Created by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)
One of the all-time great mismatched team-ups in detective fiction and -- at the time -- a real blast of fresh air. Grade A Extra Large widow and penny pincher BERTHA COOL, the sixtyish head of the B. Cool Confidential Investigations, based in Los Angeles, isn't overly concerned with ethics. "I'll handle any disbarred lawyer," she says, and that she will.
Truth be told, I've always had a soft spot for Mrs. Cool. Greedy, corrupt, dishonest, about as pleasant as a cold sore and weighing slightly less than a Buick, she ran her own detective agency while most female sleuths of the time were puttering around in the rose garden, making tea for the vicar or waiting to be rescued. Politically correct? Who the hell cares?
Fortunately, she finds her match in DONALD LAM, a diminutive lawyer who shows a delightful aptitude for bending, twisting, tweaking and otherwise subverting the law, while Bertha tends to just out and out break it. As she puts it, Donald is "a little runt, but he's brainy." Meanwhile, Gardner himself called him "that cocky little bastard."
Together they are simply one of the best teams of P.I.s ever, appearing in one of the more entertaining series of mysteries around, full of colourful characters, brain-spinning plots and some of Gardner's best writing. And if a successful TV series had been developed from it, Cool and Lam may have received the respect they deserved, instead of being a footnote in Gardner's career.
In fact, there were a few attempts to bring the franchise to a larger audience.
The first stab was a one-off radio show that showed up as an 1946 episode of The United States Steel Hour of Mystery, adapted from the 1940 novel Turn on the Heat and starring none other than Ol' Blue Eyes himself as Donald, and... uh, I have no idea who played Bertha.
Next up was a television episode on another anthology show, Climax! This one adapted the first novel, The Bigger They Come, and starred Jane Darwell and Art Carney. Unfortunately, since so much of Climax! was performed live, this episode is considered lost. But Art Carney as Donald Lam? That would have been cool to see!
And finally, a TV pilot was aired in 1958 by CBS, starring former jockey Billy Pearson (who?) and Benay Venuta (who?) as Lam and Cool, although it was directed by noir legend Jacques Tourneur, and the executive producer was Gail Patrick Jackson, who was also the executive producer of the already popular Perry Mason series. It never developed into a series, although it comes around on YouTube now and then, complete with an introduction by Erle Stanley himself.
Erle Stanley Gardner was, of course, the creator of Perry Mason and one of the most popular American authors of all time, with over 100 million books sold.
-- Anthony Boucher, The New York Times Book Review
-- Karen Ellington, The Mystery Read on Top of the Heap
-- Bertha explain why she's so hard-boiled
-- Donald Lam (Billy Pearson) in the 1958 television pilot
Originally intended to be the second book in the series, the publisher rejected it for (among other things) "Bertha Cool's tendency to talk tough, swear, smoke cigarettes, and try to gyp people." It actually suggests a different way the series might have gone, softening Bertha's abrasiveness (but just a bit) and playing up Donald's naiveté.
A mystery-themed summer replacement for the popular United States Steel Hour, which ran during the summer of 1946. The United States Steel Hour itself was an anthology series which brought hour long dramas to radio from 1945-53 (and television from 1953 to 1963) both sponsored by the United States Steel Corporation (U. S. Steel).
An American television anthology series that aired on CBS from 1954 to 1958. The series was hosted by William Lundigan and later co-hosted by Mary Costa
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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