This Day In Literary History
On July 17th, 1889, the legendary American 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.
Gardner later 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 routine legal practice. He enjoyed trial work, especially planning his strategy for defending his clients.
He took up writing as a hobby and sold short stories to pulp magazines, cutting his teeth just as his 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. But they weren't his most famous characters.
In 1933, Gardner's first novel was published. The Case Of The Velvet Claws was also his first novel to feature a character who would become one of the greatest literary icons of all time - Perry Mason.
A brilliant and cunning defense attorney and sleuth, in his first adventure, Mason crosses paths with the spoiled, philandering wife of a rich and powerful man.
The amoral woman is 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, which would sell over 300,000,000 copies combined. He also published mystery novels featuring other characters such as Terry Clane and Gramps Wiggins, short story collections, and a series of nonfiction books.
Perry Mason remains Gardner's most popular character to this day. Always determined to see justice done, while defending his clients, Mason worked tirelessly to solve the crimes of which they were accused.
Mason made his feature film debut in the 1930s. In 1943, a Perry Mason radio mystery series premiered and ran for twelve years. Fourteen years later, Perry Mason made the jump to television
The acclaimed TV series starred Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, 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 Court of Last Resort focused mostly on forensics, specifically 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 nonfiction account of his work for The Court of Last Resort, which won him an Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category.
Five years later, in 1957, Gardner produced a TV series based on his work with The Court of Last Resort. Unfortunately, it would only run for one season.
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, the legendary English rock singer Ozzy Osbourne paid tribute to Gardner's attorney and sleuth in the song Perry Mason, which became a hit single:
On his way to dinner
when it took him by surprise
and with one pull of the trigger
he would vanish overnight
Dancing by the roadside
holding on for dear life
then a gun from out of nowhere
made a widow of his wife
I don't mind
single file down the runway
and I'll see you my friend
over and over again
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 complete reading of Erle Stanley Gardner's classic first Perry Mason novel, The Case Of The Velvet Claws. Enjoy!