Perry Mason

Created by Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970)

PERRY MASON is Raymond Burr as a Defense Attorney, right?

Not a P.I., right?

Well, sorta. In the first ten or so books, Perry comes off as a particularly hardboiled lawyer/detective, throwing his weight around, duking it out with suspects, breaking and entering, and other private eye shenanigans.

As Doug Bassett pointed out on Rara Avis once upon a time, "The first Mason, The Case of the Velvet Claws, in particular, is certainly hard-boiled. Mason is definitely seen as a sort of Sam Spade-like character, willing to twist the law to serve his own higher ideals of justice. I like Gardner's work generally -- he's a wonderfully readable author -- but later books are much tamer, maybe "medium boiled", if anything."

Erie Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, was one of the leading writers for Black Mask, the legendary hard-boiled crime fiction magazine. Although Mason never appeared in its pages, in the early 1930s published a string of six short stories starring a crusading defense lawyer named Ken Corning who fought against injustice in a corrupt city. In many ways, Corning served as a rough template for Mason.

In fact, Gardner created a slew of characters for the pulps, private eyes and otherwise. And many claim his greatest creation was ther mismatched pair of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. And even if one argues that Mason isn't really a private eye, it's hard to ignore the fact that the novels do feature one of the most enduring fictional private detectives of all time, even if he is always playing second fiddle to his famous client. i'm referring, of course, to Paul Drake, whom reader Frank Patterson has quite rightly taken me to task for overlooking.

FILM

It certainly didn't take long for Perry Mason to hit the silver screen. The first novel appeared in 1933, and the first film, The Case of the Howling Dog (based on the fourth novel of the series) appeared in 1934, starring Warren William as a rather tough attorney with a definite eye for the ladies. Mason, in these early films, was quite similar to the Mason of the books. He was tough, thoroughly professional, and honest (though not always exactly ethical). There were six films done by Warners in the period between 1934 and 1937, and while it started out as decent, grade A entertainment, the series quickly deteriorated into a string quickie B's done on the cheap. Williams stuck it out for three more, befoe bowing out. Ricardo Cortez got to play Mason once, as did Donald Woods, in the last of the six Warner flicks, The Case of the Stuttering Bishop.

RADIO

by Jack French

Nearly everyone is familiar with the Perry Mason in the hard-hitting novels of Erle Stanley Gardner and his ten year run on CBS television starring Raymond Burr. But radio's Perry Mason was very different. This 15-minute show was on the air five times a week on CBS at 2:15 pm, sandwiched between The Second Mrs. Burton and Lone Journey and it was sponsored by "new Tide, the amazing washday miracle." In other words, it was a soap opera!

Like most soap operas, it ran a very long time, from October 1943 to December 1955. Many actors played Mason over the years, including Barlett Robinson, Santos Ortega, Donald Biggs, and John Larkin. His secretary, Della Steet, was the voice of Gertrude Warner, and later, Jan Miner and Joan Alexander. It was not written by Gardner (although he got royalties for every show) so various other script writers handled this task, including Ruth Borden and Irving Vendig. The organist was William Meeder.

Perry wasn't in the courtroom a great deal as he was usually knocking down doors with Lt. Tragg and arrresting bad guys. But since this was a soap opera, there was little time wasted on male action. In a typical episode, Mason and Tragg are trying to capture Killer Bill Barker and, as they knock on his door, the announcer breaks in with: "But let's join Lt. Tragg's wife, Harriet, as she says to her neighbor, Martha...." The next twelve minutes have Harriet and Martha discussing whether Martha should remarry after the WW II death of her husband. And we get back to Mason and Tragg only for the lead-in to the closing Tide commercial.

For those few who love detectives in a soap opera, over 320 episodes of Perry Mason have survived and are available for your listening pleasure.

And, in 1956, Gardner spliced off the melodramatic drama from the detective show, and brought the cast, crew and format to television in as the soap opera, The Edge of Night, one of television's longest-running soaps (and it might even still be running, for all I know). And a year later, Perry Mason made his television debut.

TELEVISION

Raymond Burr starred as Mason in one of the all-time great detective shows. And just like in the books, the early episodes had Mason cutting a few corners on behalf of his clients.

COMICS

Although Perry was a smash hit in books, on radio, and especially TV, that success never translated into comics. Mason's first appearances in comics were two comic book adaptations of Gardner novels in the late forties, in two issues of David McKay's Feature Books (issues 49 and 50, for those of you keeping scores). The Case of the Lucky Legs was adapted by Vernon Greene and The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe was drawn by Paul Norris. Although both are extremely collectible now, at the time they barely drew any notice.

A few years later, an attempt was made to bring Perry Mason to the comics page of newspapers, with mixed results. Drawn by Mel Keefer and Charles Lofgren, and probably scripted by Gardner himself, it was difficult to adapt the intricate court cases into the comics media, but the strip does have its moments. Alas, it lasted less than two years.

And finally, in 1964, with the television show a certified hit, Dell Comics released two issues of Perry Mason Mystery Magazine, with photo covers of Raymond Burr as our man Mason.

NOVELS

  • The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) ...Buy this book...Kindle it
  • The Case of the Sulky Girl (1933)...Buy this book
  • The Case of the Curious Bride (1934)
  • The Case of the Howling Dog (1934)
  • The Case of the Lucky Legs (1934)
  • The Case of the Caretaker's Cat (1935)
  • The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (1935)
  • The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece (1936)
  • The Case of the Stuttering Bishop (1936)
  • The Case of the Dangerous Dowager (1937)
  • The Case of the Lame Canary (1937)
  • The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe (1938)
  • The Case of the Substitute Face (1938)
  • The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939)
  • The Case of the Rolling Bones (1939)
  • The Case of the Baited Hook (1940)
  • The Case of the Silent Partner (1940)
  • The Case of the Empty Tin (1941)
  • The Case of the Haunted Husband (1941)
  • The Case of the Careless Kitten (1942)
  • The Case of the Drowning Duck (1942)
  • The Case of the Buried Clock (1943)
  • The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito (1943)
  • The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde (1944) ...Buy this book
  • The Case of the Crooked Candle (1944)
  • The Case of the Golddigger's Purse (1945)
  • The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife (1945)
  • The Case of the Borrowed Brunette (1946)
  • The Case of the Fan-Dancer's Horse (1947)
  • The Case of the Lazy Lover (1947)
  • The Case of the Lonely Heiress (1948)
  • The Case of the Vagabond Virgin (1948)
  • The Case of the Cautious Coquette (1949)
  • The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom (1949)
  • The Case of the Negligent Nymph (1950)
  • The Case of the One-Eyed Witness (1950)
  • The Case of the Angry Mourner (1951)
  • The Case of the Fiery Fingers (1951)
  • The Case of the Grinning Gorilla (1952)
  • The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink (1952)
  • The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister (1953)
  • The Case of the Hesitant Hostess (1953)
  • The Case of the Fugitive Nurse (1954)
  • The Case of the Restless Redhead (1954)
  • The Case of the Runaway Corpse (1954)
  • The Case of the Glamorous Ghost (1955).. Buy this book
  • The Case of the Nervous Accomplice (1955)
  • The Case of the Sun Bather's Diary (1955).. Buy this book
  • The Case of the Demure Defendant (1956; aka "The Case of the Missing Poison")
  • The Case of the Gilded Lily (1956)
  • The Case of the Terrified Typist (1956)
  • The Case of the Daring Decoy (1957)
  • The Case of the Lucky Loser (1957)
  • The Case of the Screaming Woman (1957)
  • The Case of the Calendar Girl (1958)
  • The Case of the Footloose Doll (1958)
  • The Case of the Long-Legged Models (1958; aka "The Case of the Dead Man's Daughters")
  • The Case of the Deadly Toy (1959; aka "The Case of the Greedy Grandpa")
  • The Case of the Mythical Monkeys (1959)
  • The Case of the Singing Skirt (1959)
  • The Case of the Waylaid Wolf (1959)
  • The Case of the Duplicate Daughter (1960)
  • The Case of the Shapely Shadow (1960)
  • The Case of the Bigamous Spouse (1961)
  • The Case of the Spurious Spinster (1961)
  • The Case of the Blonde Bonanza (1962)
  • The Case of the Ice-Cold Hands (1962)
  • The Case of the Reluctant Model (1962)
  • The Case of the Amorous Aunt (1963)
  • The Case of the Mischievous Doll (1963)
  • The Case of the Step-Daughter's Secret (1963)
  • The Case of the Daring Divorcee (1964)
  • The Case of the Horrified Heirs (1964)
  • The Case of the Phantom Fortune (1964)
  • The Case of the Beautiful Beggar (1965)
  • The Case of the Troubled Trustee (1965)
  • The Case of the Worried Waitress (1966)
  • The Case of the Queenly Contestant (1967)
  • The Case of the Careless Cupid (1968)
  • The Case of the Fabulous Fake (1969)...Buy this book
  • The Case of the Crimson Kiss (1970)
  • The Case of the Crying Swallow (1971)
  • The Case of the Fenced-In Woman (1972)
  • The Case of the Irate Witness (1972)
  • The Case of the Postponed Murder (1973)

  • BY THOMAS CHASTAIN

The series was continued after Gardner's death in a few books written in the eighties by Thomas Chastain, who created New York eye J.T. Spanner .

  • The Case of the Too Many Murders (1989; by Thomas Chastain)
  • The Case of the Burning Bequest (1990; by Thomas Chastain)

SHORT STORIES

  • "The Case of the Irate Witness" (1953, Colliers)
  • "The Case of the Crimson Kiss"
  • "The Case of the Crying Swallow"

FILM

  • THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG ..Buy this DVD set
    (1934, Warner Brothers)
    Black and white
    Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Directed by Alan Crosland
    Starring
    Warren William as PERRY MASON
    with Helen Trenholm as Della
    Also starring
    Mary Astor, Allen Jenkins

  • THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE ..Buy this DVD set
    (1935, Warner Brothers)
    Black and white
    Based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Directed by Michael Curtiz
    Starring Warren William as PERRY MASON
    with Claire Dodd as Della
    Also starring
    Errol Flynn

  • THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS ..Buy this DVD set
    (1935, Warner Brothers)
    76 minures
    Black and white
    Based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Directed by Archie Mayo
    Starring Warren William as PERRY MASON
    with Genevieve Tobin as Della
    Also starring
    Patricia Ellis, Lyle Talbot, Allen Jenkins, Barton Maclane, Peggy Shannon, Porter Hall
    Supposedly the best of the Perry Mason films from Warners, with the emphasis on charm and action rather than courtroom histrionics.

  • THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS ..Buy this DVD set
    (1936, Warner Brothers)
    Black and white
    Based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Starring Warren William as PERRY MASON
    with Claire Dodds as Della
    Also starring
    Eddie Acuff, Wini Shaw

  • THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT ..Buy this DVD set
    (1936, Warner Brothers)
    Black and white
    Based on the novel "The Case of the Caretaker's Cat" by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Directed by William McGann
    Starring Ricardo Cortez as PERRY MASON
    with June Travis as Della

  • THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP ..Buy this DVD set
    (1937, Warner Brothers)
    Black and white
    Based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Directed by William Clemens
    Starring Donald Woods as PERRY MASON
    Also starring
    Joseph Crehan, Edward McWade, Linda Perry

RADIO & AUDIO

  • PERRY MASON
    (aka "The New Adventures of Perry Mason")
    (1943-1955, CBS)
    15-minute episodes, daily
    Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Writers: Ruth Borden, Irving Vendig
    Organist:
    William Meeder
    Starring Barlett Robinson as PERRY MASON
    (also played by Santos Ortega, Donald Biggs, and John Larkin)
    with Gertrude Warner as Della Street
    (later, Jan Miner and Joan Alexander)

  • PERRY MASON: THE CASE OF THE SULKY GIRL.....Buy this show
    (2008, Sirius XM Satellite Radio)
    115 minutes
    Based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Dramatized for Audio by M.J.Elliott
    Directed by Jerry Robbins
    Produced by Seth Adam Sher
    Executive Producer: Mark Vander Berg
    Starring Jerry Robbins as PERRY MASON
    with Diane Capen as Della Street
    and J.T. Turner as Paul Drake

  • PERRY MASON: THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS.....Buy this show
    (2009, Sirius XM Satellite Radio)
    91minutes
    Based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Dramatized for Audio by M.J.Elliott
    Directed by Jerry Robbins
    Produced by Seth Adam Sher
    Executive Producer: Mark Vander Berg
    Starring Jerry Robbins as PERRY MASON
    with Diane Capen as Della Street
    and J.T. Turner as Paul Drake
    Also starring Leigh Berry, Sam Donato

COMIC BOOKS

Two issues featured Perry Mason adaptations

  • PERRY MASON: THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS
    (1946, Feature Books #49)
    Based on the 1934 novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Art by Vernon Greene

  • PERRY MASON: THE CASE OF THE SHOPLIFTER'S SHOE
    (1947, Feature Books #50)
    Based on the 1938 novel by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Art by Paul Norris

  • PERRY MASON MYSTERY MAGAZINE
    (1964, Dell Comics)
    Two issues

These two tie-in issues with the TV show featured Raymond Burr on the cover.

COMIC STRIP

  • PERRY MASON
    (October 16, 1950-June 21, 1952, Universal Syndicate)
    8 story arcs
    Written by Erle Stanley Gardner? (it's possible-he liked to have a hand in things)
    Artists: Mel Keefer, Charles Lofgren

  • "The Case of the Innocent Thief" (October 16, 1950)
  • "The Case of the Nervous Horse" (November 2, 1950)
  • "The Case of the Missing Husband" (February 13, 1951)
  • "The Case of the Constant Cricket" (May 15, 1951)
  • "The Case of the Curious Cop" (last arc, ended June 21, 1952)

COMIC STRIP COLLECTIONS

  • Four Cases of Murder (1989, Malibu)

TELEVISION

  • PERRY MASON
    (1957-1966, CBS)
    Writers:
    Jonathan Latimer
    Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Starring Raymond Burr as PERRY MASON
    Also starring
    Barbara Hale as Della Street
    William Hopper as Paul Drake
    William Talman as Hamilton Burger
    With
    Ray Collins, Karl Held, Wesley Lau, Richard Anderson, Lee Miller, Dan Tobin
  • PERRY MASON
    (aka "The New Adventures of Perry Mason")
    (1973-1974, CBS)
    Writers:

    Based on
    characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Starring Monte Markham as PERRY MASON
    Also starring
    Sharon Acker as Della Street
    Albert Stratton as Paul Drake
    Harry Guardino as Hamilton Burger
    With
    Dane Clark, Brett Somers, Connie Cezon

DVD & VIDEOS

  • 50th Anniversary Edition ....Buy this DVD set
    For those who aren't (yet) fanatics, here's a great solution: this 50th anniversary set collects a dozen episodes, and fills out the set with a the 1985 TV-movie revival, Perry Mason Returns, screen tests, assorted interviews with Barbara Hale, producer-director Arthur Marks and CBS executive Anne Nelson, and Raymond Burr, plus promo clips and a photo gallery. It won't be enough for dedicated fans, still seething over the glacial-like release schedule of the complete series, but it's a good introduction to the series.

  • The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection ..Buy this DVD set
    Rounds up all six Warner Bros. flicks from the 1930s, starring Warren Willima, Ricardo Cortez and William clemens as Erle Stanley Garder's slick-as-spit criminal defense attorney.

RELATED LINKS

  • Perry Mason Television Series
    Justine Mosher'ssite on television's most popular lawyer, with essays, episode guides, commentary and even old magazine articles. A labour, I assume, of love. Unfortunately, the original site is no longer available.This is an incomplete archive copy from 6 April 2003 posted as a service to fans, courtesy of The Perry Mason TV Series Wiki.

  • The Perry Mason TV Series Wiki
    Perry Mason, Raymond Burr and Erle Stanley Gardner are well represented on the web, and this might just be the most comprehensive list of links around.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Radio info by Jack French. Thanks, Jack. And thanks to Ed Collins for the tip, and Fred Salter for the heads-up.


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