Sunday, October 26, 2014

Notable Guest-Stars: Walter Burke


While watching The Ominous Outcast the other day, I was surprised and delighted and amused to see Walter Burke playing the prosecutor! He’s a fine actor, but that wasn’t the type of role I expected to see him in. Usually he’s a sidekick or a small-time conman or other roles that don’t quite have the prestige a district attorney would. I decided it was high-time to give him a spotlight post.

As is the case with quite a few character actors, I can’t seem to learn a lot of biographical information. Born in Brooklyn on August 25th, 1908, Walter started acting as a teenager, appearing in several Broadway plays from 1925 to 1930. He then worked with the American Opera Company in several productions, starting with a non-singing role in Faust. It doesn’t say if he sang in the other productions; I am curious to know.

He went back to Broadway in 1936. He surfaced in Hollywood in The Naked City in 1948, and from there went on to appear in a few more plays and an assortment of movies, including All the King’s Men. I’ve seen that film, but I don’t recall his part in it. It was quite some time ago that I saw it.

Television is probably what he is most remembered for. One of the classic character actors who pops up just about everywhere, Walter appeared in everything from Westerns to detective shows and fantasy/sci-fi. I’ve definitely seen him on many detective series, including The Untouchables, and I remember a turn as a mayor on The Wild Wild West. Fun times.

On Perry, Walter made five guest appearances over the nine seasons, starting with Freddie in the much-hated season 2 venture The Jaded Joker. I did a spotlight post on that episode not too long ago, so I won’t discuss it again, except to say that I greatly enjoyed Walter’s interpretation of the character and how much he cared about the titular character played by Frankie Laine. A conman-turned-companion and friend, Freddie is extremely loyal and determined, albeit he doesn’t really like to talk about what he’s done for his friend.

The Ominous Outcast came in season 3, and here we see Walter with glasses as he plays prosecutor James Blackburn. He does well in the role, although of course I suppose the prosecutor’s lines were written with Hamilton in mind, so there isn’t a great deal different dialogue-wise. Instead, Walter uses the delivery of the dialogue to make the role unique.

He doesn’t appear again until season 5’s The Missing Melody, and here it’s a much smaller role, the smallest he played on the series, I believe. I only recall him being in one scene. He’s a gambler at odds with a politician who wants to change gambling laws. But he’s horrified when he realizes that a blackmailer decided to get to the politician through his daughter and then expects the gambler to pay for the blackmail evidence. He refuses.

Again Walter disappears, resurfacing in season 8’s The Wooden Nickels as panhandler Jerry Kelso. But since this episode isn’t one I see as much, I can’t quite bring his character to mind. I remember him there, but I don’t entirely remember what he was doing other than observing the odd cloak-and-dagger chase around town. And I think eventually he was caught and made to talk, but then again, that could have been a scene from his final Perry appearance. In season 9’s The Crafty Kidnapper, perhaps the darkest episode of the series, he plays a private investigator. I also can’t recall many of the details of this performance.

I always delight in seeing him turn up, whether on Perry or other shows. I’m surprised he was only in five Perry episodes; sometimes it seems like there were more than that. But five isn’t shabby, and he turns out some wonderful performances in all of them.

As I recall, like Milton Selzer, Walter didn’t often play unsympathetic characters. Usually they were good guys, or else if they were on the shady side, there was still something human and likable about them. That, I believe, is one reason why I particularly think fondly of him.

Walter continued to make many appearances on shows up until 1980, and according to IMDB, he also worked as an acting coach in the 1970s. Sadly, being a heavy smoker, he succumbed to emphysema on August 4th, 1984. Another great character actor departed from us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Singing Skirt: Book vs. Episode


I have been seriously neglecting this blog this month. Part of it is because of my annual October Writing challenge, to write ten or eleven creepy stories in October, and they’re turning out longer than other years, so I’m devoting more time to them on this round.

Another part is that I haven’t been able to think hard enough to come up with a new topic I want to discuss. Unfortunately, I once again didn’t get up a special anniversary post back in September to celebrate the day our show premiered. But after seeing The Singing Skirt again and looking over the book summary, I am intrigued enough to want to muse on the similarities and differences between the two versions.

Most names are different in the book version, as usual. George Anclitas and Slim Marcus retain theirs. Some characters’ names are oddly similar, such as Ellis instead of Ennis. Other characters’ names are completely changed, including the defendant’s.

It’s interesting that Slim Marcus and George Anclitas are working together in the book to cheat Mr. Ellis, instead of Slim doing it behind Anclitas’s back. And the amount of money is much less—$6,000 instead of $60,000.

The basic plot is more or less the same as the episode, including the thing of Anclitas framing people with marijuana cigarettes when he wants them out of the picture and Perry switching guns and causing even more of a problem because of it. But of course, since a little 50-minute episode can’t hold everything, the book is much more fleshed-out than the episode.

Also the same is the defendant not being so squeaky clean, which isn’t as big a deal in the books but is in the episodes. She’s having an affair with Mr. Ellis, which seems to be more pronounced in the book than it was in the episode. In the episode, they still seemed to be trying to tone it down somewhat by it being said that they only went out two or three times (albeit that may have been a lie).

The biggest difference between the two versions, and the one I find most pleasing, is that Slim Marcus is not the murderer in the book. However, it’s kind of sad that in the book it’s actually Mr. Ellis. After the defendant was so crazy about him, he just kills his wife and lets the defendant take the rap. And in addition to dating her, he was also dating her friend Sadie! I guess that’s what she gets for getting involved with a married man.

According to Storrer’s site, the books tried to build up on the tension between Perry and Hamilton by having Hamilton get closer each book to either getting Perry in (probably deserved) trouble or getting the defendant convicted. I suppose that means that was kind of the gimmick of the books, as opposed to the episodes’ gimmick of the wrong person always being arrested. In The Singing Skirt, to make the tension even more pronounced, even Della disbelieves the client is telling the truth.

That is unusual for the episodes too, isn’t it? There’s been quite a few times when Paul has disbelieved, but it seems like Della usually sticks with whatever Perry thinks. Or even times when Perry doesn’t want to take a case because he’s skeptical, Della encourages him to do so. I think about the only time television Della was absolutely not thrilled with Perry’s involvement was in The Velvet Claws, when Della could see how dangerous the client was but Perry kept trying to help her anyway.

That element of Della encouraging Perry to take cases he isn’t that interested in seemed to be a theme running through several mystery series. The same thing happened several times on Mannix, with Peggy encouraging her boss to take certain cases. It seemed very strange and even out-of-character when later on, in season 7, there were two or three occasions where Peggy was convinced that Joe’s theories were baloney and that he should drop the cases because the clients were not worth helping.

Since both Della and Peggy serve as the consciences for their bosses during those rare but human times when they would rather do something other than take on a particular case, it’s odd to see either of the girls being cynical and trying to discourage their bosses instead. Of course, in the case of The Velvet Claws, Della’s objections are understandable, while Peggy’s objections in the season 7 episodes are puzzling. Why those cases any more than any others? They’re not any stranger, nor the clients any more suspicious, than many of the others. Our Velvet-Clawed lady, on the other hand, is extremely unique in her manipulations of and flirting with Perry. I can’t think of another client quite like her in any way, and that is negatively speaking.

But I digress. The Singing Skirt is actually not one of my favorite episodes; were it not for H.M. Wynant taking part, it would probably have been destined to remain as one of my least favorites, due to all the shenanigans with the guns that Perry causes and the resulting problems in court because of them. Also, it is the last episode to feature Hamilton until the last two episodes of the season. And I find myself quite unprepared for the long stretches of Hamilton-less episodes in the remainder of season 3 and much of season 4! Maybe, since now I own most of them on DVD, I’ll watch the uncut versions instead of just seeing the cut versions over once again. I’ve hardly seen any of those episodes uncut, so that will at least be a fun adventure.

And I do look forward to The Crying Cherub in any case, as I think Sergeant Brice and Lieutenant Tragg have some nice interaction in it. I also particularly like The Nimble Nephew. And of course, I always enjoy seeing the Sampson episodes, cut or uncut.

Meanwhile, since The Singing Skirt is one of the books available to read online on that site I found (http://www.e-reading.me/bookbyauthor.php?author=21005), I shall probably read through at least some of it sometime.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Startled Stallion


It’s been so long since I’ve seen the uncut version of The Startled Stallion, as I’m pretty sure I did once, that I can’t fully remember what’s missing from the television version. But one thing present in both versions that I always love seeing is the awesomeness of Lieutenant Tragg.

Even before he realizes that the case is murder and not death by frightened horse, he doesn’t like the idea of putting down a beautiful animal like this horse. Probably some of that is recognizing how valuable the horse is, but he just comes across as someone who appreciates animals in general and doesn’t like to see them killed unless absolutely necessary.

Also present in this episode is another element that occurred several times around season 3, that of Tragg teaching Sergeant Brice some of the clues he looks for in an investigation. The bit with determining it had to be murder because the wheelchair-bound man could not have locked himself in the barn is great. I love any scenes showing that the police are not idiots. Of course, the wrong person gets arrested, as always, but there is definite evidence against her.

I also like how Hamilton seems to be acknowledging the problem of the wrong people getting arrested when he tells Perry, “You know what we go through before we indict someone.” It doesn’t just happen at random; they are making an effort to get the right person arrested. The only reason it doesn’t work is because of the formula. And I do have to give points to the books for apparently not falling back on said formula all the time. I just don’t like that the reason they don’t is because Perry’s clients sometimes (or often) are guilty. As I said, I rather romanticize the character due to his television counterpart!

Another fun thing about The Startled Stallion episode is Elliott Reid playing the defendant’s brother. I’ve liked him for years because of his roles in Disney movies, so I was happy to see him pop up on Perry.

Of the episodes about horses, I think I like this one a lot more than the season 6 episode The Fickle Filly. I find it so sad in the latter episode when the horse goes lame. It’s sad for the horse and also for the people, since they thought they had a great racehorse. Of course, there is the bit in the epilogue where they plan to breed the horse, so it’s nice that all of their plans don’t have to just go down the drain.

What’s strange about the syndication copy of The Startled Stallion, however, is that I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever seen the first scene on television before, the part that shows the actual mock wedding and reveals in their car that the secretary didn’t really marry the old man. It seems like all the other times I’ve seen the episode on television, it’s opened with the racing horses. That is very weird if there really is a syndication episode floating around without that key opening scene, although I definitely wouldn’t put it past networks to clip it out for commercial time.

Back to Sergeant Brice, it’s fun seeing him becoming an important fixture on Perry. By season 3, he’s there almost all the time when it’s an in-town episode. According to IMDB, Lee Miller was playing Sergeant Brice, uncredited as the character, in several season 1 episodes. I don’t recall seeing him, but the broadcast prints of season 1 episodes are bad, so I should check my DVDs to see if I see him anywhere.

What I do know is that once or twice in season 2, they had a character called Sergeant Brice who was not played by Lee Miller. Even if Lee’s character in season 1 is thought to be Brice, I am quite sure he is never actually addressed as such until late in season 2, when they decided Tragg should have a steady partner instead of different ones most of the time. And instead of keeping the actor who was originally playing a Sergeant Brice character, they brought in Lee, which was a stroke of genius.

Lee is perfect as the quiet Sergeant Brice, silently observing everything and speaking when necessary. He interacts with Tragg, Perry, Hamilton, suspects and witnesses, Andy, Steve, and even Della. Those who have only seen syndication versions of the episodes won’t have seen it, but one of the good things about The 12th Wildcat is the bit where Brice wanders in and greets Della, jokingly asking if Perry and Paul are giving her a bad time. She responds by touching his arm and saying if they do, he’s her policeman. Aww. Brice has been shown to be friendly to Perry and company on several occasions, and indicates in The Careless Kitten and The Impetuous Imp that he has a lot less problems with them poking around investigating than his superiors do, but that brief and telling interaction with Della says that he must interact with them (and her) a lot more than we ever see onscreen. I still want to write a story with him and Della sometime.

Perhaps they can have some interaction if I write a Halloween story this year. I was thinking that if I did, it would be a great time to write that masquerade-themed adventure I always wanted the show to have. It will kind of be The Dodging Domino as the title made me think that episode should have been. I was thinking of setting it around season six or seven, but I might just set it after season 9 instead, as per most of my stories.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Birthday Tribute: Karl Held


This must be the week of unpopular opinions, because today is the 19th and it’s time to talk about Karl Held again!

And oh snap. I was just looking him up to make sure he’s still alive (he is; he’s 83 today!), and it said his wife just died this year. Gah. That is so sad. They married in 1964, which is awesome, but now he must be so lonely and sad without her.

Karl is unfortunately quite unpopular among Perry fans. If disliking The Jaded Joker is almost universal, disliking David Gideon seems to be even moreso!

Honestly, I think people are hating on the wrong character. David is a nice boy, despite getting sidetracked for a while and taken in by a femme fatale’s wiles. But Karl’s first Perry character, son of the titular Angry Dead Man, is really a piece of work.

I ordered some things on Amazon recently, and among them was the second half of season 4. I’ve been wanting that for over three years to have the uncut version of The Misguided Missile. Finally, it’s mine! All the Simon scenes are intact and I can watch them any time I want!

I have been watching the episodes I’ve never seen uncut before I go on to my beloved Misguided Missile. The first one I tried was The Angry Dead Man. And of the ones I’ve seen on the set so far from the first two discs, it has the biggest chunks taken out of it on television!

I gave the television set one very long, blank stare when it showed the scene with Lloyd Castle reading about Willard Nesbitt’s death at sea and his receptionist Helen comes in crying. Later, Lloyd is with his secretary Jenny and they are apparently romantically involved. The television version, to the best of my recollection, eliminated all scenes showing Lloyd and Jenny’s relationship, including this one and about two others. Lloyd asks Jenny to marry him in one scene, and this is discussed in court in another scene.

Also missing is a scene right after Willard Nesbitt reads in the paper about the mine and realizes his wife’s being cheated. He runs inside and calls Perry’s office, using a handkerchief to muffle his voice as he talks with Della, pretending to be an IRS agent. When the conversation doesn’t go as he hoped, he hangs up and rushes out to break into the cabin and look for the contract. A short scene where Della talks about the phone conversation is missing as well.

And some of Karl Held’s screentime is also among what’s absent, albeit only a small portion. After he and his stepmother Eve take the luggage outside to go back to the city, the uncut version shows them loading the luggage and getting in the car to drive away.

Bruce Nesbitt is a strange person. In his first scene, he actually seems nice. He holds Eve as she cries over the news of Willard’s (first) death and later tries to bring her a drink. Later, however, he behaves very obnoxiously and disrespectfully, not seeming upset by his father’s death and jeering at his stepmother. He remains obnoxious for the remainder of his screentime, criticizing Eve to Perry on the phone and trying to insinuate in court that she was playing around and that his father wanted him to spy on her because of it. Perry points out that Willard was likely only worried for Eve’s safety.

One of the criticisms against Karl Held is that his acting is wooden. I honestly can’t see anything wrong with it here. He portrays Bruce as a very nasty, selfish, repulsive boy who seriously resents his stepmother and seems indifferent about his father. If Karl’s acting was truly wooden, I doubt Bruce would be so despicable. I also doubt that David would seem much different from him.

But David is very different, and in mostly good ways. While he wasn’t always kind to his grandfather, he was nowhere near as terrible as Bruce, and he did improve. Thankfully, one complaint I’ve never heard against David is that he’s nasty, which is good since he isn’t.

David idolizes Perry and is eager to get back on track and finish law school. While naturally he makes slip-ups, I could really only find a couple in addition to the ones in his first episode. That’s quite different from what some of the fans will say, exaggerating that he’s “always” making mistakes!

There’s about three episodes where he offers helpful suggestions that move the plot along. The same role would have been taken by one of the other team members in other episodes, true, but this did give David something to do. And I thought it was good to have him try to contribute to the episodes instead of just being there like a bump on a log.

He also occasionally investigates, which may or not prove fruitful, just as it doesn’t always prove fruitful when Perry or Paul investigates. Now if David always had good luck, that might come off as more aggravating! Or if he always failed. Instead, as I recall, they seemed to try to have a balance, the same as with the other characters. And that, as far as I’m concerned, makes it fine.

I still wish they would have developed the idea a bit more of Perry teaching David the principles of the law. I really liked that angle. And honestly, David could have become a recurring character, popping in and out of the show perhaps once or twice per season, coming to Perry for advice or maybe even bringing a problem that would end up becoming the mystery for the episode. That would have been fun and perhaps the viewers wouldn’t have found him too intrusive.

Hey, maybe that’s how I could use the character in my stories, if I ever get The Malevolent Mugging finished and continue the mystery series. I also need to decide if I’ll be writing a Halloween Perry story this year. David might be in that if I do.

I’ve actually had an idle thought lately of making one of my screenshot music videos using the song Hallelujah (the Leonard Cohen song) and images from David’s episodes. Some things in the song definitely put me in mind of him, particularly his misadventure with the femme fatale. I don’t know whether I’d really make it, or if I’d post it anywhere if I did, but the idea does intrigue me (even if most people would detest it just for being about David).

David isn’t my favorite character, but I am proud to say I like him. I feel rather sad and puzzled that the dislike of the character is so rampant throughout the fandom. I’ve tried to understand why, but I just can’t seem to see what the problem is. I will agree that it probably wouldn’t have worked to have him there long-term, but since he’s around for only nine episodes, the dislike boggles my mind all the more. I guess it’s just one more of many ways that I am very unconventional.

In any case, I feel that Karl Held did a fine job bringing both Bruce and David to life and making them different as night and day. I’m happy he’s part of the Perry family and I hope he has a very lovely birthday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Case of the Jaded Joker


I ended up missing The Jaded Joker when it aired on television recently. I decided it would be the perfect time to watch it uncut again, as I think I’ve only seen the uncut version once or twice.

I cringed to remember just how much was cut out. They eliminated both the scene where the titular character Danny tries to kill himself and is stopped by Freddie, and a scene at breakfast the next day where they discuss it. Or Danny tries to discuss it, anyway, and Freddie gruffly brushes it off, saying that he himself has been helped out of jams many times by Danny. They then discuss the murder and Danny tries to give an alibi to Freddie, worrying that he killed the creep who’s caused them so much trouble. Freddie, meanwhile, worries that Danny did it, although he doesn’t say so at this point.

As before, I find the episode just delightful because of the friendship between those two. I am annoyed that those scenes get cut, but even the cut version retains some of the friendship scenes. Danny exclaims on the witness stand that if Freddie did kill the guy, it was for Danny, so Danny should be the one to go to the gas chamber. It’s illogical, but it shows how deeply Danny cares about Freddie. Meanwhile, Freddie is still worried that Danny did it and he’s willing to take the blame to protect Danny.

Paul expresses confusion early on as to why Freddie stays on with Danny and if there’s anything crooked in his mind, since Freddie has a record and was a two-bit operator before meeting Danny. But from all the scenes between them and concerning them, it’s obvious that Freddie has no criminal motives in mind unless said motives are for the protection of Danny. He’s very loyal and caring and they have a truly lovely, deep friendship.

The friendship, however, seems to be largely overshadowed by the main thing people seem to dislike about this episode, which is the fact that it gets into beatnik culture. Danny and Freddie’s friend, Buzzie, is a beat, mostly always playing the piano or occasionally spouting strange statements that people other than beats aren’t likely to understand. He ends up being the murderer, upset about the way his friends have been treated (“friends” also including Sheila Hayes, who was stood up). And the bizarre element of the body being stuffed into the kneehole of the desk is apparently because the victim is a “square” and Buzzie somehow feels that killing him and putting him in such a strange position will enable him to be “born again” and eventually find salvation.

It’s definitely weird, that’s for sure. But there have been other Perry episodes with strange resolutions. Whether or not they are accepted any better is something I’m not sure of. In any case, while I do think the solution to the crime is why my mom doesn’t like the episode, from what most people have said, it seems to be the idea of anything beatnik-related at all that makes their skin crawl. It kind of interferes with their ideas of what Perry cases should be like. They prefer more mainstream plots and characters, such as the ones from season 1, and do not care to see unusual subcultures. (Or stuff about the Space Age, as another example.)

While some of that may be a desire to keep the plots and characters more relatable to more people, I think another large part of it goes back to the idea of wanting to keep Perry a period piece, taking place even before beatniks really started coming into being. Beatniks properly place the series in the present day of its time, plus I suppose some people would say that the presence of beatniks dates the episode today.

I’m all for contemporary Perry, as everyone probably well knows by now, and I enjoy seeing them encounter the things that were happening at that time. I see nothing wrong with that and don’t think it should take away from the enjoyment of the episodes.

That being said, I do think it’s better to keep jaunts into the beatnik or Space Age worlds as something occasional and not the main thing. And the show did that very well; most plots are more mainstream, with more average, relatable guest-stars. (Although I think Danny and Freddie’s friendship should be relatable for most people.)

While the majority of people dislike this episode, however, one thing it seems most of them still appreciate is the hilarious adorableness of Lieutenant Tragg spouting off beat talk. Tragg is totally in tune with the slang of the day and would definitely be able to carry on conversations with members of the younger set who actually talk like that most of the time. I just love that priceless, mischievous grin as he says, “Don’t bug me, Granny. I’m one of the cool ones. I don't dig slick chicks trying to goof me up, Daddy-O.” Classic Tragg.

And now I have an image of Tragg in my stories (which are set in the present day) carrying on a conversation with a kid about video games like Mario and Sonic. If he could keep up-to-date on beatnik talk, I bet a present-day Tragg would also keep up on current interests of the young people. That would be pretty adorable too.

But I digress. I find The Jaded Joker a very enjoyable and fun episode, largely because of the friendship between Danny and Freddie. The beatnik elements certainly make it unusual, and the solution to the mystery is very trippy and strange (I can’t think of any other episode that resolves itself in a beat joint!), but I see no reason why those elements should have to make the episode overall any less fun to watch. And anyway, being a fan of Bobby Troupe, I found it intriguing to see him in this early role.

Actually, it’s interesting that The Jaded Joker is rather a musical episode, with music personalities in the form of not only Bobby Troupe, but Frankie Laine, who plays Danny. But despite Frankie Laine’s status as a singer, he doesn’t so much as hum one note in the episode. I’m always slightly amused when a famous singer comes onboard and then doesn’t sing. I suppose he wants to be known for something other than solely singing, or else the staff working on the episode doesn’t want the episode to turn into little more than a vehicle for the singer to sing.

Both Frankie Laine and Bobby Troupe are excellent in their roles, and I’m also very impressed with Walter Burke as Freddie. But then, I generally am impressed with the quality of the guest-stars on Perry. Maybe occasionally a slip is made, such as how I’ve heard that people forgot their lines in The Lost Last Act when Tragg comes to arrest Stacy Harris’s character, but it’s covered up so beautifully I never would have realized it hadn’t played out the way it was really supposed to be. Ray Collins is awesome in that scene, with his gentle prompting and ad-libbing. No wonder they kept it in instead of asking for another take!

Anyway, aside from the beatnik elements, the story of The Jaded Joker is very much like any other Perry mystery in that it has a wide variety of character types often seen on the series, a puzzling murder, and nice character interaction as the crew works to solve it. I study the episode trying to find something wrong with it since it’s so universally disliked, but I always end up coming away feeling that it’s just fine.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Raymond Burr


Today it’s 21 years since we lost our Perry Mason, Raymond Burr. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.

Raymond was, and really still is, the quintessential Perry Mason. His acting style isn’t appreciated by everyone, of course, but I and many others found him just perfect in the part. His ability to deadpan and be serious is what’s often remembered about his interpretation of the character; even Raymond himself forgot that Perry also has a definite mischievous streak, usually in the form of teasing Paul Drake. And he often smiles in amusement at things that are going on or being said by other characters. It wasn’t just in the later television movies when his sense of humor came out.

Perry can become emotional in court, even raising his voice when speaking to certain witnesses (often the real murderers). Other times he becomes very sarcastic and mocking, such as when he talks to fortune-teller Marius in The Fatal Fortune. It doesn’t happen often, so it might be easy to forget, but I enjoy The Fatal Fortune in general and found the role-reversal of Perry’s sarcasm and Hamilton objecting to it to be very interesting. Hamilton certainly doesn’t believe in fortune-telling and the like, but he still found Perry’s sarcasm inappropriate in the cross-examination.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Perry is very kind. Raymond always brought it out perfectly, showing how Perry would help many destitute clients who wouldn’t be able to pay, patiently teach David Gideon in the matters of the law, and even refuse to prosecute a juvenile for the stripping of his car. And who can forget the lovely exchange between Perry and Della from The Weary Watchdog:

Della: How far would you go for a friend?

Perry: How far is forever?

And with Perry, you know he’s not exaggerating. Many of the impossible cases he takes on are for his friends. And he’ll keep fighting to save them as long as there’s even the slimmest thread of hope. Even if one doesn’t always agree with his methods, his intense loyalty is certainly an admirable quality. It would be difficult to find a more faithful friend than Perry.

I read something recently, perhaps at the Yahoo Group, where someone commented that the reason The Restless Redhead may have been chosen as the first episode aired was because of how excellently it shows how Perry champions the underdog. That was one of the main themes they wanted to sell in the series, and it’s very true that Redhead shows some classic examples of it. (It also right off the bat shows some of Perry’s most jaw-dropping less-than-legal actions by firing more bullets around the crime scene!) While I still sort of wonder why The Moth-Eaten Mink wouldn’t have been either the first aired or one of the first eight, I do agree that if they were trying to sell the underdog concept, Redhead was probably the better choice for the first one aired between those two.

Raymond was always excellent at any part he took on. Robert Ironside is a much gruffer man than Perry, but his heart is just as big underneath all the growls. I don’t like how Perry in the reunion movies sometimes acts more gruff like Ironside, but if it was a deliberate action I suppose it was the fabled grouchiness of old age.

Perry is definitely the role for which Raymond is most singularly remembered, and with very good reason, since Raymond not only did a perfect job, he played Perry right up to the time of his death. His final role was the television movie The Case of the Killer Kiss, which was actually released more than two months after his death. I still have it recorded from MeTV and haven’t seen it yet, and it will likely be a very bittersweet experience when I do.

I wonder what it was like for people watching the original broadcast in 1993? It must have been extremely sad and bittersweet, knowing it was Raymond’s final performance and that he had passed on over two months earlier. The emotional wounds of the fans would have still been very fresh.

21 years later, it’s still very sad to think that Raymond is gone. But it’s a comfort to know that there’s such a treasure trove of his work available for us to still share in the joy of watching. My friend Crystal often bemoans how the BBC destroyed many priceless recordings of their old shows. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case in America! We can still watch every episode of Perry Mason, Ironside, the Perry television movies, and many other things that Raymond Burr appeared in. And while of course watching them is not like having him still here, I like to think that he’s happy knowing he still brings happiness to people with the shows he made.

Here’s to you, Raymond. Still remembered, missed, and loved.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Memoriam, Part 2: Wesley Lau


The second post of the day is for Wesley Lau, another very talented and special man.

I have actually seen at least one new thing with him, and curiously enough, it was an accident. I was looking up an old episode of Suspense because Joseph Campanella had a walk-on part. Then I started skimming through it to see if he appeared again. Instead, I found a man who both looked and sounded very much like Wesley.

It didn’t take long before I knew it really was Wesley. And interestingly enough for Perry fans, the plot of the episode had Wesley’s character accused of a murder he didn’t commit. He turned out an amazing, heartbreaking performance, completely falling apart under pressure and screaming that he didn’t do it.

Thankfully, the real killer is finally caught and Wesley’s character is exonerated. And since Wesley wasn’t even credited for that episode on IMDB.com, I added the credit right after watching the episode.

I took a few low-quality pictures and put them on my Tumblr account: http://lucky-ladybugs-lovelies.tumblr.com/search/Suspense

It’s always interesting to me that Wesley never even wanted to act. He was just a natural at it. His characters are so believable and so human. Most times they are sympathetic. Occasionally they are not. He was equally wonderful at playing good guys and bad guys.

The other day we re-watched I Want to Live!, to see Wesley as well as Simon Oakland. As the fourth husband of Barbara Graham, Wesley’s character Henry starts out seeming fairly mild and sweet. But he’s mixed up in criminal activities and also has a crippling drug habit. It isn’t far into the marriage when Henry is drug-tripping and becoming violent, even striking Barbara while holding their baby. He then disappears, not reappearing until found by the police and brought into court during Barbara’s trial. He looks somewhat dazed, which he very likely is; the newspaper headline comes up that he isn’t any help and had a “foggy day” in court. He apparently can’t remember whether the events of that last night of him being at home happened or not.

The character is certainly not very sympathetic. I can’t say whether or not the way he was written was much like the real Henry Graham; reports I’ve read on him seem a bit contradictory when attempted to be put together. But what I can say for a surety is that Wesley’s portrayal is, as always, very unforgettable.

Perry-wise, it’s always interesting to put his two characters side by side and examine their similarities and differences. Amory Fallon jumps to conclusions, is tortured by said conclusions, and unravels into a completely stressed-out and irrational person. Lieutenant Anderson is detached and businesslike, but often puts together the pieces of a case the wrong way, can be made to look ridiculous on the witness stand, and eventually allows the more stressed-out side of his personality to take over a lot more frequently.

He can’t be faulted too much on how he tries to solve cases, since the same problem plagues all Perry police and is just a fault of the formula. But I still wonder what could have caused him to become so stressed-out by season 8.

Just in that fact of being stressed, he is similar to Amory. But the way they behave while stressed is different. Amory is irrational, sometimes even bordering on hysterical. Andy is just frustrated, angry, and fed-up.

It’s intriguing how Wesley even approached that same basic characteristic of stress in different ways. Amory goes so far as to start running his fingers into his hair so much that it gets downright messed-up. Andy presses his lips in a thin line and becomes clipped. Sometimes, but not always, he doesn’t even raise his voice when his temper snaps.

While writing The Malevolent Mugging, which focuses a great deal on both of them, I had to do my best to make sure they were always portrayed as the two different people they were meant to be. When calm, they can both behave in similarly businesslike ways, which can present a problem in writing. But Amory almost always seems a bit more open with his emotions, even in calm times, so I try to bring that out and also to keep them different in whatever other ways are possible, such as Amory commenting on how Andy is trained to risk his life but he, Amory, hasn’t been and wouldn’t ever be able to think of some of the things Andy comes up with.

I ended up inspired by discovering Deputy Sampson exists in the books and I wrote a new chapter of that story: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8342827/ I have Andy finally end up pushed to the limits of his patience and he becomes stressed even to the point of being somewhat irrational. Luckily, Tragg brings him back to Earth.

I’m hoping to keep that story rolling to its conclusion now. I came up with one plot twist that may hopefully be the start of bringing all remaining loose ends together.

The story was originally meant as being largely for Andy and Amory, then later expanded to also be for the district attorney’s office and Hamilton and Sampson. A tribute to several wonderful characters and hence, the actors who brought them to life and made them memorable.

The actors for three of those characters are gone now, the actors whom are being remembered with the posts today. Thank you, Wesley, and William, for the amazing performances, characters, and the creativity you have helped to inspire. You will both always be unforgettable.

In Memoriam, Part 1: William Talman


So today is the day of the two tributes, honoring our district attorney and the second of our police lieutenants, both gone far too soon. I thought I’d post one early in the day and one later, since I don’t really want to combine them.

I’ve been wondering exactly what to say on this one. It’s still so difficult to find the remaining things William Talman has been in, save for some of the ones in which he plays the villain that I haven’t gotten the strength to see yet. I always enjoy his performances, but naturally I lean towards preferring good guys over bad. And it seems I’ve talked so much about William on Perry that there wouldn’t be anything left to be said! I was hoping to be hit with some new angle to follow, but I haven’t yet.

I was surprised, as I mentioned, to actually like book-Hamilton when I read through some of The Caretaker’s Cat. I was expecting an extremely pig-headed person, but at least in this novel, he wasn’t. I was particularly impressed by him saying how he has a horror over the possibility of convicting an innocent person.

That sort of attitude certainly parallels that of Hamilton in the television series. William brought the character to life so beautifully and so humanly, always making sure that he showed his kindness and concern towards witnesses, families of the victims, and even the defendants. He always wanted justice done above all else and was happy to cooperate with Perry as soon as Perry could provide good reason to believe why someone else may have been the killer.

I encountered someone once who complained about Hamilton gloating whenever he had one over on Perry, claiming that in the books he doesn’t do that. I honestly can’t comment there; I don’t know, although I’ve been told by others that he does indeed gloat in the books, too. I suppose it is rather immature, as the person complained, but it is such a part of the television Hamilton and William was so good at it. Many of his comments are downright hilarious, and his expressions, when gloating and especially when he’s exasperated, are just priceless. Some actors are just masters of epic expressions, and William Talman was definitely one of them.

I was surprised by how this person I talked to seemed to prefer the characters to stay the way they are in the books, relationship-wise. She felt that they were overall more distant and she preferred that, I think because she said she wanted the emphasis on the cases. I can’t see myself ever preferring a verse where Perry and Hamilton don’t become friends, when their friendship was the key element that drew me in years ago and it’s one of the keystones of the television series. It grows and develops so much over the nine seasons, as do the characters themselves. As I recall, Hamilton does a lot less of the gloating in later seasons, as he becomes a more mature person. Occasionally he’ll even joke about it, such as at the end of The Shoplifter’s Shoe when he says “Well, Perry, it looks like I was wrong. For once. On this case.” I love that little mischievous smile and how it’s obvious that he and Perry are sharing a laugh.

The significance of the scene totally went over my dad’s head, as he could only say, “This time? He’s wrong all the time!” But I saw the beauty in Hamilton cracking the joke, and that little smile which said he knew it was an ironic joke, and the fact that he was comfortable enough around Perry to actually make the joke and have it understood. Truly, a scene like that never could have happened in season 1, where Perry and Hamilton usually are either aloof and distant or at war—although even then, there are scenes that show a certain respect at times and the budding friendship that will emerge in full bloom later on.

It’s lovely how the actors were such good friends in real-life; William even commented that Raymond was his best friend. And that definitely comes out in the series. When actors have an amazing rapport, there’s no way to stop it from transferring to their characters. And no reason to want it to, either, as it makes everything feel more real and gel better.

Could the Perry and Hamilton dynamic have happened with another actor in William’s place? Yes; there are many talented actors. But no one else could have played the character like William did. And I’m not at all sure that any other performance would have become so incredibly memorable even so many years later. William just fit the part like a glove. He made it his own. And that is why it’s so easy to picture him whenever we think of Hamilton Burger.

I hope that he and Raymond have continued their friendship on the other side. Perhaps they’ve even found some new things to perform in. That would certainly be a treat for anyone luckily enough to see it.

Meanwhile, as we miss wonderful people like William down here, we have many incredible performances to treasure, including every Perry episode in which he appeared. They make for highly enjoyable repeat viewing again and again.

William, we still think about you and love you. And I am thrilled that all the Perry episodes are still around and have even been restored to pristine glory. We’ll be able to share in your adventures as Hamilton Burger for a long time yet.