaged Burr and his mother lived after his parents divorced, his name lives on in the Raymond Burr Vineyards, which he and life partner Benevides established in 1986.

Burr met Benevides, also an actor, in the 1950s on the set of Perry Mason. They bonded over a love of orchids and founded Sea God Nurseries for the breeding and hybridization of the exotic flower.

Benevides purchased farmland in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County in 1976, and the first Raymond Burr vintage came in 1990.

Though Burr's name has been erased from the marquee of the Columbia Theatre, his name remains part of New Westminster's history.

According to local historian Archie Miller, who leads tours of the cemetery, his grave in the Fraser Cemetery is another way to remember him.

"Raymond is one we get asked about the most. Someone in the group always says, Raymond Burr is buried here, isn't he?" said Miller.

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