“But Mr. Mason, he was dead when I got there!”
There aren’t many legal minds as sharp, or court track records as laden with ‘wins’ as those of defense attorney Perry Mason. If you were accused of a crime you didn’t commit, this guy was the lawyer to get. Take out a mortgage on the house, pull all the strings you can pull, beg, plead, muster a torrent of fake tears—do whatever you have to do, but get Mr. Mason.
The Perry Mason character was conceived of by lawyer-turned-writer Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933. Mason appeared first in paperbacks, and then was the center of a CBS radio show, which transitioned to TV as a short-lived program called The Edge of the Night. And then, with a new cast and a new focus—the stories concentrated almost exclusively on the courtroom drama now, instead dividing time between the courtroom and the characters’ personal lives—Perry Mason sprouted up in his own self-titled CBS show.
After that memorable theme music sucked you in, the first half hour of the show saw the unfolding of a crime, whose culprit the audience never saw. Someone—usually the wrong someone—was arrested, and then the second half of the show took place in the courtroom. With the help of trusty secretary Della Street and private investigator Paul Drake, Mason entered the proceedings fairly well-equipped. But often, thanks to a last-minute clue ushered in by Drake, or a revelation that Mason worked out in the confines of that churning noggin of his, the crime was solved on the spot—while Mason was on his feet interrogating a witness and putting the puzzle pieces together at the same time. He was so good that he got most of his confessions when the culprits were right up there on the stand, and occasionally in the spectator section. He was also so good that sometimes, he got people confused and flustered enough to actually confess to crimes they didn’t commit.
Though his constant adversary District Attorney Burger tried his best, Mason won nearly all of his cases—pretty much from the moment our favorite one-man defense team spoke the words “My client is innocent, your Honor,” it was downhill for Burger. The poor D.A. had a brilliant nemesis and an unfortunate last name—some guys have all the luck, and others don’t have an ounce.
If Mason’s investigative wizardry went over your head, there was no need to fret because the show typically wrapped up with Mason, his trusty P.I. and his secretary recapping the ins and outs of their most recent case. After that, if you still didn’t get it, there were always the repeats.
The episode titles were usually alliterative and true to the character’s pulp fiction roots—“The Case of the Treacherous Toupee,” for example, or “The Case of the Bountiful Beauty.” Actor Raymond Burr was so heavily used in the show and the schedule was so taxing that he often lived in a trailer near the set during filming, and had to use a teleprompter inside the courtroom for his endless and verbose inquisitions. A few years after the show went off the air in its original run, a new cast assembled for The New Perry Mason Show—and since Raymond Burr was solving crimes in Ironside, the crime-solving barrister extraordinaire was played by Monte Markham.
USA / CBS – Paisano Prod. / 271×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 21 September 1957 – 4 September 1966 The New Perry Mason aired September 1973 – 27 January 1974
Creator: Erle Stanley Gardner / Music: Richard Shore, Fred Steiner / Executive Producers: Gail Patrick Johnson, Arthur Marks
Raymond Burr as Perry Mason
Barbara Hale as Della Street
William Hopper as Paul Drake
Ray Collins as Lt. Arthur Tragg
William Talman as Hamilton Burger
Richard Anderson as Lt. Steve Drumm
Connie Cezon as Gertie Lade
Paul Courtland as Margo
Karl Held as David Gideon
Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice
Wesley Lau as Lt. Andy Anderson