This Day In Writing History
On July 17th, 1889, the legendary mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts. After graduating high school in 1909, he entered the Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana. He soon dropped out and moved to California, where he became a self-taught attorney and passed the California state bar exam. He opened his own law practice, but later gave it up and went to work for a sales agency for five years before returning once again to practice law in 1921.
Creative and restless by nature, Gardner was bored by the routine of legal practice. What he enjoyed was trial work, especially planning his strategy for defending his clients. In his spare time, Gardner took up writing and sold short stories to pulp magazines, cutting his teeth just as fellow mystery writers Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had done. In his short stories, Gardner created many popular series characters, including gentleman thief Lester Leith and crusading lawyer Ken Corning.
In 1933, Gardner's first novel was published. It was called The Case Of The Velvet Claws, and it was the first to feature a character who would become one of the great icons of popular culture - a brilliant and cunning defense attorney and sleuth by the name of Perry Mason. In Mason's first adventure, he crosses paths with the spoiled, philandering wife of a rich and powerful man. She's determined to keep her affairs a secret and retain her life of luxury - even if she has to frame Perry Mason for murder to do it!
The Case Of The Velvet Claws became a huge success. By 1937 - four years after it was published - Erle Stanley Gardner quit his law practice to write full time. Many of his Perry Mason novels were published in serialized form in The Saturday Evening Post, then in book form. Sixteen of them appeared in condensed form in the Toronto Star Weekly. Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels during his career. He also wrote a few mystery novels featuring other characters such as Terry Clane and Gramps Wiggins. In addition to his novels, he also published short story collections and a series of non-fiction books.
Perry Mason was Gardner's most popular character. Always determined to see justice done, while defending his clients, Mason worked tirelessly to solve the crimes of which they were accused. So popular was Perry Mason that he soon appeared in movies during the 1930s and 40s. In 1943, a Perry Mason radio mystery series premiered and ran for twelve years. In 1957, Perry Mason made the jump to television in acclaimed series that starred Raymond Burr as the attorney and sleuth, defending his clients and solving crimes with the help of his private investigator Paul Drake (William Hopper) and his secretary, Della Street (Barbara Hale).
The Perry Mason TV series ran for nine years. Erle Stanley Gardner made an uncredited appearance in the final episode, playing a judge. Raymond Burr would return for a whopping 30 Perry Mason made-for-tv movies that aired between 1985 and 1995.
When he wasn't writing about him, Erle Stanley Gardner became a real life Perry Mason in his spare time, donating thousands of hours to a project called The Court of Last Resort. The project was dedicated to helping those suspected of being wrongly convicted of crimes as the result of poor legal representation or careless or malicious police work or prosecutorial misconduct. The project was especially focused on forensics and the mishandling and misinterpretation of forensic evidence due to ineptitude or malice on the part of investigators or prosecutors.
Gardner was assisted in his project by his many friends in the forensic, investigative, and legal communities. In 1952, Gardner published a non-fiction account of his work for The Court of Last Resort, which won him an Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category.
Erle Stanley Gardner died in 1970 at the age of 80. His famous character Perry Mason remains a major iconic figure in popular culture. In his 1995 album Ozzmosis, legendary rock singer Ozzy Osbourne paid tribute to Gardner's attorney and sleuth in the song Perry Mason, which became a hit single:
Who can we get on the case?
We need Perry Mason
Someone to put you in place
Calling Perry Mason, again...
Quote Of The Day
"It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check." - Erle Stanley Gardner on his first Perry Mason novel, The Case Of The Velvet Claws.
Today's video features a collection of clips from an episode of the classic Perry Mason TV series, with Leonard Nimoy as a special guest star! Enjoy!