I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t get up a tribute to the man who made everything Perry possible. And I thank Crystal Rose for having seen the piece on CBS this morning and letting me know.
It seems almost eerie, that less than a week after William Hopper’s death Erle Stanley Gardner passed away on March 11th, 1970. He left a lasting legacy of not only novels about Perry and others, but everything in which the characters he created had a part.
I disagree with some of Mr. Gardner’s decisions concerning his formula for his Perry novels, but one can’t deny that regardless, those stories were immensely successful. They got off to a bit of a rocky start; however, the public quickly caught on and the books became wildly popular.
It was only several years after the first book was published that Warner Brothers came knocking, wanting to make Perry Mason movies. Their attempts were, by all accounts, abysmal. Mr. Gardner certainly wasn’t pleased. And I can’t say I care for Paul’s name change. But Perry/Della shippers are surely thrilled by at least one thing: the two tied the knot in one of the films. Now that’s something you’ll never see in any other branch of the franchise! (Except in fanfiction, of course.)
Mr. Gardner was understandably hesitant about bringing the characters to life in other formats after the movie fiasco. But he finally agreed, and was involved with the radio show when it came about. He tried writing scripts for it, but determined he did his best work in prose. The same thing happened with the television series years later.
The radio show's staff had their own ideas about how the show should go, ideas that Mr. Gardner largely did not like. But although smarting from his experience over losing control of the characters once again, he came to like the radio idea after all once a new writer came onboard. Apparently deciding he had learned his lesson, however, he proceeded to be very important to the television series’ casting and format years later. He had to approve each script. And (to my delight), when he saw Raymond Burr and William Talman trying out for the roles of Hamilton Burger and Perry Mason, respectively, he insisted they switch parts. And thus one of the greatest and most enduring on-screen rivalries (and later, friendships) was born.
Before he became famous as a writer, Mr. Gardner was a lawyer. Reportedly, he channeled some of his frustrations over the prosecutors he dealt with into the character of Hamilton Burger. I’ve long heard that the book Hamilton really has no redeeming qualities or scenes. (Although it is said that he is “honest, but stubborn”, if I remember right.) If it is true, then it makes me all the more impressed and thrilled that Mr. Gardner was willing to let the show’s writers and William Talman develop the character as much as they did. Going from being the books’ one-dimensional adversary to one of Perry’s most trusted friends is quite a path!
Another of Mr. Gardner’s decisions I quite agree with was not to drop romance into the series. He always refused to let a romantic relationship between Perry and Della be outright stated, much to the consternation of the shipper fans. But there are plenty of lovely bits that can be interpreted as either platonic or romantic, bringing, I feel, the best of both worlds. Everyone can imagine them just as they want.
I am intrigued to learn that Mr. Gardner’s Doug Selby books concern a district attorney as the protagonist. But in quite a different swing from Perry, the defense attorney is an out-and-out shyster! Even in his Perry books, at least Perry’s opponent was upright and never crooked (despite being, perhaps, a stereotypical prosecutor in other ways). I think I should like to read the Doug Selby books. I would also be interested in investigating some of the Perry books, if I ever chance to come upon them.
I love that CBS paid tribute to Mr. Gardner today on their morning broadcast. Whichever part of the Perry franchise is one’s favorite, we owe it all to the fact that in 1933, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote The Case of the Velvet Claws. And that he followed it up with another, and another. . . .
Thank you, Mr. Gardner, for 79 years of Perry Mason.