Perry Mason was a fictional American legal drama series broadcasted on CBS from 1957 to 1966. It was Hollywood’s first ever hour-long weekly series for television and to this day is one TV’s longest-running and most successful legal series. It has set the bar (no pun intended) not just for legal-related shows, but all television series. It received many nominations and won numerous Emmy Awards. In 1960 was the first series to ever receive the Silver Gavel Award presented for television drama by the American Bar Association. Read on to learn some interesting stories, behind the scenes facts and unspoken scandals about America’s timeless show and characters.
The Show Was Based On A Literary Character
Most people are familiar with the never-losing, charismatic, successful defense lawyer by the name of Perry Mason from the long-running television series. However, the character was actually a literary star before he ever appeared on the screen.
The characters and stories were based on the imagination of Erle Stanley Gardner who had passed the California state bar exam and had practiced law himself. In fact, 51 of the 82 Perry novels were published prior to 1957, the year that the series was released.
The Creator’s Interesting Career
The creator of Perry Mason’s literary character Erle Stanley Gardner had quite an interesting life himself. Although he started on the same path as a typical lawyer, it didn’t turn out that way. originally, he attended the Valparaiso University School of Law but was suspended after just one month for his “distracting interest in boxing”.
He then dropped out, moved to California and studied for the bar on his own which he passed in 1911. Although he was good at it, he eventually got bored, and began writing about Perry Mason and was happy to leave his law career behind. This is why his writings and the show are so legally accurate.
Who Wanted To Be Hamilton Burger?
Often regarded as the Sherlock Holmes of the courtroom, we know Raymond Burr as the character of Perry Mason on the television show. As it turns out, this was not the original role Raymond Burr auditioned for. Initially, he auditioned for the for the role of District Attorney Hamilton Burger.
However, the creator of the show Erle Stanley Gardner just couldn’t picture Burr as a struggling, always losing attorney after watching his audition. So, instead, he was essentially offered the exact opposite role of the cunning and successful defense lawyer, and the star of the show.
He Won Every Case, Right?
According to the show, the supposedly unbeatable lawyer did lose three cases that we know of during his career. In “The case of Witless Witness”, Mason loses a non-murder case, “a matter of civil law”. In “The Case of the Terrified Typist”, Mason’s client is found guilty of murder, yet he eventually manages to clear her name.
Finally, in “The case of the Deadly Verdict”, Mason’s client is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber, yet, Mason manages to save the day before his death. Although he manages to eventually save these clients, they’re still recorded as a loss in the original case.
Perry Mason Was Not the Original name
Gardner achieved his first publication in 1923. From there, he went on to create a number of pulp characters, yet the one that showed promise was a crusading investigator/attorney named ken Corning. Ken Corning was essentially the basis for the character of Perry Mason’s character. Furthermore, the name Perry Mason isn’t an original creation.
Gardner admits that he stole it from an old magazine he subscribed to as a boy called The Youth’s Companion, which was published by Perry Mason and Company. Although the people of Perry Mason and Company may have raised an eyebrow at one point, I don’t think anyone really cares where the name came from.
Burr Was a Lawyer at Heart
After portraying the incredibly suave, intelligent, and successful defendant of Perry Mason for nine seasons of a span of nine years, Raymond Burr couldn’t just put the lawyer character to rest. For four more decades, he continuously played the role of Perry Mason in over 26 TV movies produced between 1985 and 1993.
For this, he had one of the longest syndication records for playing the same character the most time in film or TV. Sometimes, when actors get stuck as a specific character, they can get discouraged and annoyed. Apparently, that was not the case for Raymond Burr since he clearly embraced his reputation and even capitalized on it.
It Would Take How Long?
If you were to sit down and watch the entire Perry Mason TV series from beginning to end with no breaks in between, it would take approximately 10 full days of your life. Each episode of the 1957 to 1966 show ran for 52 minutes. If you multiply that by 271 episodes, you get 14,092 minutes or just over 234 hours.
If you wanted to watch all of the additional 30 made for television films as well, it would take on another approximately 47.5 hours. So, if you’re really bored, or have a week and a half to kill, become the first person ever to accomplish this task. I dare you.
Losing The Weight
Some actors take their roles very seriously. They will color their hair, wear special makeup, and some even go so far as to change their bodies for the part. We had method actors such as Edward Norton and Christian Bale who dedicate their lives to transforming their bodies necessary in order to play certain roles.
This was also the case for Raymond Burr. Before filming, one of the problems that the producers had was Burr’s current weight. So, throughout the series, his weight fluctuated, and at one point he lost 120 pounds!
Remember all the guest attorneys the television show featured? The actors included Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon, Hugh O’Brian, and Mike Connors. Well, it wasn’t just a way for these actors and actresses to get some airtime on the incredibly successful show, or bump up their viewers.
In fact, there was an actual problem that led to the use of so many guest attorneys. The reason the show featured so many guests was that Burr was out sick for several episodes and they needed to fill his role. So, including guest attorney’s worked out for everyone.
“Perry! Why Don’t You Ever Lose?!”
Evidently, during shooting one day, a female fan on the street ran up to Raymond Burr, the actor who played Perry Mason and demanded to know why he never lost a case. Burr, who seemed to have a good attitude about it, played along as if he really were Perry Mason and replied, “Madam, you only see the cases I try on Saturdays.”
Surely, this must have made this particularly lady turn pink knowing that she was speaking to one of her dearest heartthrobs. Good on Burr for staying in character and giving that woman a story to tell for the rest of her life.
Cameo Appearance By The One and Only
It’s always fun when the original writer of a book/series or director of a movie makes a cameo, no matter how small it may be. We have directors such as Quentin Tarantino make cameos in almost all of his films, Hunte S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the list goes on and on.
Knowing that it’s a possibility makes the audience keep an eye out. It’s no different for Perry Mason. In the final episode of the series, Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the original series made a small appearance as the second judge. It’s clear they waited until the last second to include him.
Two Peas in a Pod
Well, it looks like Raymond Burr and fictional character Perry Mason were just two peas in a pod. This is so because the writers decided it would be a good idea to take actual events and personal information from Raymond Burr’s life and incorporate it into the character of Perry Mason.
This was a great idea because it made the character of perry that much more believable and real to the audience. For example, on the show, Mason, served in the Navy and was stationed in the Pacific during the Second World War, and so was Burr.This was just one of the many similarities the two had.
Any car enthusiasts out there? Sometimes the car is a pivotal aspect of a show. Starsky and Hutch, Knight Rider, The Batmobile, The Mystery Machine, you get the picture. Well, same for Pery Mason.In the first season of the show, Perry drove a 1957 Ford Skyliner. Interestingly, there weren’t many of these cars made and were only in production for two years.
They had the first retractable top of any mass-produced car and has since become a staple of the shows since nobody has anything to say about the car except that it was featured in Perry Mason.
The Case Of The Changing Titles
Ever notice that almost all of Perry Mason’s series titles began with the phrase, “The Case of the…?” Believe it or not, out of all the 271 shows, only 3 of these were different. Of course, they weren’t that different though. Only the article, ”the” was removed from the three titles, “The Case of Paul Drake’s Dilemma,” “The Case of Constant Doyle,” and “The Case of a Place Called Midnight”.
I wonder what inspired the writers to do that for only three episodes. Maybe it was so that somebody would notice it and write it down as a fun fact about the show? Really thinking ahead!
Keeping Up With the Times
In total, there are 271 episodes of the drama series, however, only one was filmed in color. Back in the late fifties and sixties when the show was being filmed, studios were still mostly using black and white since it was cheaper, easier and that is what was what had become expected.
As a fun change, episode 21 of season 9, one episode was filmed in color. It was called, “The Case of The Told Twist” and was filmed in 1966. the tenth season of the show was then supposed to be filmed entirely in color, but the show was canceled before it could happen.
Not So Sly Product Placement
We are all familiar with product placement, especially when it’s incredibly obvious. Well way back, when the series began in 1957, at the end of an episode, a product was usually advertised as well. Something like household cleaning supplies was usually the focus. It was a pretty big move for TV shows at the time. And why not?
It’s a method that has withstood the test of time and is still used today, so why wouldn’t it have worked back in the 1950’s? Also, Perry Mason was primarily an adult show, which meant that stay-at-home mothers would watch it and be exposed to such advertisements.
Car Phones, I Mean Radios
Master defense lawyer Perry Mason was ahead of the times. In a few episodes, he is shown using a car phone to help him in his cases. He did have to be directed to the operator first and it was generally known as the radio, but Mason indeed rocked the new invention for the popular TV show.
Maybe this is why Mason hardly ever lost a case, he had access to far superior technology of the times. it sounds like Mason essentially had Siri at his fingertips decades before the first iPhone ever even came out.
The Case Of The Smoking Bandit
Sadly, all three supporting actors passed on from smoking-related diseases. Ray Collins (Lt. Tragg) died of emphysema while William Talman (Hamilton Burger) passed on from lung cancer, and William Hopper (Paul Drake) died of pneumonia after suffering from a stroke which was believed to have been brought on by smoking.
If that isn’t hard evidence of what smoking does to the human body, I don’t know what is. But, you can’t blame em’, it was weirder to not smoke than smoke during those times.
When Someone Else Gets Your Part
Evidently, when William Hopper auditioned for the series, he went for the lead role of Perry Mason and was given the role. However, after producers saw Raymond Burr’s audition, they were blown away and knew that Burr was the right man for the job.
o, the decision was made to give Burr the starring role and demote Hopper to the role of Paul Drake. Although that may have been hurtful to Hopper, it worked out for the best, because the show wouldn’t have been close to the same without Burr as Mason.
Ready For New Cases
If you thought for a second that Hollywood would leave one of their great success alone without trying to give it a modern makeover, you’re dead wrong. Writers Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald who have worked on the programs Weeds, Friday Night Lights, and Low Winter Sun have signed to pen the new Perry Mason HBO remake starring Robert Downey Jr. as Perry Mason himself.
So get excited, because if you’ve seen the original and still haven’t gotten your fix, or haven’t had the pleasure of watching it, now’s your chance. From the sounds of it, it’s going to be pretty good.