Perry Mason is here. He’s there. He’s everywhere.
Click on your TV set weekday mornings to TBS and you’ll catch Raymond Burr in action as Erle Stanley Gardner’s ace defense attorney on the classic series. Turn the dial to KDOC weekday afternoons for another dose and every Saturday evening for two hours of prime-time Perry.
“Perry” mania doesn’t stop there. NBC struck a gold mine in 1985 when producers Fred Silverman and Dean Hargrove reunited Burr and Barbara Hale, who played his stalwart secretary Della Street on the CBS series, for the TV movie “Perry Mason Returns.” The film was such a hit that NBC airs at least four new Perry Mason movies a year. The latest will air during May, and repeats of the previous mysteries frequently pop up on Showtime and on KTLA.
Perry Mason was the fictional alter ego of lawyer-novelist Gardner, who wrote more than 75 Perry Mason stories from 1932 until his death in 1970. CBS Radio turned the best-selling mysteries into a series in 1943; it aired five days a week until 1955. Bartlett Robinson, Santos Ortego, Donald Briggs and John Larkin are the actors who played Mason on radio. Part soap opera and part detective series, the radio version became the basis for the daytime soap opera “The Edge of Night,” which began in 1956 on CBS and then moved to ABC until it was canceled in 1984.
“Perry Mason,” however, was strictly a detective series. It debuted on CBS in September, 1957, and was TV’s longest-running attorney series, departing the airwaves nine years later.
Before his role as Mason, Burr was known primarily as a movie heavy. Who can ever forget a bespectacled Burr as James Stewart’s suspicious neighbor in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic “Rear Window”?
Barbara Hale was a moderately successful movie actress who had appeared in several films, including 1950’s “The Jackpot” with James Stewart. William Hopper, who played Mason’s suave personal investigator Paul Drake, was the son of Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and portrayed Natalie Wood’s father in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause.” Ray Collins, who was Lt. Arthur Tragg, was a member of Orson Welles’ legendary Mercury Theater and appeared in Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Great character actor William Talman was Burr’s adversary, district attorney Hamilton Burger.
During its nine seasons on the air, Mason only lost one case. It was in 1963 when Mason’s client refused to give him evidence that would save her. Mason, of course, ended up catching the real bad guy.
What makes watching “Perry Mason” so fun is to see established stars early in their career: Angie Dickinson, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are just a few who found themselves on the witness stand.
In 1973, CBS unsuccessfully revived “Perry Mason.” This time around Monte Markham played Mason, but the magic was gone. The series was off the air in four months.
“Perry Mason” airs Monday-Friday at 9:05 a.m. on TBS and noon on KDOC and Saturdays at 8 p.m on KDOC.