Thursday, May 31, 2012

And a child shall lead them: The children of the series

Today I’ve been thinking about the children that appeared on the series. Teenagers were frequent (and sometimes aggravating) visitors, but actual, young children were a more rare sight. Sometimes they were talked about but not seen. Other times they were shown but didn’t play a significant role in the plot.

Even more rare is when Perry or other main characters interact with children on a steady basis in an episode. I believe the first important child character appeared in season 1’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, but I don’t recall that any of the main characters had any extensive interaction with him, if any at all. There is the important scene in the epilogue, where Perry decides not to tell one of the leading guest-stars that the little boy is not actually his grandson. Perry can’t see that it would serve any purpose, and might instead destroy a beautiful relationship that’s just beginning to form, so he holds his tongue. Della seems to be in favor of his decision.

A child is a central focus of the plot in season 2’s The Deadly Toy, which is also one of the darkest episodes throughout the series. One of the main conundrums is what has become of young David Selkirk and what he might have seen or done on the night his father was killed. Perry begins to wonder if the boy could have seen the murder. He devises a plan to get David’s regular baby-sitter to come to him so he can see if she’s the woman reported to have taken David to parts unknown. Upon finding she isn’t, he casually draws information from her. David was apparently allowed to play with a gun in the house, which was usually but not always kept empty. Perry then starts to wonder if David could have pulled the trigger the night his father died.

Two children interact with Perry and Della in this episode. First, Perry’s plan to talk with the baby-sitter is to pretend he and Della are married and have a young child. Della gets one from a friend of hers. There’s an adorable scene where Perry tries to get the toddler to come to him and she crawls on over. Perry then picks her up. Della also holds her, although mainly to put her back in the crib, as Della promised not to spoil her.

Later, Perry and Della finally find David and talk with him. David is friendly and proudly shows Della that he can wiggle his ears. Della is impressed and asks him to show her how to do it, thus distracting him and getting him out of the room while Perry talks with the woman looking after him.

The young actor’s real name is David too, I noticed in the cast. I see that a lot on shows where very small children are featured. I think I read that it’s a way to not get the kid confused, since even though he’s acting he’s being called by his real name.

I can’t recall a young kid having an important part to play in an episode again until season 5’s The Borrowed Baby, and that gives us quite possibly our youngest guest-star ever. The titular character is left in a basket on Perry’s desk. Della volunteers to take care of him until they can sort out the mystery surrounding him and his family. Over the course of the episode she bonds very deeply with little Leander and is heartbroken to have to give him up at the end, despite being happy that he finally gets to go with his mother.

Della is completely a natural at taking care of Leander. Meanwhile, Paul displays complete awkwardness and ineptitude around him, from worrying he’ll drop the kid to telling Della she should ask Leander if the milk is too hot for him. But Leander seems to like him, reaching out for him at one point and later, sitting on his lap. Paul seems quite at ease in the later scene, interestingly enough. Perhaps throughout the episode’s events he’s had to get used to having a baby around and no longer feels as awkward or concerned as he did.

Perry doesn’t have any particular interaction with Leander that I can recall, aside from greeting him a couple of times (and perhaps holding him or his basket once or twice). And one of my only regrets about the episode is that Hamilton didn’t have any interaction with Leander whatsoever. Hamilton does show repulsion when it seems the murder victim was involved in a baby-selling racket, however.

In season 8 Perry protests having young Button stay with him while her divorcing parents duke it out in court, saying that he’s had no experience with children due to being a bachelor. Perhaps so, but he is very sensitive to their feelings.

This is clearly depicted in season 7’s The Shifty Shoebox. Perry is concerned for Miles, an eight-year-old foster child whom he meets on his current case, recognizing that the boy longs for a place to feel he belongs. He also senses that Miles is hiding a secret and is afraid of something, and tries repeatedly to get through his shell and draw out what’s bothering him. That is a large part of the episode’s plot, as what Miles saw directly bears on everything. Perry finally does reach him, with Della’s help.

The epilogue finds him more open and happy, both from telling his secret and bonding with the distant relative who most recently took him in. He drags Paul up all the stairs and wants Perry to go down the back stairs with him.

Button’s episode, the season 8 opener The Missing Button, features the precocious Button Blake, caught in the middle of a heart-wrenching custody battle. She and Perry seem to already know each other as the episode opens, and are on friendly terms. She also is impressed by Paul being a detective and finding people (“Like Dick Tracy?” she chirps, much to his bewilderment).

This episode may arguably be even darker than The Deadly Toy, due to the climax. A woman teetering on the brink of insanity and a breakdown takes Button and eventually tries to lift her over a bridge and fling her to the traffic below. Perry and company arrive in time, however, and the woman herself is struggling against her evil impulses. She at last releases Button, pleading for Della to take her before she does something horrible to the girl.

In the epilogue everyone is happy and going to dinner. Button, with her parents reunited due to what they’ve come through, runs into Perry’s arms in delight.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen it, but I remember a child also appearing in season 9’s The Fugitive Fraulein. It’s an intense topical episode, featuring Perry going behind the Iron Curtain trying to reunite a family separated by the Berlin Wall. Perry had, I believe, one or two scenes with the child, but without the sort of substantial content of some of the other episodes with him and kids. What I most remember is that he tries to give the girl a doll from her grandparents and she isn’t allowed to have it. He is angry over the incident.

At the moment I can’t think of any other times when young children played a significant part in episodes, although it seems like there may be another one, one that my station has skipped and that I haven’t otherwise seen again yet due to Hamilton’s absence in it.

One thing I feel was a slight was that Hamilton never interacted with any of the young kids who popped up. I know that his interaction with them would be absolutely adorable, judging from how gentle he is with the youngest witnesses he’s examined. In The Vagabond Vixen he even implores Perry to remember that the eponymous character is scarcely more than a child.

Hamilton and Miles are in the same scene in The Shifty Shoebox, at least, and Hamilton shows definite concern for Miles when he finds out that the titular object has Miles’ guardian’s fingerprints on it, but they are not directly shown speaking to each other.

It was The Shifty Shoebox and my desire to see Hamilton interact with a kid that inspired me to invent the character of Howie Peterson, who eventually becomes Hamilton’s godson. Their interaction is explored extensively in my mystery The Macabre Mansion, and is also featured in the succeeding stories The Broken Ties and The Spectral Stalker.

(Incidentally, I have posted the last of my May fanfiction theme project today. All of the short scenes filling in gaps in The Broken Ties are here at this link, for those interested:

I’m going to be attempting to do the themes for June as well. They’re all from the poems of J.R.R. Tolkien, so they’re too wonderful to pass up. I will be tinkering with an idea of mine concerning the hidden enemy from The Broken Ties, Florence, enacting her plans and taking over Earth as a dark queen. It’s going to be a strange ride. But if I like what comes out of it, I will probably use the scenes in a full-fledged multi-chapter story in the future. I can promise right now that Sergeant Brice and David Gideon will both play a part in the events. Haha, of all the ways I could have let David appear in one of my stories, I never thought it would be like this.

The tentative title for the scenes will be “Lux Aeterna”, The Eternal Light.)


  1. There is an episode in season 4 called The Case of the Nine Dolls that has a seven or eight year old girl who comes to Perry asking him to help her find out who she really is. She lives at a boarding school and receives a doll every year from a doll shop in Switzerland. Perry just happens to be on his way to Scotland for a fishing trip "by way of Geneva Switzerland" and tries to investigate for little girl. He does eventually find out who the girl is and both parents are dead and she has a wealthy grandfather who is murdered and Perry ends up defending the only connection to her family. It is a good episode.

  2. Yay! Yes, that is it! Thank you! That is the one I thought it might be. For some reason my local station skipped it last time. Let's see what they do now. It should be coming up in the next few weeks. I remember I liked it years ago. I was intrigued by Perry wandering around Switzerland, since usually if someone's off somewhere it's Paul.

  3. Della, Perry and children = love. I can't get enough of those episodes and scenes, they are always so cute. But they also break my heart in a way, which is completely Barbara Hale's fault coz she's such a natural with kids of any age. Gotta heart that! What a wonderful gift to have. :)

    1. Oh yes, Barbara really is a natural! It's a joy to watch her interact with kids. I imagine you've seen that movie ... I think it's called The Window, where a kid sees a murder committed through the window and Barbara is the kid's mother? I've been wanting to get hold of that one.

    2. It's one of my favorites with her! :o) It's so good - and was one of her first RKO movies that really got her industry recognition (after its delayed studio release). Soon after came Jolson Sings Again as her first feature for Columbia for which she got well-deserved rave reviews. She's really best at playing real women, that's when her talent really sparkles. Just have a look at A Lion is in the Streets as another example, The Oklahoman or Buckskin. Great performances, all of them, at least in my humble opinion. :o)