Perry Mason

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Perry Mason

Perry Mason—arguably the most celebrated attorney in all of fiction—personified the ideal criminal lawyer. Perry Mason has been the primary character in dozens of novels (penned by the man who created him, Erle Stanley Gardner, 1889–1970). He was featured in several motion pictures and in a radio (see entry under 1920s—TV and Radio in volume 2) series. He appeared in a classic television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3) series; in a second, less-successful series; and lastly, in a succession of made-for-TV movies. Mason, backed by his loyal secretary, Della Street, and a dedicated private eye, Paul Drake, was determined to win his cases. Right always was on his side. He never rested until he successfully nailed the real villain and saved his always-innocent client. In the years before the popularity of more complexly plotted lawyer-based TV series like L.A. Law (1986–94), and the emergence of Court TV and the broadcast of the murder trial of O. J. Simpson (1947–; see entry under 1990s—The Way We Lived in volume 5), Perry Mason's fame was built on his reputation for almost never losing a case.

Perry Mason first appeared on the printed page in The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933). Nearly eighty additional novels followed. Then between 1934 and 1937, Warner Brothers produced six Perry Mason feature films. Three actors played the crafty attorney: Warren William (1895–1948), Ricardo Cortez (1899–1977), and Donald Woods (1906–1998). The radio series ran from 1943 to 1955. Four additional performers were heard as Mason on the radio series, which was part-soap opera, part-detective drama: Bartlett Robinson (1912–1986), Santos Ortega (1900–1976), Donald Briggs (1911–1986), and John Larkin (1912–1965).

By far, the most famous Perry Mason was Raymond Burr (1917–1993), a handsome character actor who played the role on the long-running TV series (1957–1966). Burr was the ideal Mason, lending the character a combination of thoughtful intelligence and steely determination. Appropriately, the last series episode was titled "The Case of the Final Fadeout." Erle Stanley Gardner appeared as the case's judge.

A follow-up series, The New Perry Mason (1973–1974), starring Monte Markham (1935–) in the title role, lasted just one season. Then, between 1985 and 1993, an aging Burr replayed Mason in over two dozen highly rated television movies. The first was titled Perry Mason Returns (1985).

—Rob Edelman

For More Information

Gardner, Erle Stanley. The Case of the Velvet Claws. New York: William Morrow, 1933.

Gardner, Erle Stanley. Seven Complete Novels. New York: Avenel Books, 1979.

Hughes, Dorothy. Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason. New York: William Morrow, 1978.

Kelleher, Brian, and Diana Merrill. The Perry Mason TV Show Book. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.