Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Memoriam: Erle Stanley Gardner

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.


  1. I'm surprised you haven't read any Perry books if you are such a fan. They would give you a different point of view, I think, about the Perry and Della romance angle. Many libraries have copies.

    1. I'm a fan of the TV show. I'm not really that interested in the books, particularly because of how they portray Hamilton. And I'm not really interested in the Perry/Della romance, either. But if I could locate some of the books around here, I would certainly give them a try. Our library is quite small, so I would be surprised if they'd have any.

  2. ESG wrote some entertaining cases and created such beautiful characters - they give so much room for interpretation on radio or screen. But I do get his frustration about some of the changes they made back in the days, esp for the first films in the 30s (although I also enjoy the first four at least).

    Personally, I've enjoyed every adaptation so far, apart from the remake from the 70s. The PM actor himself wasn't all that bad but nothing he did convinced me enough to actually see/feel/believe him as Perry Mason. The blond, modern day Della did not work for me at all, but neither does the new one from the recent audio plays that are available now.
    The old radio show however gets big love from me. I loved every single actor who played Perry and Della. And the episodes (unfortunately incomplete) are so much fun! I can never get enough of them.
    They def come in second after the original TV show and TV movies with Barbara Hale and Ray Burr, but it's a very close second along with the wonderful books. :)

    1. Yeah, it would definitely be frustrating, to have your work changed up in ways you didn't like.

      I think the problem with Monte Markham, as I mentioned in my New Perry Mason post, is that he tried too hard to be Raymond Burr. And no one could be Raymond Burr, so he flopped and flopped hard. I wasn't that crazy about Della's portrayal, either; she seemed too young for the part. But Paul, Hamilton, and Tragg I love. And since I usually lean more towards the state, I ended up enjoying the 70's version more than I ever dreamed possible.

      Wait, what's this about recent audio plays? I don't think I've heard about them at all.

      That's awesome that everyone in the old radio series was good! I still need to try that. I haven't been too eager, since they brought in all those soap opera elements that I personally wouldn't find that exciting, and since I heard Hamilton doesn't appear very often.

      The books I still need to find, also. I'd be much more likely to want to hurry and get them if Gardner had been kinder to Hamilton. If they were like the TV series as far as Hamilton was concerned, I would be freaking out wanting them ALL RIGHT NOW. ;) As it is, no one has been able to tell me of even just one where Hamilton is portrayed kindly. I really don't quite understand why Gardner couldn't portray both the defense and the state kindly in the same series. He had a separate series to be kind to the state (while having a nasty defense attorney).

    2. The joys of writing I suppose - at some point you lose control over your own material...

      I think you pretty much nailed it regarding the PM remake.

      And yes, they are new audio adaptations available on audible and amazon, as well as on CD I believe. Four or five already, starting with The Velvet Claws which is quite true to the book.

      The original radio series was soapy at times, absolutely, and there are some cheesy Perry/Della moments that excite me and may make you roll your eyes. ;o) But in general the cases are quite captivating. The TV show was much more serious though and Perry was not throwing a monkey wrench all the time. If you think he was "bad" in the first couple of episodes, wait till you hear some of the radio eps, LoL! He's constantly getting himself (and a very eager Della) in trouble for his clients! :o)

      About the books, LoL, I hear you! I mean, I know how happy I always am about the stories that give me more of Della and some more of her with Perry esp. So I understand that it must put you off to give the books a chance, with all the DA bashing. If I should come across a positive note in the books I haven't read so far, you'll be the first to know, I promise! :o)

    3. Very true, when other mediums become involved.

      Yeah, I tried searching for the audio plays and that was what I came up with. That's interesting that they're doing this new; I thought they were probably just reissues of old stuff. It's too bad that the Della isn't so great there either, though.

      Interesting! I'll have to get around to giving it a chance. Do you have any specific recommendations?

      LOL, an eager Della. That's interesting to picture.

      Thank you! :)

    4. The "problem" for me with the most recent audio Della is that she delivers her lines in a rather "sober" way that doesn't seem to suit the character. The writing is all right, but I simply respond more to the warmth Barbara Hale and her radio colleagues back in the days included. But then I'm a sucker for the classics anyway, so you may, ofc, have a completely different impression of her.

      If you're looking for recommendations for the original radio plays - well, only selected episodes are available on the Internet Archive and as podcasts on iTunes for example. Unfortunately, the 10-minute episodes are not always in the right order and it can get confusing in the beginning when you think "wait, why is Perry on his way to Atlanta know when he just interrogated a witness on the stand". *LoL* You do get an idea of what episode belongs where quickly though. I do have clips from three major cases so far, one about a client called Mae Grant, another about Mary (the last name just escaped me) and the last about Kate Beakman. If you start with the available eps on the Internet Archive, you'll get warped right into the Mae Grant case in court. The iTunes podcasts start with the Mary case I believe. :o)
      Eps 25 through 40 and ep 70 are some of my favs on the Internet Archive - if you listen to those you know where my preferences lie. ;o)

    5. Sorry, I forgot the link:

  3. Ahh, I see. Yeah, that delivery doesn't sound exactly right for Della. I may have the chance to try them sometime, but I don't feel inclined to purchase them, so unless my library has some it's unlikely I'll hear them.

    Alright! Thank you for the recommendations. :) I don't often listen to radio shows because it drives me buggy to just listen and not have my hands occupied with something, but when I find a good moment I'll check some of those recommendations out.