Friday, March 20, 2015

The Careless Kitten: Book vs. Episode

March 11th is the anniversary of Erle Stanley Gardner’s death. I always find it both sad and eerie that he and William Hopper died only a few days apart.

He left us such a lasting legacy with his Perry books and everything that resulted from them. I wonder what he thought of the television-only episodes when they began to emerge on the series? I suppose he must have been okay with them, at least enough to approve them, since he insisted on that right throughout the entire series run.

While it is exasperating that he never saw fit to approve such interesting ideas as scripts where Hamilton won (hopefully only if the client was guilty; it would be too depressing otherwise, unless Perry could overturn it as in The Deadly Verdict), as a fellow writer I do have to respect his insistence on having things the way he wanted. He already knew what it was like to lose control of his characters more than once, with both the 1930s movies and the radio series. Naturally he would want to take steps to ensure that it would not happen again.

I am intrigued that apparently he was alright with Perry and Hamilton becoming friends, as they steadily did throughout the series’ run. I wonder whether he downright supported that idea or if he just loosened up and decided to allow it while being more or less indifferent to it overall. I remember Barbara Hale saying that he didn’t want Della sitting on Perry’s desk, exclaiming that a proper secretary would never do that. But it happens multiple times throughout the series. I wonder what caused him to allow it after all.

Last night after I watched MeTV’s fun episode (it’s always a treat to watch David McCallum’s guest-spot!), I had the urge to get out my recorded copy of The Careless Kitten, which is one of the few later episodes based on one of the original books. I wanted to see the adorable kitty as well as to review one particular guest-star’s role. It was the sole appearance of British character actor Hedley Mattingly on the series, and I’m coming to be rather fond of him from watching him play opposite my beloved Christopher Cary more than once.

I wonder how much of the episode works with the book’s plot. I’ll have to bring up the book version on that Indian site Fedora found with all of the books available in English PDF files.

One thing I’m sure the book version won’t have is the great scene where Hamilton comes to Perry’s office and outright says he’s coming as a friend, worried because Perry is poking into the case all over the place and Andy is getting bent out of shape over it. Hamilton pleads with Perry to leave things alone, and Perry says he’ll consider it. Of course, however, he keeps on.

One difference I know of for a certainty is that the cat’s breed is different. In the books, the cats are always Persians, while on television they’re always Siamese. Somehow a Siamese seems a more suitable breed for such a mischievous little rascal, but maybe that’s just heavy influence from the hilarious Disney movie That Darn Cat!

Now I’m giving the book version a brief run-through via the summary on Storrer’s site, as I was just too curious now that I started thinking about it. It looks like for the most part, the characters keep their names in both versions. That’s certainly unusual. The kitten’s name is changed (Monkey on television instead of Amber Eyes) and Helen’s boyfriend’s first name in the book is Jerry. There’s a character called George, whose role I am unsure of. I believe he was omitted from the episode.

The most striking difference, character-wise, seems to be that the butler is not an Englishman, but an Oriental. I always thought Cosmo was a very odd choice of name for the butler on television. Now that I see the butler’s name was Komo in the book, perhaps it makes a bit more sense. They picked something rather similar.

And oh my, the plot sounded like it was fairly well lifted from the book, until chapter 11. When someone shoots at Helen’s boyfriend in the book, he’s hurt far more seriously.

Another thing the same in both is Thomas’s ill feelings towards the butler. In the book, he keeps trying to insist that the butler poisoned the cat and Matilda, which is really disgusting since he knows the truth. In the episode, we’re left with either believing that the butler really is a creepy sadist as Thomas says or believing that Thomas is prejudiced. Considering everything that Thomas is doing, I find it rather difficult to believe him about anything. The butler shows no indications of being a sadist; the kitten rather seems to like him, snuggling against him and even purring. (Yes, I’m sure I heard purrs!) Of course, that could simply be that the cat liked the actor rather than the character. But considering that Thomas even refers to him with a racial slur (“Limey”), I would have to say that he is just being unfair and has no real knowledge that the butler is a nasty sort. Perhaps, as in the book, he’s also trying to cast blame where he knows it doesn’t belong.

I rather liked the butler, honestly. He seemed perfectly nice to me. And he was the one played by the great character actor Hedley Mattingly, who was very capable of playing nasty characters as well as nice ones. If the butler was truly unpleasant, Hedley would have given some indication of it. He was a little short with Perry on the phone, true, but Matilda had just been taken to the hospital and he was shaken up about it. It was a touch of realism that he reacted on the phone the way he did.

A difference between the two versions is that once again, Della takes care of the kitty for a while, just like she does in the book version of The Caretaker’s Cat. The kitten gets into mischief and is discovered by Della and Tragg. Tragg then takes them both to headquarters.

And ah yes, Hamilton is definitely not friendly with Perry in the book. We also get to court, unlike in the episode. Della is the defendant. Apparently they’re in court not for Leech’s murder, but for Della having the kitten and Hamilton thinking she was hiding the missing and wanted Franklin Shore!

Thomas is killed via hit-and-run in the book. He and Matilda Shore being partners in their evil plan, and Matilda having killed Franklin, are the same. But those facts never come to light; Perry just tells it to Della in private.

I really don’t care for how in the books, it seems like a lot of times the solution is only revealed in private, instead of having the real culprits uncovered and punished. Sometimes the culprits are Perry’s clients and he’s perfectly okay with getting them off even if he knows they’re guilty. In this case, where neither crook was his client, I wonder why he chose to keep it all secret.

I suppose some book fans prefer Perry’s behavior in the books to his insistence on exposing the real killers and the clients always being innocent in the television series. I do think it would have been interesting for the clients to be guilty sometimes, but not for Perry to absolutely not care if they are. Naturally there are plenty of lawyers in real-life who wouldn’t care, so it’s a realistic touch, but it seems an odd trait for a lawyer to have when Gardner was writing the books to try to show lawyers in a better light.

I guess he must have been okay with those formulaic changes to the television series. Either that or he was simply informed that the censors would not allow it to be otherwise. It would be interesting to know which. What actually prompted such changes from the books? Was it the censors? Was it that they thought the character would be more likable and heroic that way? Something else?

I also wonder what prompted Perry and Hamilton to become friends. It was such a natural progression through the seasons, in that respect keeping something fluid amid all the formula. But they could have chosen to keep things in a more season 1 light. So why the change? As much as I love these and other changes, I’m still curious to know the reasons for them, since they make the series so different from the books.

Whichever one prefers, the series or the books, the series would of course not exist without the books. I will always be grateful to Erle Stanley Gardner for creating the original Core Five and their first adventures. Every time we watch the series, we’re ultimately celebrating Gardner’s genius.


  1. Are you aware that E. S. Gardner owned the production company that made all the Perry Mason episodes? In other words, he had full control over what went into every episode :)

    1. I knew that he insisted on script approval for every episode (which caused some very interesting stories to get rejected, sigh, but I can't blame him for wanting control after not having it with the movies and radio show), but I didn't know he actually owned the production company. Interesting! Thanks for commenting!