Welcome to Masters of Mystery Monday, where each week we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre. You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.
We leave the kid detectives this week and return to the adult realm of master detectives. This week: everyone’s favorite lawyer-detective – cue the music:
Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason
Some interesting facts about Erle Stanley Gardner and the Perry Mason series:
1. Gardner was a California lawyer for 20 years, which came in handy for those slick points of law that Mason uses to get out of tight spots.
2. The series is part of the hard-boiled, pulp fiction tradition, with sexy dames, hard-nosed cops, and the protagonist who has his own set of ethics and his own way of dispensing justice. Some critics contend that the series became more “soft-boiled” over time.
3. Over the course of 40 years (between 1933 and 1973), Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason “cases,” not including several short stories that featured the lawyer/detective. Before Perry Mason, Gardner wrote other pulp fiction stories, too.
4. The books are readable and comfortingly formulaic: the first half of the story is concerned with introducing the client, the problem, and the investigation, where the police and prosecution seem to have the upper hand and all seems lost; the second half of the story is the courtroom scene, where Mason uses all the lawyer tricks he can get away with to shuffle around the evidence and confuse the witnesses, until finally the true culprit confesses and his client is cleared.
Perry Mason’s appeal:
1. Della Street: the quintessential gal Friday, and an unacknowledged love interest for Perry. Super-efficient. I wish she could run my kids’ homework nights.
2. Paul Drake, of Drake Investigations: the man could find out anything, and was almost as fast as Google.
3. The clients: generally speaking, they were uncooperative bombshells, and their own worst enemy. Mason was essentially saving them from themselves.
4. Perry Mason: his cleverness and ingenuity won out every time. He was also not above walking on the shady side of the law from time to time: a little B&E, some suppressing of evidence, etc.
Beyond the books: radio and television
Radio: CBS ran the radio episodes in 15-minute increments, five times a week, from 1943 to 1955. It was sponsored by Tide laundry detergent, “the amazing washday miracle” (info courtesy of Jack French). In other words, it was a soap opera!
Television: This was the Perry Mason we are most familiar with. The series, starring Raymond Burr, ran from 1957 to 1966, and was a re-run staple for CBS, and later re-run on other stations.
Here’s a clip of the opening credits and music theme. Bring back memories?
Great sites for more info:
Want the answers to last week’s quiz?
1. What film used the tagline “The Master of Suspense presents a 3,000-mile chase across America”?
- Rear Window
- The Birds
- North by Northwest
2. What is the music used for Hitchcock’s television series theme?
- Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture
- Gounod’s “Funeral March for a Marionette” – want to hear it? Click here.
- Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate at Kiev”
- Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida”
3. Who starred in the most Hitchcock films?
- Cary Grant
- Jimmy Stewart – they are tied at four films each – I know, I didn’t play fair on that one!
- Audrey Hepburn (not in any of Hitchcock films)
- Doris Day (in one film: The Man Who Knew Too Much)
4. What does nearly every leading actress in Hitchcock’s films have in common? They were blondes. Hitchcock had a fondness for blondes.
Be your own “Master of Mystery: take this week’s quiz!
Locale quiz: the city makes the detective. It’s his element, the source of his contacts; he knows all the seamy back alleys. Can you match the following detectives with their cities?
1. Sam Spade
3. Sherlock Holmes
4. Charlie Chan
d. San Francisco
Hope you’re enjoying the quizzes. How influential do you think the character of Perry Mason has been for the lawyer/detective t.v. characters we have today? Who is your favorite t.v. detective? We’d love to have your input.
Thanks for joining me today. See you soon!