The series follows ace lawyer and detective Perry Mason as he outwits prosecutors and saves the day. The show’s allure lasted decades, shattering syndication records before going off the air. Instead of wallowing over it being over, why not indulge in sweet reminiscence? We’ve put together some incredible facts that may surprise even the most dedicated followers of this classic!
Perry Mason... The Soap Opera?!
Suave, sophisticated, and tough. To imagine Perry as anything but infallible would be a travesty. Yet, the character almost turned out very differently. Before the hit television series went on air, author Erle Stanley Gardner and CBS contemplated producing a soap opera adaptation of "Perry Mason."
That’s right – a soap opera that would be called “The Edge of Night.” CBS wanted Mason to have a love interest – but Gardner promptly refused. Could you even begin to imagine what that other show would have looked like?
Perry Mason Lost a Case?
Perry Mason’s accomplishments in the courtroom are the stuff of legends. For most of the show, Perry never lost a case. Look closer, though, and you may find that a handful of cases were judged against Perry.
In the “Case of the Witless Witness,” Mason suffers his first case loss! In “The Case of the Deadly Verdict,” Perry’s client is sentenced to death for murder, but the slick attorney turns things around for his client. Setbacks and rising above them are marks of a legend, after all. Predictable would have been dull – even for the dashing Perry Mason.
Why the Jury Was Always Out
You may have noticed that this series differed from modern courtroom dramas in one crucial aspect: the ladies and gentlemen of the jury were conspicuously absent. How did America’s first definitive legal series get this so wrong? It turns out that the omission was actually a creative decision.
Perpetrators confessing their crimes was good television! It also meant the studio didn’t need to hire and pay 12 more actors. If you’ve ever wondered why most cases in the Perry Mason series reached only preliminary hearings, this is the reason why!
How Perry Mason Got His Name
Perry Mason was a household name in the late ’50s. As the central character of the "Perry Mason" novels and TV shows, he dominated screens and hearts. So, it may come as a surprise to discover the humble, almost endearing origins of the lawyer’s name.
Creator Erle Stanley Gardner spent his childhood reading "Youth’s Companion" which was published by a firm known as Perry Mason & Co. in Boston. It turns out that Perry Mason, the high-flying lawyer was an homage to his childhood. Now that's an origin story nobody expected!
Fans Weren't Big on Law
In the show, Perry Mason's winning streak was legendary, almost fantastical. That's because, if one must be a stickler about it, several elements in the show were hardly accurate from a legal standpoint. Fans without any legal knowledge adored Mason regardless.
One fan approached Raymond Burr, who plays Mason, and asked how the lawyer never lost any cases. Burr famously quipped, “But madam, you only see the cases I try on Saturdays.”
Career Making Moments
In the ‘50s, Saturday meant only one thing: an hour of immersion in the lives of Perry Mason (Raymond Burr), Della Street (Barbara Hale), Paul Drake (William Hopper), and Lt Tragg (Ray Collins). "Perry Mason" catapulted the actors’ careers.
But the roster of famous names didn’t end with the star cast. The series featured at least 1,903 iconic actors such as Adam West, Barbara Eden, Robert Redford, Leonard Nimoy, and Burt Reynolds. The show helped put these names on the map.
Perry on the Radio
The CBS TV series was undoubtedly the best adaptation of the excellent "Perry Mason" books. With Raymond Burr as the lead actor, the landmark show created waves and television history. However, Perry Mason was making a splash long before the silver screen. The books first received a new lease on life as a radio show.
From 1943 to 1955, listeners tuned in to “Perry Mason” – a 15-minute radio crime series that aired on CBS Radio every day. CBS Studios and Gardner teamed up later to create the wildly successful primetime TV show.
The Muse for Della Street
No discussion about Perry Mason is complete without Della Street – his secretary. On more than one occasion, the savvy Della helps Mason save the day. She’s dutiful, loyal, and stunning! Despite plenty of will they/won’t they, the two never got together, and fans moved on to a new question. Who inspired the character of Della Street?
Gardner had three secretaries working for him. They also happened to be sisters. He married one of them (Jean), who people believe was the muse for beautiful, razor-sharp Della Street. The two never admitted it, however.
The Origin Story of Perry Mason
Before penning a detective fiction masterpiece, Erle Stanley Gardner was a lawyer — a bored, disillusioned one. Despite a passion for the law, his job left him uninspired. Gardner quit and began writing fiction for pulp magazines, bringing several characters to life in some of his early works.
Among his recurring characters was a lawyer named Ken Corning. Corning was as sharp as he was good-looking — a crusading attorney, an accomplished detective too. Sounds like someone we know? Ken Corning’s character provided the archetypal image of the now-legendary Perry Mason.
Perry Mason Vs. Bonanza
Saturday night primetime television was never the same after Perry Mason. By the end of the second season, the show had stellar ratings and 25 million viewers. The CBS legal drama – a pioneer in television history – continued to gain traction. As the third season rolled around, the show had ranked number 10 on the Nielsen rating spot.
NBC couldn’t stand by and watch their rivals dominate ratings. The network’s answer to Perry Mason was “Bonanza” – a regularly-scheduled series that became hugely popular. What’s more, all the episodes were in color – a first for the industry then.
The One Episode Shot in Color
"Perry Mason" ran for nine glorious seasons. Producers filmed the show entirely in black and white, with the exception of one episode. “The Case of the Twice-Told Twist” was Episode 21 of Season 9 — and the sole episode filmed in color.
The experiments with color were meant to be that – experiments. The show’s creators wanted to dabble in it before the release of Season 10. Sadly, this wasn't meant to be. CBS canceled the show after season 9, leaving us with fond monochrome memories of the most celebrated attorney on TV.
The Music That Made Mason
“Park Avenue Beat” or the show's theme song, was perhaps as iconic as the man. Everyone’s heard it. Most people can instantly recognize the smooth, jazzy brass notes of the opening theme. The very sophisticated groove was composed for the series by the talented Fred Steiner.
The music perfectly captures the lawyer’s personality. The score was so apt that any viewer could vibe with the show just by hearing the tune. When you think of this from a marketing standpoint, this is an ingenious move.
The Weight of Success
Mason made lawyering look effortless, always tipping the scales in his client’s favor. While a pro in the courtroom, actor Raymond Burr contended with different, more troubling scales in real life. The Hollywood heavyweight needed to shed some extra pounds. We know actors routinely shed or gain pounds for a role, but Burr needed to lose a significant amount.
At 6 ft 2 inches, the broad-shouldered Burr towered over everyone. Although he worked very hard to lose weight, the man was still big, but hey, big people have big hearts!
Raymond Burr Didn’t Audition for the Role of Perry Mason
Can you imagine anyone other than Raymond Burr as Perry? The truth is that Burr never intended to audition for the role of Mason. He had his heart set on playing Hamilton Burger, the district attorney who was resolute in his resistance to Mason.
While this is speculatory, some believe Perry Mason’s character may have appeared too mainstream for Burr who came from the world of niche film noir. Erle Stanley Gardner thought differently, and the rest is history.
The Revival Show: The Spectacular Failure
The original Perry Mason show saw incredible success, inspiring a bunch of reboots and adaptations. In 1973, a revival show lazily called “The New Perry Mason” made its debut. Unsurprisingly, the series had no takers. Critics panned it. The actors and producers themselves didn’t seem invested.
Why bother making a show at all? The lackluster successor show ran for an embarrassing half (yes, half!) a season. It goes to show that it's better to leave classics alone! Not everything needs a sequel.
Awards, Awards, Awards
Very few shows gain appreciation from all, getting mass admiration as well as thoughtful industry appreciation, but "Perry Mason" did! The show consistently ranked among the top 5 most popular in America.
The series received a nomination for a Primetime Emmy Award in its first season, while awards rained down on the actors as well. Raymond Burr won an Emmy for Best Actor – not once, but twice. Barbara Hale also took home an Emmy for her performance as the invincible Girl Friday, Della Street.
Cool, Cool, Cars
The show's greatness lies in its universal appeal. Characters and storylines dazzled audiences, as did the fleet of super-cool cars in the series. The series is heaven for vintage-car enthusiasts! It's hard to miss the sweet rides. Mason drives not just one but several classy, mid-century vehicles.
Did they reflect all the money he was making from case winnings? The show was never explicit about it, but it’s possible. The simple truth is that these vehicles were part of several sponsorships the show had with GM and Ford. It's always about advertising!
The Case of the Unbelievably Successful Novels
Perry Mason was a star long before the TV show of the same name had us hopelessly hooked. America’s favorite lawyer and crime sleuth was born in the Perry Mason novels. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote a whopping 82 novels and 51 Perry Mason books were already in publication before 1957 when the show first aired.
To call the books a literary phenomenon would not be an overstatement! Gardner, who was a former attorney, wrote intricate, frenetically-paced plots that captivated audiences. In the 60s, publishers reported sales of two thousand books an hour in the United States.
He Didn’t Need Law School?!
Creator Erle Stanley Gardner used to be an unorthodox lawyer. He enrolled to study at Indiana’s Valparaiso University School of Law. After one month, the school suspended him for insufficient attendance. Gardner dropped out but studied independently and passed the California bar in 1911. He loved litigation, but the legal practice in general — not so much.
When the novels and his writing career took off, he quit being a lawyer without a second thought. He took his love for litigation and infused his creations with legal brilliance.
Gardner’s Sole On-Screen Appearance
What do Stan Lee, Alfred Hitchcock, and Quentin Tarantino have in common? Legendary directors — all of them made several hundred cameos in their own movies. Perry Mason’s creator chose to stay away from the screen – save for one episode in the series' 9-season run.
Gardner appears in the final episode of the series “The Case of the Final Fade-Out.” He plays the judge, while the incredible Dick Clark (of "Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve" fame) takes on the role of the murderer. 'Twas a fittingly poetic appearance before the show ended.
The Traveling Film Crew
The Perry Mason story was set in Los Angeles but the crew hardly stayed in one place for filming. Each scene demanded a unique set. Filming could be anywhere in Los Angeles at a given time. On-location filming took place at a few downtown joints or in Culver City. In addition, the crew shot several interior scenes at studios in Tinseltown.
They also shot the façade of the Superior Oil Company Building for Mason’s offices. By season 8, the site for Mason’s office changes to the Bank of California building all the way in San Francisco.
The Legacy of the First Perry Mason Novel
"The Case of the Velvet Claws" published in 1933, was the first of the Perry Mason novels. Deceit, death, and blackmail – the book had everything! Inside the pages was history in the making, although nobody knew it yet. The novel set the stage for the sophisticated Perry Mason, whose courtroom brilliance would take over people’s lives.
As the book amassed a loyal fan following, the entertainment industry wanted in on the action. Three years after publication, filmmakers adapted the novel for the big screen. Later, it appeared as an episode in season six of the TV series.
Raymond Burr Couldn't Shake His Character Off
When you watch Perry Mason the series, it’s sometimes hard to tell when Raymond Burr ends and where Perry Mason begins. Burr stayed with the character for 271 episodes (each was an hour-long) and nine seasons! The show wrapped up in 1966, and Burr could finally break from the character — which he did, except destiny had more in store.
Burr returned after a two-decade-hiatus to star as Mason in a series of feature-length films for TV. The series consisted of 30 films, with Burr starring in 26 of them.
Mason by the Numbers
Just for fun, let's break down the phenomenon of Perry Mason into numbers. Say a fan wanted to watch every episode of the Perry Mason show without any breaks from beginning to end. This would take approximately ten days straight!
If you thought that was fun, here’s another doozy. Raymond Burr holds one of the longest records for playing the same character in a TV show. Burr played Perry Mason for 36 years! The numbers truly offer a mind-blowing perspective into the show's incredible impact.
Casting Perry Mason
Gardner’s experiences with the big screen were horrendous, occasionally veering on the bizarre. When the opportunity for a Perry Mason TV show arose, a frustrated Gardner was determined to get it right. At least 50 actors auditioned for the coveted role of Perry Mason.
Gardner wasn’t impressed. This, until a man named Raymond Burr began reading for the part. Gardner instantly took to Burr’s delivery and persona. Despite everyone else’s objections, he refused to consider anyone else but Burr for the part.
Gardner Demanded Complete Creative Control
Before Burr immortalized Perry Mason on TV, three other actors played the role for theatrical films. Warren William was the first and arguably, the most successful with a four-film run. The second and third actors each received one film. Nobody was good enough.
When the series premiered 20 years later, Gardner ensured he retained complete creative control over characters and plot lines — he didn't want producers and executives to mess up his masterpiece again.
Five of the original Perry Mason novels were adapted into theatrical films. Warren William starred in the first four, which featured "Velvet Claws", "Curious Bride", "Howling Dog", and "Lucky Legs." The next was "Stuttering Bishop" starring Donald Woods.
"The Case of the Black Cat", the sixth film starring Ricardo Cortez was also adapted from a novel but had its name changed. The novel's original name was "The Case of the Caretaker's Cat." It was Gardner’s least favorite among the six.
The Longest Syndication Run in the History of All Time
The show made television history with a format that practically became a new canon – the legal drama. What’s more, the original show has one of the longest syndication runs in TV history. The show ran for 48 years on the Oregon Live station.
In September 2014, Portland’s KPTV-TV finally pulled the plug on the show after almost half a century. Fans can still catch the series on other platforms, however. A few online streaming platforms still carry the original show. And if all else fails, there’s always DVD!
Being a Crossword Celebrity
Most people expect to be solving crossword puzzles instead of finding their names in one. Not Erle Stanley Gardner. He’s a crossword celebrity! Gardner’s name has had one the highest ratio of mentions in a crossword puzzle – 5:31!
This was not just any crossword puzzle but the one in "The New York Times." In addition, Gardner’s name has appeared more often than others across different newspaper sections since 1993. How does one make it into a crossword puzzle, you ask? An uncommon name like “Erle” and an unusual combination of letters might help!
The Real Difference Between the Show and the Books
Gardner had written eighty Perry Mason books while the show ran for nine seasons with 270 1-hour long episodes. The novels reveal little about the crime-solving lawyer’s background. And this is where the show digressed significantly from the novels. Gardner created new plots, characters, and background material for the television series.
The show debuted in 1957, and Gardner wrote over 30 new Perry Mason novels until he died in 1970. None of the novels contained the storylines he created for the series.
Art Imitates Life
Hasn’t everyone wanted to know more about Perry Mason? Particularly how he became lawyer extraordinaire? Mason’s past life may have enough intrigue for a prequel — just putting it out there! What we know from the books and show is vague at best. But one significant storyline provides a sneak-peek into Mason’s past.
In the "Case of the Misguided Missile," Mason reveals that he served in the Navy during World War II, stationed somewhere in the Pacific. What’s intriguing is that Raymond Burr also served in real life. Burr sustained injuries while in Okinawa and came back home.
The Case of the Missing Sworn Testimony
Erle Stanley Gardner may have quit his job as an attorney, but his love for the law remained steadfast. One sees it in every episode of Perry Mason, where legal themes dominate narratives and plotlines. For audiences, it was like being inside a real-life courtroom. Many consider it the frontrunner for exciting, (mostly) authentic legal drama. Well, barring some creative liberties.
However, one significant legal practice isn't featured anywhere on the show – the sworn testimony. On the show, characters taking an oath never swore on the Bible or used “so help me God.”
"Perry Mason" was undoubtedly a phenomenon in the country. It was the first one-hour Hollywood series that aired every week on TV and the American audience just loved tuning in.
But, contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t just a hit in the US. Most people don’t know that the show has aired in at least 58 countries! The show’s ‘whodunit’ premise was so appealing and universal that it worked in every single country!
One Actor Left the Show Midway
After the 1960 run of the show, Ray Collins’ (Lt. Tragg) appearances became scattered. Collins was extremely ill during this time. His illness prevented him from memorizing lines or showing up regularly on set. When it became clear he couldn’t carry on, Collins had to leave the show midway during season 7.
The show’s creators decided to keep Collins’ name on the credits. The decision hoped to partly keep his morale going and ensure he continued receiving medical and health benefits from the actors’ union. Collins sadly passed away in 1965.
Everyone on Set Had to Understand Law
Erle Stanley Gardner took on a big task when he started working on the show. Balancing creative liberty with legal know-how is far from easy, even for someone as savvy as Gardner.
The show's script needed to be authentic to legal practices, which is why the production crew comprised of people who were either practicing or studying law. Gardner’s legal-eagle-eye overruled scripts containing incompetent or immaterial things. He managed to make a riveting show despite all of these technical hardships.
Actors on the Wrong Side of the Law
William Talman played Hamilton Burger, a District Attorney with the Los Angeles County. But Talman’s lifestyle otherwise was dramatically different from his on-screen persona. He was a regular on the Hollywood party circuit, and one night, things got wild enough for him to warrant a suspension from the show.
The police arrested Talman and charged him with “indecent behavior.” Real-life became a reflection of art as Talman maintained his innocence and no wrongdoing. He was allowed to return to the show after the acquittal of all charges.
20,000 Copies Per Day
Gardner's first Perry Mason novel, “The Case of the Velvet Claws”, sold 28 million copies in the first fifteen years! Today this might not sound like such a big deal, but back in the mid-1950s, seeing novels flying off the shelves at 20,000 copies per day was pretty spectacular.
Perry Mason, the show, wouldn’t exist without the novels. This is a fact worth remembering — even at the risk of sounding like literary snobs.
The Lesser-Known Universe of Perry Mason Comics
From TV and movies to novels and radio shows, Perry Mason has been everywhere! Just when you thought you knew everything, here’s a little something that may be surprising. Perry Mason also made forays into the world of comics.
In 1946, a graphic novel adaptation of "The Case of The Lucky Legs" came out. A year later, in 1947, "The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe" followed suit. In 1950, a newspaper carried a daily strip of original Perry Mason stories, and by the looks of it, Gardner co-wrote the strip.
Perry Mason Audiobooks?
In 1988, one of the first audio versions of the Perry Mason novels came out. When we say audiobook, we use the term loosely. It was actually a cassette containing an abridged version of "The Case of the Beautiful Beggar."
Actor Perry King does a marvelous job of reading, infusing energy and character throughout. Publishing houses continued the abridged cassettes. Today, Audible features a few greats: "The Curious Bride," "The Howling Dog," and "The Sulky Girl."
Why Did Ozzy Osbourne Write a Song called "Perry Mason"?
Nobody knows! One day, Ozzy Osbourne, keyboard player John Sinclair, and guitarist Zakk Wylde wrote a song called "Perry Mason."
During an interview, Wylde described how the song came about. "John was just jamming on it so I started playing along with him. We started with that, and then Ozzy was like, 'Oh, cool, man, let me sing something on that.'” The world is none the wiser! But we have a theory. The song is about dystopia, and Ozzy wants only one man on the case. Perry Mason – the person who fixes everything!
The Show Inspired Real-Life Lawyers
Perry Mason reportedly inspired people to enter the law. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said as much during her confirmation hearing. The show also received citations in real-life judicial opinions. Not one judicial opinion or two, but two hundred and fifty different ones!
Beyond that, almost a thousand law review articles and five hundred legal briefs mention the show. Who was it, again, that said real life doesn’t work like television? Here’s proof. We rest our case.
A Glaring Lack of Diversity
A universal critique of Perry Mason is the show’s lack of diversity. In that regard, the show had little to no impact. It’s surprising for a series that ran during the socio-political upheaval of the ‘60s when considerations of race took center stage.
Perry Mason has zero depictions of diversity. Representations of African-Americans, if any, are relegated to the background. Like most of us in real life, Perry Mason chose to remain oblivious.
The 80s Remake
Fans today know and even expect remakes of shows. But during the ‘80s, it wasn’t common for old shows to make comebacks. Perry Mason did return, and with a bang – expectedly. Twenty years after the show stopped airing, NBC created a series of Perry Mason films made for TV. The concept was similar to how "The Incredible Hulk" ran on television during the time.
Original stars Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale picked up where they left off decades ago. William Hopper had died by then, but the show grew with a new cast – William Katt (Barbara Hale’s son) among them.
The Perry Mason Revival on HBO
Attempting a reboot of an iconic show is always ambitious, but you can count on a network like HBO to never refuse a challenge. Fans were wondering who would play the titular role. Which Hollywood talent would try to fill Raymond Burr’s imposing shoes? The part of Perry Mason went to Matthew Rhys.
The revival traces Perry Mason’s time as a private investigator before becoming a high-flying lawyer. For a while, rumors about Robert Downey Jr. playing Perry Mason were making the rounds. Eventually, Downey Jr. decided to remain a producer instead.
The Show's Amazing Ensemble
Our man receives much of the credit for the show’s success. But the show wouldn’t be the same without its ensemble - Barbara Hale, William Hopper, (Paul Drake), William Talman, and Ray Collins. Each one shines in their respective roles, despite the show being called "Perry Mason."
You’ll also find that the first half of every episode doesn’t feature much of Mason, if at all. Screen time usually goes to Mason’s possible clients and their stories instead — a format also prevalent in Law & Order. Mason and his legal team would come on screen in the second half to save the day.
Perry Mason and Portland’s Affection
The show found the most special place in the heart of Portland, Oregon. Local station KPTV started airing old Perry Mason episodes at night. The show gained so much traction that the station moved it to noon. For over 40 years, the people of Portland dropped whatever they were doing at noon every day to watch the show.
Perry Mason was untouchable. But when ratings eventually began to plummet, it was case closed for the show in Oregon. Portland was beside itself.
Matthew Rhys Didn't Want to Play Mason
When Rhys received a message about a Perry Mason remake, he wasn’t enthused. It had nothing to do with the role and he didn't like thinking about the weight and legacy behind it. He wondered why anyone would want to remake such a classic and risk ruining it.
Was it even possible to do? It was only later upon receiving more background to the proposed storyline that Rhys became intrigued. They would be leaving the classic Perry Mason well alone, much to Rhys’ happiness. This was a darker take on the show, reimagined for the modern world.
Basing the Show on a Terrifying Real-Life Event
HBO’s Perry Mason bears few resemblances to the original 1957 CBS series. Perry is a bitter, impoverished private detective in this version. A broken man after World War II, his demons continue to haunt him.
Mason investigates the murder of an infant boy, a case based on a real-life event in the 1930s, often dubbed the trial of the century. In 1927, American aviator Charles Lindbergh had flown solo across the Atlantic, making him a celebrity overnight. In 1932, Lindbergh’s infant son went missing – presumably kidnapped for ransom. Investigators later found the boy deceased.
The Revival Was Supposed to Be a Limited Series
Despite the promotions and marketing clout, HBO reportedly never had high hopes for the show’s performance. One of the most telling indicators is how the network decided to call the Perry Mason reboot a miniseries – not a drama series.
It was a way out in case things went south. Should the show fail to bring viewers or executives cancel it, everyone could walk away without losing face. The apprehension was understandable but ultimately proved unnecessary. The first episode of the Perry Mason reboot on HBO brought in 1.7 million viewers — HBO’s biggest debut in two years.
A Formula You Can Rely on
While the storylines in each episode are different, the Perry Mason formula remains constant. Every episode follows a two-part structure, with the initial sections depicting a crime — usually a murder. The story continues when Mason agrees to defend the innocent person from the police. What follows after is a thrilling investigation.
The courtroom scene is tense with emotion and drama, building up to the ultimate crescendo – a dramatic confession or revelation. The show’s compelling and reliable formula scripted television history. Still, it would be woefully reductive to assume that one "Perry Mason" episode is like every other.
Disregard for Law Enforcement
Perry Mason is no ordinary lawyer. Unlike other attorneys, Mason doesn’t leave investigations to the police. He prefers to do a little sleuthing alongside the detectives since he’s certain they will arrive at the wrong conclusion – which they always do.
While ideal for television, it raises questions about the general perception of law enforcement around the time, which as you can guess from the show, wasn't great. We bet the show didn't help cops regain a good reputation.
Mason and Lt. Tragg — Best Friends, Worst Enemies
The show’s main policeman, Lt. Tragg often butted heads with Perry Mason on the show. As a homicide detective, Lt. Tragg isn’t inept. He’s just far less creative in approaching cases and solving them. In contrast, Mason’s ability to think outside the box gives him an edge over Tragg.
Despite being on opposite sides of a case, Tragg and Mason have more in common than they realize. Both characters find official procedures and systems restrictive — more roadblocks to justice than serving it. The two also share a common, frustrating enemy in the District Attorney.
The Politics Behind Every Perry Mason Remake
If you look closely you'll see that each and every time a remake of the show was created, it was as a response to existing political tentions between citizens and cops. In 1985, Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason returned on air nearly 20 years after CBS canceled the show.
The newer Perry Mason arrived at a time when public opinion of the law was unfavorable. The 2020 HBO’s Perry Mason arrived against the backdrop of similar mistrust in the police.
Della Street — More Than Just a Loyal Secretary
All great characters need someone to make them whole — Troy and Abed, Batman and Robin, Lorelai and Rory, Steve and Dustin. Iconic pairings give life to shows, defining pop culture history and influences for generations to come. Perry Mason may seem like he doesn’t need anyone, but the show wouldn’t be the same without the inimitable Della Street (Barbara Hale).
She’s his extra set of eyes and ears. Mason values her opinion and judgment of people’s character. Hale was an exceptional actor in her own right and one of the reasons for the show’s success.
Barbara Hale Stumbled Into Her Career
Barbara Hale as Della Street may have played a supporting role on the show, but her presence made all the difference. Viewers loved Della Street as much as they loved Perry. Hale was effortless on the show.
To think that the actress had never considered a showbiz career seems inconceivable now! Hale was standing on a street corner when a couple walked up to her with a flyer for modeling. A few months after her modeling gig, the couple sent her photo to a Hollywood executive. Two weeks later, she officially signed with KPO pictures.
Barbara Hale Couldn't Shake Della Off
After 9 successful seasons and an Emmy win, Barbara Hale considered retirement, wanting to raise her three young children. Fate had other plans. A producer approached Hale to star in a new Perry Mason production – a series of hour-long movies made for television.
Hale found that she wasn’t able to let go of Della Street just yet. The actress starred in the TV movies for over a decade, appearing in 30 of them. She continued acting even after Raymond Burr’s death in 1993.
Why Perry Always Addressed Lt. Tragg Formally
Fans of the show will have noticed that Perry Mason was never on a first-name basis with Lt. Tragg. It was always “Lieutenant Tragg” and never Arthur. Mason used a more familiar term of address with other law enforcement officials – specifically Lt. Drumm and Lt. Anderson. A likely explanation for this could stem from the actors' relationship off-screen.
Ray Collins, who played Lt. Tragg, was twenty-eight years senior to Raymond Burr. Perry (or Burr) using “lieutenant” to address Tragg was a mark of respect.
Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed
In "The Case of the Barefaced Witness," the address on Fred Swan’s car registration is 1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue. The location means little to the unversed, but fans know there’s more to it than meets the eye.
This seemingly insignificant detail is the address of the General Service Studios in Hollywood – one of the filming locations for the show. The visual clues in a show speak to its greatness!
No Hard Feelings
Every hero needs an excellent sidekick. They also need a worthy nemesis who foils plans and occasionally challenges established worldviews. For Perry Mason, that person was District Attorney Hamilton Burger.
Played by William Talman, Burger perennially loses cases to the wily Mason – regular losses equivalent to rhythmic punches in the stomach for nine entire seasons. You would think that losing all the time would make the attorney bitter, even a little vengeful. But Talman has always maintained that his character never took the losses personally. Attorney Hamilton Burger was happy as long as justice was served.
Mason's High-Tech Cool Car Phone
Perry Mason has an enviable lifestyle. He wears the best clothes and drives a fleet of beautiful vintage cars. What’s more, Mason uses a car phone – very high-tech for the time! Car phones were ultimate symbols that a person had arrived (forgive us the useless pun) — as valuable as the vehicle itself.
Only a handful of TV characters owned car phones then. Mason belongs to this illustrious group alongside other members such as Batman (1966-68), Richard Diamond in "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (1957-1960), and Peter Gunn in the show of the same name (1958-61).
Product Placements on Perry Mason
The origins of product placements in films go back to 1896 when a Lever Brothers representative in France put in a request to feature Sunlight soap in a movie. The 1957 Perry Mason series features product placements in the closing credits.
They would appear as tiny pictures of the product when credits rolled. HBO’s "Perry Mason" also demonstrates this intrusive marketing necessity. Season 1, Episode 8 has a Crush Drink vintage poster on the wall. In Episode 2, Matthew Rhys holds up a Kodak camera for audiences to get a better view.
A US Postal Service Homage
Perry Mason, the series, is no stranger to homages, as evidenced by its adaptations. In 2009, the show received a memorable tribute unlike any other. In honor of classic television programs, the US Postal Service issued a panel of forty-four cent commemorative stamps.
It contained a picture of a seated Perry Mason in a courtroom, with District Attorney Hamilton Burger standing over him. The Postal Service also issued a stunning booklet containing twenty picture postal cards.
The show Outlived Production Venues
It’s worth remembering that the show ran for nearly a decade, and most elements stayed constant during that time. All but one element, that is.
The show utilized three different studios. The early seasons were filmed at the William Fox Studios, which closed in the 60s. Production shifted to General Service studios before moving to the old Chaplin Studios, where production remained until the final season. That's what happens when a show outlives its studios.
That Vintage Camera in HBO’s Perry Mason? You Can Use It Today!
The newest Perry Mason interpretation stands out for several reasons. One is its reputation as a darker take on the original series. Another thing that seems to have stood out for audiences is the rare camera that Matthew Rhys uses in season 1, episode 2.
The camera in question is a Kodak Duo Six-20 – a model that launched in 1933, one year after the events in the show begin. The 620 film is no longer in production but camera enthusiasts can replace it easily with a 120 film. The only difference is in the size of the spool.
The HBO Revival Features a Jury
The 2020 HBO revival of Perry Mason introduces a jury – yet another significant departure from the original series. And not just any jury, but one with women jurors. Critics and self-professed historians have jumped to attack the show for its inaccuracy.
They claim that it was illegal for women jurors to serve in 1932 when the series begins but this is factually incorrect. California governor William Stephens signed the Women Jury’s Bill as far back as 1917. By 1932, the law was already well-established and firmly embedded into legal proceedings.
Who Is Sister Alice?
Fans who’ve watched the revival will be familiar with Sister Alice, played by Tatiana Maslany. What’s her story, and is it based on true events? The character depicts controversial evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Sister Aimee rose to fame during the 1920s for leveraging the radio to expand her evangelical mission.
Her weekly sermons were also performances – complete with drama, speeches, and music. In 1926, Sister Aimee mysteriously disappeared for five weeks. When she resurfaced in Mexico, she claimed she was kidnapped, but investigations indicate she may have gone willingly with a man who used to work for her.
Perry Mason — Gay Icon
HBO released the Perry Mason revival in June 2020 which, coincidentally, is Pride Month. It might seem like drawing connections where none exist, but symbols contain deep meaning. Raymond Burr as Perry Mason was one of the first successful gay (but deeply closeted) actors to star in a lead role.
Mason may not be an Elton John or Lady Gaga-esque icon for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but he’s part of the community all the same. Not many recognize his significance in the gay canon. It might be time for a new narrative about the suave Perry Mason.
The Dizzying Narrative Pace in the Novels
Erle Stanley Gardner described his writing style best by calling it a “sprint.” Some authors build up the storyline gradually, almost pacing it as you would when running a marathon. Not Gardner. He wasn’t particular about the stylistics.
His emphasis was on fast-paced storylines. He wanted to establish a swift narrative where characters would sprint from start to finish. The Perry Mason novels move quickly, where characters (mostly judges or prosecutors) find it difficult to keep pace – a meta-narrative giving Perry Mason the ultimate edge.
The Format of the Novels
Many have written about the "Perry Mason" format. But what of the format in the novels where the Perry Mason universe originated? The books contain comforting tropes. Storylines begin with a person in distress (usually a woman) who comes looking to Mason for help. She shares a tragic, often improbable story, and Mason agrees to help her.
Perry Mason can’t say no to a challenge – whether that’s defending a woman falsely accused of a crime or locating a missing person. A murder follows soon after, and Mason steps in to investigate, litigate, and save the day.
The HBO Revival Took Inspiration From Gardner’s Writing for Mason’s Origin Story
In the HBO Revival, viewers meet E.B. Jonathan for the first time — played by the inimitable John Lithgow. Who is E.B. Jonathan, though? He’s nowhere in the novels or the show. The show’s creators decided that the new Perry Mason needed an origin story and a mentor. Creators Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones dove deep into the novels, sleuthing for clues.
To arrive at Perry Mason, the man, they seemingly had to be him. Enter E.B. Jonathan – a lawyer mentioned nowhere in the novels but in a short story written by Gardner. Expectedly, Lithgow, as Mason’s father figure, is perfection.
Why William Talman Won in the End
In 1968, millions of Americans watched a commercial that would haunt them — at least, that’s what the creators hoped. It featured an emaciated William Talman – whose character (prosecutor Hamilton Burger) audiences had long pegged as a “loser.”
The short film by the American Cancer Society was an anti-smoking commercial. A message about smoking and losing from someone with an intimate experience of both. While filming it, Talman knew he was dying from lung cancer. Not one to go quietly into the light but laughing all the way, Talman ended with a wink saying, “Don’t be a loser.”
Gardner Wrote Like a Literary Genius Possessed
Besides the novels that made him famous, Erle Gardner also produced a veritable avalanche of writing from 1920 onwards. He wrote everything – from travelogues and pulp fiction to novellas and science fiction! Among his fans were people like Albert Einstein, Pope John XXIII, and Harry S. Truman.
No other writer besides JK Rowling has seen such enormous success in book sales. The Perry Mason novels were a cultural sensation, with over 300 million copies sold to date.
Gardner’s Unusual Ways
Few people know that as a child, Erle Gardner earned money by taking part in unlicensed boxing matches. He found loopholes in the California laws that made prizefighting a crime and so he benefited from the practice without worrying too much.
This was an unusual road to becoming a brilliant attorney, a more unusual one to becoming a writer. But then, Gardener is anything but ordinary.
Women in the Perry Mason Novels
Analyzing popular sensations like the Perry Mason franchise is a big ask. And when it involves studying women characters of the past, the path can be disappointing. But not with the Perry Mason novels. For books set in the 1930s, the women have incredible agency and voice.
Gardner gives equal weight to women’s opinions and aspirations. Della Street is undeniably the most significant person in Mason’s life and not as a love interest. Mason trusts her judgment and intuition. The cherry? Gardner doesn’t spend much time describing physical attributes — a brand of annoyance prevalent when male authors write about women characters.
Does Anyone Remember Seeing Gertie?
You often hear Della Street mention Gertie, the receptionist. You hear Perry Mason and Detective Drake speak of all the work Gertie needs to do. All well and good, save a minor problem. Who on earth is Gertie, and where was she for nine seasons?!
Many viewers claimed to have never seen her — a faceless, voiceless entity lost among the brighter stars in the Perry Mason galaxy. Gertie did appear on screen for 17 of the 271 episodes, played by the lovely Consuelo (Connie) Cezon.
A Parting, Bittersweet Kiss
The TV movies achieved something the original show never did – a moment of romance between Perry Mason and Della Street! The penultimate film called “The Case of the Killer Kiss” ends with the two sharing a lovely kiss. Has this been the longest wait in the history of on-screen relationships? Probably.
The kiss ultimately proved bittersweet. The film was the last time the two appeared on screen together. By then, Raymond Burr was clinging to life after years of illness. Burr tragically passed in 1993, the same year the film was released.
What Erle Stanley Gardner Considered His Greatest Achievement
Was there anything Gardner couldn’t do? He was an attorney, filmmaker, and author whose best work found space everywhere – from film and shows to books and radio. But more than any of his works for TV or publishing, Gardner was most proud of The Court of Last Resort – an organization he founded to help people detained or jailed without cause.
Gardner rallied like-minded lawyers, former police officials, and private investigators to review and reverse wrongful convictions.
Need a Mason-Street Romance? Read the Novels, Will You?
Fans of the show could tell there was romance brewing between Perry and Della. They just knew. Meanwhile, those who read the novels knew even better. The Perry Mason novels have much more romance between the two than the show did.
In "The Case of the Substitute Face," Mason and Street return home on a cruise ship. On the show, they come back from a business trip. But in the novels, the two return after a vacation cruise around the world. Separate cabins, of course, but a vacation together nonetheless!
The Case Of Commonalities
What did the 30 Perry Mason telemovies in 1985 have in common? If you’re anything like our protagonist Perry, you will have caught on by now! Every episode contains curious cases – of notorious nuns, lost loves, murdered madams, a musical murder, or a killer kiss. Like that last sentence, the episode titles were alliterative!
There are only three episodes without alliterations! Alliteration for episode names was common in the black-and-white series during the 1950s and 60s.
Move Over Super Mario, Perry Mason’s on the Job
Many shows achieve mythical status in their times, only to fade somewhat peacefully into oblivion. Perry Mason isn’t one of them — a show that rose from the ashes so many times that it would put any phoenix to shame. Still, how do we know the show achieved cult status? That's easy.
Perry Mason became a video game! In 1985, Telarium published an interactive game titled “Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder.”