Thursday, February 23, 2012

The case of the characters' ages

I was originally going to do another episode-centric post, on The Bogus Buccaneers (a rather unremarkable episode save for one scene where Della and another woman are abducted), but then I decided maybe it would be better to try something different.

How old are the characters? Are their ages meant to be contemporary with their actors’? Or are they supposed to be younger?

I’ve been pondering and puzzling over it for some time. For the most part, I would imagine that Yes, their ages are more or less the same as their actors’. Perhaps a few years younger. There’s never any real indication, however.

In one episode, Perry asks Della if she would like to pose as the wife of a handsome man about forty. The initial implication, I believe, is that the audience is supposed to believe he’s talking about himself. He isn’t, but that still stands as the only (and very shaky) clue to his age.

The cast was mostly in their early forties when they begun their nine years as our beloved characters, save for Barbara Hale, who was in her mid thirties, and Ray Collins, who was in his late sixties. And Lieutenant Tragg’s age is certainly the biggest mystery. Is he really supposed to be the same age as his actor? It’s a perplexity that’s left me scratching my head for months.

In season 4 he soberly tells a widow that he’s been on the police force almost 25 years, and telling someone about a loved one’s death never gets easier. If he joined the force at the earliest possible age, he would be somewhere in his forties in that season 4 episode. And that would put him contemporary with the other male cast, which … doesn’t sound quite right. Even though the book and radio character versions were around the same age as the others, it’s generally assumed that the TV show version is older.

Perhaps the only reason for that is because his actor was. But it makes sense. He seems older, more seasoned, than the rest of the characters, as though he’s experienced much more and over a longer period of time.

Now, suppose instead that he joined the police force in his thirties. Then he would be somewhere in his fifties—older than the rest and at a more believable age. To get him the same age as the actor, he would have joined the force in his forties. And that is possible. Apparently, even though each municipality has somewhat their own rules on age restrictions, in general you’re never too old to either become a police officer or stay a police officer, if you’ve graduated the police academy and passed all the physical fitness tests. After 25 years it seems you’re eligible for retiring from the force, but you don’t have to.

It makes me ponder again on Andy’s introduction. I wonder if the character was being groomed by Tragg to take his place, if he intended to retire. Andy first appeared in season 5, and although I don’t know if each season constitutes an approximate year for the characters, it could be thought of as such if one wanted. Perhaps Tragg was approaching 25 years with the force and wanted to retire. Or, if one would rather think that Tragg continued with the force, perhaps he was simply taking a younger policeman under his wing without any intention of having Andy take his place.

(When it comes to Andy's age, by the way, he has stated in season 8 that he's been on the force for 15 years. Supposing he joined at the earliest possible age, he would be around 36, which sounds reasonable. I always thought he was probably a few years younger than Perry, Paul, and Hamilton, as his actor is. Of course, perhaps he's a few years older than 36, but probably not by much. Wesley Lau, incidentally, was around 39 or 40 when he first played the character in season 5.)

In any case, Tragg’s age is a dilemma I’ve been wondering how to deal with in my stories. So far, I’ve never addressed it for lack of needing to and lack of knowing how to do so. I think I’ve always pictured him as being in his fifties. But since it would be technically possible for him to be closer in age to his actor, I might change my mind.

The others I’ve mostly kept contemporary with their actors’ ages, with a slight adjustment here and there. Hamilton and Mignon, for instance, I’ve depicted as closer to two years apart instead of the eight years between their actors.

I had to determine an entire timeline for them while writing The Broken Ties, and moreso for my series of vignettes for February. The main factor determining it was Mignon’s son Larry’s age. Once Hamilton told Paul he had known Mignon since before Larry was born (and that Hamilton had been around college age at the time), I had to work accordingly with that. I ended up placing Larry’s age between 25 and 26 (or 27), taking into my calculations him finishing college and law school before getting into the D.A.’s office. Then I added a year or so to how long he had been there.

With Larry’s age in mind, I juggled the timeline around until it came out with Hamilton approximately 47 by the present day and Mignon approximately 49. That satisfied me quite well.

And I find it amusing that, regardless of Tragg’s age, I kept picturing his wife Maureen looking like Meredith Baxter while writing The Broken Ties.


  1. In one of the early books, ESG said that Della was 27. Perry was a few years older than her.

    1. I don't think the books can be used to explain TV show canon. Tragg's age is certainly different between the books and the TV show. But that's interesting information at any rate. Thank you for the tidbit.