Long before the days of “Law & Order” and “Boston Legal,” there was another sexy courtroom drama that had the world glued to its TV screens. From the iconic music to the glamorous actors and compelling plot lines, there has hardly been a series as recognizable to generation after generation than the legendary “Perry Mason.” The prolific show centered around the alluring master criminal defense lawyer made solving murder look so good that the series went on for decades in syndication. These days, mention of the man, the legend, the lawyer stirs sentiments of nostalgic reminiscence. But, all hope is not lost! We’ve brought back the best of Perry Mason to reveal some of the most amazing facts behind the epic series. Read on to find out more about Perry Mason, Della Street and all the intrigue surrounding the beloved vintage classic.
1. Perry Mason Was Almost a Soap Opera
Coming off the success of the novels and radio program and before the television series we know all know and love, CBS and author Erle Stanley Gardner were initially planning to produce a TV soap opera adaptation of Perry Mason called The Edge of Night.
The studio wanted Perry Mason to have a love interest. Gardner, however, objected. The two sides couldn’t reach an agreement and Gardner withdrew his support. The Edge of Night was rehashed and had a 28-year run starting in 1956. The next year, Gardner launched his own prosperous series on CBS.
2. Funny Fan Moment
Perry Mason was suave, clever and widely regarded as a unicorn among legal practitioners. The dashing and unorthodox defense attorney with a knack for investigating was a master litigator who famously saved the day in the stickiest of situations and had a reputation for winning.
Critics could point to Mason’s fantastical courtroom record and other elements that strayed from pinpoint judicial accuracy, but most fans overruled such details. In one comically famous incident, however, a fan approached lead actor Raymond Burr and asked him how Mason never lost any cases. In return, he quipped: “But madam, you only see the cases I try on Saturdays.”
3. Perry Mason Didn’t Actually Win Every Case
A hawk in the courtroom and an expert at private counsel, audiences only ever saw three decisions against the acclaimed attorney (well, kind of). In the episode “The Case of the Witless Witness,” Perry received a judgment against a client in a civil law case – his sole definitive loss.
In another episode, “The Case of the Terrified Typist,” Perry’s client faces a guilty verdict, but the wily lawyer is able to clear the defendant. The third and most famous “loss” case was in “The Case of the Deadly Verdict.” Perry’s client is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, but again he was able to reverse the judgment.
4. Why There Was Rarely a Jury
Although a significant portion of most episodes centered around the dramatic courtroom proceedings, most cases in the Perry Mason series never actually got to a jury. This aspect of the plot structure was, interestingly, due to two surprising reasons.
For one, the cases on the show didn’t reach a jury because it was more theatrically dramatic to have the real perpetrator confess. The second reason was that it was cheaper for the studio if the cases only reached the preliminary or evidentiary hearing and didn’t have to pay 12 actors as jurors.
5. Perry Mason’s Name Came from a Surprising Source
The name of the prodigal fictitious lawyer Perry Mason is widely recognized as the central character in the eponymous novels, tv show and subsequent film reboots about him, but the legendary lawyer actually got his iconic name from an unassuming source.
In fact, the name dates back to creator Erle Stanley Gardner’s youth. As a boy, Gardner was a fan of the children’s magazine “Youth’s Companion,” which was published by none other than the Boston-based firm Perry Mason & Co.
Keep reading to find out which huge Hollywood names made special appearances on the iconic show.
6. The Show Featured Big-Name Guest Stars
The CBS TV series Perry Mason helped enshrine the likes of titular character actor Raymond Burr, along with Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Hopper (Paul Drake), Ray Collins (Lt. Tragg) and William Talman (Hamilton Burger) in the canon of television drama legends.
Theirs, however, were not the only famous names associated with the show. During the course of production, the series featured no less than 1,903 characters. Those roles were filled by various actors whom the show helped put on the map, including Barbara Eden, Burt Reynolds, Adam West, Dick Clark, Robert Redford, Angie Dickinson, Joan O’Brien and Leonard Nimoy (to name a few).
7. Perry Mason Wasn’t Just a TV Series
Although the best-known adaptation of the “Perry Mason” book series was the CBS TV series starring Raymond Burr, the legal legacy was produced in another popular medium before it was formatted for the little and big screens.
From 1943 to 1955, “Perry Mason” was adapted for a 15-minute daily radio crime serial. The program aired on CBS Radio, which was owned by the commercial broadcasting corporation that later aired the popular primetime TV show.
8. The Inspiration Behind Della Street
Long before audiences were rooting for the razor-sharp Donna Paulsen on Suits, there was the beautiful Della Street on Perry Mason. The formidable Girl Friday character dutifully stood by her boss and cunningly helped him save the day on more than one occasion. But who was the real woman behind the steadfast secretary?
The show’s creator Erle Stanley Gardner simultaneously employed three secretaries, all of whom were sisters. He eventually married one – Jean Gardner – who was often thought to be the inspiration behind Street. Neither Gardner nor his wife admitted she was the muse for the savvy legal secretary, and she said the character was likely a composite of several women.
If you were always rooting for a Perry and Della romance, then you don’t want to miss the next slide!
9. The Perry Mason-Della Street Unrequited Romance
In the TV series, Perry Mason was largely depicted as a loner, with his main interpersonal interactions taking place with his devoted secretary Della Street and dependable PI Paul Drake. Nonetheless, fans were also wondering “will they or won’t they” about Mason and his Street.
Mason eats, sleeps, and breaths the law and audiences and Della understand that his lifestyle didn’t leave much room for much else. Despite their on-screen chemistry, romantic tropes never developed between the two in the original television run. In the 1993 television film, the two FINALLY got their first on-screen kiss.
10. Mason Almost Had Another Name
Author Erle Stanley Gardner was becoming increasingly uninspired by his work as a lawyer when he started pursuing fiction. His early experiences in publishing involved writing for pulp magazines. He invented several series characters and was first published in 1923.
Of his recurring pulp characters was one Ken Corning – a crusading lawyer and crime sleuth. If that sounds familiar, well, you’re right. That character served as the archetype for what would later become Gardener’s most popular fabricated persona – Perry Mason.
11. Perry Mason Ignited a TV Network Feud
Perry Mason was raking in the ratings with 25 million viewers by the end of its second season. The CBS series was gaining momentum and had become a staple of Saturday night primetime watching when it reached the number 10 Nielsen rating spot in its third season.
During that same season, rival network NBC responded by debuting another popular classic TV series – Bonanza. As the Cartwrights gained traction as the first regularly scheduled color TV program, however, the black-and-white crime drama found itself on the wrong side of the ratings.
12. There Was Only One Episode in Color
During its nine seasons of filming, the TV show Perry Mason was entirely filmed in black-and-white. That is, except for one single episode. Season 9, Episode 21 titled “The Case of the Twice-Told Twist” was the sole installment of the series in color.
Producers had selected that episode to run as a colorized experiment before season 10, which the studio had decided to film in full color. However, CBS canceled the show after season 9 and that those pigmented plans never materialized.
13. The Theme Song Was Specially Composed
The iconic Perry Mason theme song, “Park Avenue Beat,” is instantly recognizable to fans. The sexy, brassy tune was originally composed for the show by Fred Steiner and written to musically reflect the ace attorney’s personality with elements of “sophistication and toughness.”
The sweeping score was used for the entirety of the original broadcast and was re-recorded by Dick DeBenedictis for later film revivals. The jazzy instrumental ballad is regarded as one of Steiner’s most famous works. He also composed the music to The Bullwinkle Show and Follow That Man.
You won’t believe the next surprising facts about the legendary legal drama, read on!
14. Raymond Burr Lost A LOT of Weight for the Role
Perry Mason may have been a pro when it came to dealing with the Scales of Justice, but Raymond Burr was allegedly tipping another kind of scale when he landed the part. After beating out about 50 actors for the role, the 40-year-old Hollywood heavyweight was asked to slim down.
Standing at a looming 6 feet 2 inches, Burr was broad-shouldered and had an impressively commanding presence party due to his sturdy stature. That fact didn’t change even when the star took up a crash diet and shed a significant amount of weight, emerging at 210 pounds.
15. Raymond Burr Didn’t Originally Audition for the Lead Role
He may now be synonymous with the legendary Perry Mason, but Raymond Burr didn’t initially have his heart set on that role. Burr was an icon of film noir (and had appeared in more than 90 films!) before he was cast in his most recognizable role.
However, when Burr showed up at casting calls, he initially auditioned for the role of Mason’s loyal opposition, district attorney Hamilton Burger. The studio execs liked him so much, incidentally, that they offered him the title role instead. From there, the casting decision was a closed case.
16. Several Set Changes
The Perry Mason TV series was set in Los Angeles. Interior scenes were filmed in various studios in Tinseltown. In the show’s early years, on-location filming would be done in the Culver City area and a handful of downtown haunts.
Mason’s offices were located at the fictional Brent Building. For exterior and entrance shots of the structure, film crews used the Superior Oil Company Building in downtown LA. In season 8, Mason’s office moves (little to the apparent notice of the characters) to the Bank of California building, which is located in San Francisco.
17. The Fate of the Revival Show
After the success of the original Perry Mason show, a revival series called The New Perry Mason premiered in 1973 (super original name, we know). And, let’s just say it wasn’t as successful. As it turns out, the critics weren’t into it and neither were some of those involved in it.
Short-lived and only 15 episodes long, the attempted successor show didn’t feature its popular original stars nor the epic theme music. The reboot starred Monte Markham and Sharon Acker and only lasted a mere half a season.
If you love Perry Mason you definitely don’t want to miss the next page!
18. Robert Downey Jr.’s Reboot
For those of you who think the iconic Perry Mason series should be left in the vault of classic television, you may be disappointed. On the other hand, for those wishing for a contemporary remake of the TV treasure, you’re in luck.
For years, a theatrical reboot of the mystery series has been in the works. Robert Downey Jr. is due to produce and star in the newest reimagination for HBO. “The Perry Mason project we’re developing is kind of a pre-‘Chinatown’ gumshoe thriller with some courtroom stakes, and action sequences,” Downey has said.
19. The Show Won Multiple Awards
Not only was the Perry Mason TV series a popular sensation among fans, but the critics also agreed. The show was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award during its first season and was ranked among the five most popular series on TV.
Subsequently, Raymond Burr won the Emmy award in the category of Best Actor for his portrayal of the savvy attorney TWICE! Barbara Hale also won an Emmy for her performance in the show as Mason’s trusty secretary Della Street.
20. Why Perry Mason Had So Many Cool Cars
For vintage vehicle lovers, Perry Mason was full of a fleet of sleek rides that oozed with mid-century style. Fans with a keen eye may have noticed that the central character drives a variety of classy cars, and it wasn’t (explicitly, at least) because he was raking in the dough from all those case winnings.
In the first season, Perry was seen alternatively driving a swanky Ford Skyliner and a slick black Cadillac convertible almost every other episode. This tradeoff was steered by the varying automotive sponsorships that show had with both Ford and GM.
21. Changes Were Made for TV
Not much was revealed about the background of Perry Mason’s personal life in the novels about the clever attorney of the same name. The TV series divulged significantly from this point. The move was necessary as there were only about 80 books written and more than 270 episodes aired on TV.
A significant amount of invented material, including background, plots and characters were invented for the popular television series. Between show’s debut in 1957 until his death in 1970, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote more than 30 new Perry Mason novels. However, he didn’t incorporate any of the TV show’s invented narratives into these additions.
Keep reading for more juicy tidbits about the timeless crime-solving classic!
22. Art Imitated Reality… Kind Of
Although the details of Perry Mason’s formative years may be somewhat murky, there is at least one significant aspect of the past lives overlap between the fictional Mason and Raymond Burr, the actor who played him.
In real life, both Mason and Burr were stationed in the Pacific while serving in the Navy during World War II. Mason revealed the juicy tidbit during the season 4 episode “The Case of the Misguided Missile.” Burr, for his part, was wounded in Okinawa and sent home.
23. This Courtroom Practice Was Absent
Give creator Erle Stanley Gardner’s background in law, legal themes were pervasive throughout plotlines in the Perry Mason TV series. While the show sometimes had to take leniencies with the acutely portraying the justice system, there was one particularly noted approach it took on jurisprudence in the courtroom.
Interestingly, in most episodes when it came time for witnesses to take the stand and give sworn testimony, the affair was largely a secular affirmation. That is, so to say, those taking oath did not utter the phrase “so help me God,” nor was a Bible used in those scenes.
24. Perry Mason Wasn’t Just Big in the U.S.
Perry Mason was Hollywood’s first one-hour series that aired weekly on television. The seminal ‘whodunit’ hit was relatively successful in terms of ratings, but it was a huge phenomenon with fans and has remained a pillar of pop culture ever since its initial run.
During its nine seasons, the show only made it into the top-10 ranked TV shows twice. Nonetheless, there was a clear verdict that the mystery-detective-legal series was a global phenomenon. The show aired, or had been airing at the time of its cancellation, in a staggering 58 countries!
25. The Show Made Legal TV History
Not only was Perry Mason one of the most successful legal series ever produced, but it was television history’s longest-running lawyer show. The courtroom-crime drama’s original broadcast run lasted from its 1957 debut until its cancellation in 1966.
After the original bout of 271 episodes, Perry Mason became a staple of syndication and ran on reruns for nearly half a century after its cancellation until 2014. Its stamina in syndication and made-for-TV movies after the initial nine-year run has landed Perry Mason in the record books.
26. The Creator’s Time in Law School
Author Erle Stanley Gardner’s claim to fame was penning the popular Perry Mason novels that inspired the on-screen adaptation. His legal knowledge was vast, but his path to acquiring it could be called unusual. Gardner was suspended from law school at Valparaiso University in Indiana after a month into his first semester.
From there he moved to California and passed the bar exam in 1911 having self-pursued his legal education. Apart from litigation and trial strategy development, he eventually grew tired of legal practice and thrived in fiction writing. Despite the prolific run of Perry Mason, he only appeared in one episode – the series finale – as an unnamed judge.
27. One Actor Was Still Credited After Departing from the Show
Ray Collins, who played antagonist Lt. Tragg of the homicide squad appeared in only a few episodes after the 1960 season of Perry Mason. Due to illness, it became increasingly difficult for him to memorize his lines, which led to his dismissal amid the seventh season.
After Collins departed from the show, it was decided to keep his name on the credits. That decision was made in part to help keep his spirits up, but also to allow him to continue receiving medical benefits from the actors’ union. Sadly, Collins passed away in 1965.
28. Raymond Burr Wasn’t the Only Perry Mason
Although Perry Mason is arguably his most-recognized role, Raymond Burr wasn’t the only actor to play the intrepid attorney. There have been many reworkings of the character since his initial appearance in the 1933 novel “The Case of the Velvet Claws.”
Before the TV envisioning, Burr was preceded in the role by Warren William. He played the part four times starting in 1934 before handing it off to Ricardo Cortez in 1936 and Donald Woods for a 1937 movie. Monte Markham assumed the role from Burr for the short-lived ‘70s reboot, but no one has played Mason since Burr’s last reprised appearance in 1993.
29. The Law Was Strongly Infused in the Script
Novelist Erle Stanley Gardner not only penned the original books that inspired the Perry Mason television show and subsequent TV movies. He also had full creative control of the title character as the acting creator of the popular television series.
In the vain of being technically correct in the eyes of the law, the show’s production staff included various members who had either practiced or studied law. In an effort to avoid any “incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial” content, the scripts were also subject to Gardner’s gavel.
30. Life Imitates Art
William Talman played Los Angeles County District Attorney Hamilton Burger in the long-running television version of “Perry Mason.” The fictional prosecutor found himself on the wrong side of the law in 1960 and was subsequently suspended from the show.
Studio execs fired Talman from the show for violating his contract’s morals clause after he was arrested at a Hollywood party and charged with engaging in “indecent activities.” In what could have been a scene out of his show, the actor was adamant about no wrongdoing and he was eventually acquitted and allowed to return to the job.
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