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Erle Stanley Gardner Writer of Perry Mason Mystery Stories Formula Story

Updated on August 4, 2017

Erle Stanley Gardner

image from creative commons. Attribution share alike license. author John Atheton
image from creative commons. Attribution share alike license. author John Atheton

A.A.Fair

book under name A.A. Fair
book under name A.A. Fair

Perry Mason Book and Radio

creative commons attribution license Author k3vin
creative commons attribution license Author k3vin
Last Perry Mason book.
Last Perry Mason book.

The creator of Perry Mason was a trial lawyer, hard-boiled pulp fiction writer, natural story teller and possibly the most prolific and successful writer of crime fiction in America.

Mystery writer Max Allan Collins places Gardner among hard boiled writers he much admires. He said that Gardner has “huge success but scant respect.”

Perry Mason had been portrayed in magazines, books and movies before I ever heard of him or his creator.

I was in college in the 1950’s when the enormously popular “Perry Mason” series was on television along with articles in mainstream magazines, a well as the stories being now published in such magazines. At the time, I was a mystery fan with hopes of being a mystery writer myself. Needless to say, I became a Perry Mason fan.

Born in Malden, Massachusetts July 17, 1889 his early life was spent traveling with his father to remote regions of California, Oregon and the Klondike.

In High School he took up boxing but later found that law was the only form of combat he thrived on. He practiced law until 1918. For awhile he went to the Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana, but later studied law on his own. In those days the practice of “reading law” which was usually done under the guidance of a practicing lawyer was still common.
After awhile he started writing mysteries and submitting them to pulp publications. They were called pulps because they were published on cheap paper known as pulp paper.

The television version of “Perry Mason” which was and still is my image of Mason (and just about everyone else’s) was a rather cleaned up image.. The Mason of the books, radio and movies was a more hardboiled character and was not adverse to skirting the law if it suited his purpose.

One article I read suggested that Mason was somewhat modeled after himself in the flamboyant courtroom tactics he used. Television and Raymond Burr gave Perry Mason a face. The author did not use a lot of description in the books, so the TV Mason became what audiences remember. Even in later Mason stories he started to look like the TV version.

Gardner sold his first novel in 1933 and gave up his law practice to be a full time writer. He dictated his stories to a secretary and worked eight hours a day writing. He became one of the wealthiest mystery writers of all time. He wrote 82 Mason adventures The Case of the Postponed Murder was his last and published in 1973 after his death.

The Mason of the first nine novels is very much in the hard-boiled tradition of Black Mask magazine, which was a major pulp fiction magazine at the time. They have a taught understated realism with raw wit, sentimentality and real feel for the Darwinian battle of survival in a depression dominated time. Mason in these novels is totally self reliant, willing to take extreme risks for his clients. He describes himself as a gladiator, much as Chandler’s Phillip Marlow describes himself as a “tarnished knight.”

The Saturday Evening Post serialized most of the Mason stories before they were published in book form the late 1930’s to the late 1950’s. In these stories there was less of the tough PI image and more “love interest” and the hero does not play as fast and loose with the law. The oral combat ,however, does not lose its edge, the pace remains fast and the plots are as complex as ever. According to book rags.com Mason is the author’s alter ego throughout.

Mason was in several movies of the 1930’s and 40’s and a radio program from 1943 to 1955. A second TV series in the 1980’s and early 1990’s with much of the same cast as the original series. Several radio shows were imitations of Mason.

In addition to the Mason series Gardner wrote 29 novels under the name of A.A. Fair about PI Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. These stories had more humor than the Mason series and some prefer them to the Masons.. Other pseudonyms he wrote under are: Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charkas J. Kenny Les Tillray and Robert Parr. In addition to his fiction he also wrote articles on travel, Western history and forensic science.

“The Court of Last Resort” absorbed thousand of hours or his time. With friends in forensics, legal and investigative communities the project sought to review and try to reverse miscarriages of justice. A book was published in 1952 and earned Gardner his one Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime category. I was only aware of this project through a television show based on it.

He married Natalie Frances Talbert in 1912 and had a daughter, Grace. In 1937 He moved to Temecula, California where he spent the rest of his life. In 1968 he married his secretary Agnes Jean Bethall upon whom the character of Della Street, Masons secretary, was based.

Gardner died March 11, 1970 in Temecula, California.



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    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I found some reruns of the old 1950's series that I have been watching.Thanks for commenting.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I love a good bio - and I loved Perry Mason - we all watched it. And I was a fan of none other than...Della Street.

      I'm inspired here because Gardner was a cancer like myself. And I think the wilder we are the more successful we are in life. I feel like going out now and starting some trouble. I'd like to be hard-boiled. Also I just bought the Dragon Naturally Speaking software so I can also dictate my work.

      Stay tuned!

      Great hub and rated up of course.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      It is an unusual writing story because he went at it like a business,working so many hours a day,dictating his stories. Thanks for reading it and commenting.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 6 years ago from Canada

      Loved this! I used to watch Perry Mason when it came on late at night, but I haven't seen it in the last few years. It's funny that you said the Perry Mason in the books was more hard-nosed, because even the Perry of T.V. seemed like he would do almost anything to get the case figured out! I always looked up to his tough, no-nonsense ways!

      Mason's story is very inspirational, and it sounded like it took quite a while to actually "become a writer," but he stuck with it, and left quite a legacy! I loved this hub. Thank you!

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Actually, as I recall the actor who played Burger died and there was a new prosecutor. I forget who it was in the later series. A John Lucas is the prosecutor in a book I have at home.I just found a channel that is rerunning the original 1950's series.Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      My favorite part of perry mason series was watching the killer being revealed in court. The many varied reactions from them were priceless. I think it's a shame Hamilton Berger was the only prosecuter perry ever faced. Was it that way in the books too?

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      That's a good deal. I don't think we get those channels.Thanks for commenting.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      His work lives on. Every Sunday evening we watch Perry Mason on one of the encore channels. We both look forward to it.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment. I have corrected the error.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 6 years ago from UK

      Great article on the creator of Perry Mason and prolific author ( he dictated all his books to tape). Thanks

      Just one small quibble you have spelt his name wrong on the title of the hub- He is ERLE Stanley Gardner not EARL. Might affect your search engine hits. Cheers!

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for reading it and commenting.

    • triosol profile image

      triosol 7 years ago

      Enjoyed your article. Thanks.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comment. I would like to see some of the original ones, myself.

    • Barbara_tenBroek profile image

      Barbara_tenBroek 7 years ago from Dayton, Ohio

      I had forgotten how much I loved the old Perry Mason shows thanks.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I haven't read that much of gardner but I still will read them.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      dahogland,

      Erle Stanley Gardner is my personal favorite. I belonged to an Erle Stanley Gardner book club and bought and read everything he ever wrote. I liked Berta Cool and Donald Lam as well as Perry Mason.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Glad you enjoyed the article.Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      soumyasrajan 7 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Enjoyed yr article Dahoglund! Brought back my memories of Perry Mason novels by Earl Stanley Gardner. I used to read and enjoy during my teen age quite a lot. Some times in Hindi.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Tom T

      Thanks for coming by and commenting.Perry Mason was very popular and I think reruns still run.

    • Tom T profile image

      Tom T 7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I love little snippets of history and historical figures. I used to love the Perry Mason show. Thanks for the share.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      This hub was more a matter of refreshing my mind than of hard research. Mason came along just when I was getting a seriou interest in mystery fiction and I absorbed everything I could about Gardner. I come from a day when much of that kind of fiction was considered unrespectable.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You continually research and offer the most interesting of hubs...at least for those of us from a certain vintage. Ha! Loved the Perry Mason series and also Matlock.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Bill

      Good to hear from you. Thanks for commenting. Most of first heard of Mason in the TV shows but he had been around awhile before.

    • profile image

      Kinghorn 7 years ago

      Very informative. I don't remember reading a book.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you found it interesting.

    • freelancewriterva profile image

      freelancewriterva 7 years ago

      I am a Perry Mason Fan and did not know that

      Earl Stanley Gardner was the creator of Perry Mason or the history behind it. Excellent hubpage.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      billyaustindillon

      I'm glad you liked it. Gardner was one among many good writers who started out in the pulp magazines which were considered low brow and sleazy.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      jstankevicz

      Thanks for the comment. He did have a successful formula.In fact Andy Griffith successfully imitated Perry Mason for the series "Matlock."

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      I enjoyed the hub and for the history of Perry Mason I never knew much about the creator.

    • jstankevicz profile image

      jstankevicz 7 years ago from Cave Creek

      Erle Stanley Garner developed a story formula and stuck with it. My favorite character in the Perry Mason stories was Paul Drake, his investigator. The Drake scenes and the courtroom ending were "the mystery story" for me. Thanks for the memory!

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi resspenser

      Thanks for the comment.you should be able to get most of the books at the library and at Amazon I'm sure. Perry masons are still popular and new ones are being written by other authors

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi coolmon2009

      Thanks for commenting on this hub.I remember reading some Perry Mason in Saturday Evening Post back in the 1950's. Fiction was much more common in both pulp and slick magazines of the period.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 7 years ago from South Carolina

      I would like to try some of the books. Wonder if they are still available? Good hub.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Interesting information on Perry Mason; I heard about the old radio shows, but didn't know it was an article in the Saturday Evening Post too; the writing would really have to be top notched for that to work in a magazine. Sounds like Gardner was passionate about his writing to let his law career go. Thank you for an interesting, and well written article.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • profile image

      loriamoore 7 years ago

      Very interesting.