Perry Mason was the creation of Erle Stanley Gardner. Gardner was a bestselling author who had a total of 135 million of copies of his books available during the time of his death in the late 1960s. Eighty of his novels and short stories featured Perry Mason, a fictional defense attorney who along with his faithful secretary Della Street and private investigator Paul Drake helped solved murders in which his clients were accused.
Author Erle Stanley Gardner
Early Perry Mason pocket book
Gardner’s Mason stories were featured on radio and films. On radio his mysteries were serialized in 15 minute segments that were presented in the soap opera format popular at the time. There were six Perry Mason feature films produced between 1935 and 1937. Four of them starred the same actor, WARREN WILLIAM with rotating cast members in the other roles. The final two films featured RICARDO CORTEZ and DONALD WOODS as Mason.
Early film’s Perry Mason- Warren William
By far, the most famous Perry Mason actor was RAYMOND BURR who played him in the television series that ran on CBS from 1957 until 1966. (Later he would reprise the role for twenty-six television movies (NBC) starting in 1985). They had a marvelous cast on the original show which included, BARBARA HALE as Della Street and WILLIAM HOPPER as Paul Drake. Ms Hale would return later for the television movies.
Raymond Burr (as Perry Mason)
Raymond Burr had a marvelous sense of humor and a quick wit. To state one example; during the run of the original series a fan approached him insisting to know: “How come you never lose a case?” To which Burr responded straight-faced- “Madam, you only see the cases that I try on Saturdays.”
Raymond Burr (Mason) and Barbara Hale (Della Street)
William Hopper (Paul Drake)
I met Raymond Burr after his run with Perry Mason in 1966. He was beginning a new series called “Ironside”. The show was filming in San Francisco and my father was assigned as liaison to the visiting Universal Studio film unit that was producing the series. I was twelve at the time and had gone down to the location (the S.F. cable car barn) with my mother, aunt, and cousin. I remember my mother telling Raymond Burr how much she enjoyed him as Perry Mason, and he replying in that deep, distinctive voice, that “they were making this new series (“Ironside”) and hoped that she’d enjoy it as much”. I also recall my cousin being tongued-tied as “Ironside” co-star Don Galloway kidded with her. She ended up blushing several shades of (not gray) red throughout it. Everyone in the cast was terrific and there was a great deal of fun and energy on the set. I collected autographs- as most kids my age had done – and which I still possess (see below). One of them was from television’s “Maverick” star, JACK KELLY who was guest-starring on that segment (actually the pilot for the show).
“Best Wishes Raymond Burr” – Piazza autograph.
Unlike “The Streets of San Francisco” which I would join as an actor/extra/stand-in some years later, “Ironside” was not filmed entirely on location. A few key scenes were shot in San Francisco with the actual cast, but the majority of the action took place either on the Universal backlot or soundstages. Second unit filming in San Francisco was more common in this production, using doubles for the actors, or cars (running shots) or buildings in the city for establishing shots.
Don Galloway- Piazza photo.
The following year (during the filming of an episode for the second season) I was on location again, this time at a mansion in the Pacific Heights District. Raymond Burr was as warm, friendly, and jovial as the first time I’d met him. I’d brought the family 8mm camera down and the whole crew performed for our home movies! They were all a great bunch. The producer on the show CY CHERMAK even took charge of our camera and filmed me shaking hands with Raymond Burr and my mom getting a kiss on the cheek.
Youthful future author shaking hands with Raymond Burr. My father grinning in the middle.- Piazza Photo
The legacy of any celebrity in the minds of their fans doesn’t always rest with their performances on stage or in front of the camera, but how their personality stands up when they interact with the public. Raymond Burr rates high on my list of truly nice individuals. And no matter if he’s playing a nasty Hitchcock villain, Detective Ironside, or Perry Mason, I cannot help but smile and appreciate the real man who seemed to appreciate people and make them feel welcomed in his presence.
My mother’s special moment- Piazza Photo.
Trivia: Actor William Hopper (Drake) was the son of gossip columnist HEDDA HOPPER.
Barbara Hale’s son, actor WILLIAM KATT (“The Greatest American Hero”) played Paul Drake Jr. in nine of the Perry Mason television movies.
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was released early 2012 and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Also: Watch for the new Tom Logan mystery thriller published soon by Amazon!
Due out mid-2013!