Thursday, March 29, 2012

Special Request: The Case of the Prudent Prosecutor

The Prudent Prosecutor from season 3 is certainly a milestone episode, there’s no mistake about that. Some people, however, have the incorrect assumption that it is unique and rare to the point that it is the only time Perry and Hamilton work together on a case. As I’ve shown many times in the past, this is not so. No, The Prudent Prosecutor’s main milestone is that it is the first time of many. It is also the first time of several when Hamilton asks for Perry’s help, and the first time we see one of Hamilton’s oneshot friends.

Jefferson Pike is a short-tempered fellow. He can’t stand the hold that a local crooked businessman has over his son. He’s so incensed by it that he takes the man’s gun and shoots himself in the leg, with the intention of telling around that his enemy shot him in the hopes of getting him arrested and out of the way.

Jefferson has a job at a lodge’s gun club somewhere in Los Angeles County. Even though he tells a friend of his about the “shooting”, he immediately clams up about it when he goes into the lodge and finds Hamilton in there with a few other people, all of whom have been duck hunting. Apparently, knowing that it’s a false tale, he doesn’t want to get in trouble by spinning it to the district attorney. (Or perhaps he doesn’t want to lie to someone who is as close a friend as Hamilton seems to be.) In any case, the friend he did tell is bewildered by his silence.

Later that night Jefferson calls Hamilton at what seems to be Hamilton’s home, giving us one of only two views of the place. (Originally I thought it was the lodge, but Hamilton had indicated he was going back to town. Hence, it’s probably his home.) He says he needs help for his son and wants a good defense attorney. If I remember right, he asks specifically for Perry. It’s either that or Hamilton recommends Perry to him. In any case, Hamilton then calls Perry on Jefferson’s behalf. Perry comments that he is surprised Hamilton is up so late “drumming up business” for him.

By the time Perry reaches Jefferson’s place the next morning, more trouble has happened. The man Jefferson detests has been murdered. And, to keep his son from taking the blame, Jefferson proclaims his own guilt in the matter.

One of the most amusing scenes happens here. In addition to Hamilton requesting Perry’s help, he wanted Lieutenant Tragg on the case once the murder happened. Tragg intercepts Perry and tries to get him to move along. But Hamilton shows up then and gives Perry a warm greeting, saying he’s glad Perry could make it. Tragg is bowled over. “You’re glad that he . . .” In bewilderment, he turns and wanders off, leaving the two lawyers to discuss the case.

It’s very rare to glean any tidbits about the characters’ backstories. Their pasts are largely closed books to the audience. But Hamilton confesses a small part of his history to Perry in trying to explain his concern for Jefferson. On a hunting trip in Canada twelve years ago, Hamilton was injured in a duck blind and Jefferson carried him three miles to safety. In the icy water, Jefferson lost two toes on the trek. Hamilton later got him the job at the gun club.

Hamilton does not often show his awkward side, but it definitely comes out here. He wants to ask Perry to defend Jefferson, yet can’t seem to get the words out. Not because of swallowing his pride, however (or at least not altogether), but because he feels he has no right to ask. Hamilton may have been justified in at least some of his prior frustrations with Perry; nevertheless, that isn’t an issue here. Knowing what Hamilton is trying to say, Perry just smiles and assures Hamilton that he will defend Jefferson. “Even if he did save your life,” he teasingly adds. Hamilton relaxes.

It’s one of my favorite scenes in the series. Despite the fact that it is most certainly not the only time they collaborate on a case, it is one of the only times they talk so candidly with each other. It’s clear from the scene that they each have an immense respect for the other, in addition to being close friends. That Perry can tease Hamilton, with Hamilton recognizing it as such and relaxing, shows that they’ve come quite a long way from the often antagonistic scenes in season 1. Hamilton cooling off and treating Perry in a friendly way happens many times in season 2 and succeeding seasons, but rarely do we get such an extended look at him in this light. Most such scenes are shorter and over much too soon. This scene, and the very last scene, combine to give us probably the most evidence in any one episode that there's a lot more going on in their relationship than some viewers might think. (Although there are plenty of glorious morsels in other episodes to further support it.)

Considering their backstory, Hamilton can’t bring himself to prosecute Jefferson for murder. He disqualifies himself and his office, which results in another prosecutor having to be sent in specifically for the case. Hamilton then sits in the gallery and observes the case as it unfolds.

Hamilton has always been exasperated by Perry’s courtroom tricks. It’s frustrating to be on the other end of them. But even when he is, it’s obvious through the seasons how he comes to be impressed by Perry’s skills. That is shown many times, from when he offers no objections once there is some foundation for Perry’s ideas to the times he listens in rapt attention and smiles in apparent awe and amazement for something Perry uncovers. In this episode, although he is not the acting prosecutor, Hamilton continues to be impressed. (It’s probably easier to enjoy it when he isn’t on the receiving end having to come up with a rebuttal, too.)

Amusingly, when the prosecutor is making objections later on, Hamilton’s patience is stretched so far that he mutters, “Oh, sit down and be quiet.” With his friend’s life at stake, he is thoroughly rooting for Perry. (Of course, despite any longings he himself has to succeed when he is prosecuting a case, he wants the truth above all else, even if that means Perry will end up winning.)

One thing I was disappointed about was that Hamilton and Perry don’t have much interaction once the case goes to court. In between the court scenes there is the usual investigation scene, and I had hoped Hamilton might be present. I suppose he wasn’t because of not having his office involved. But I thought he might come unofficially, off the record. I don’t know whether he really couldn’t without it appearing bad for him and his office or whether it was just the writers not thinking to write him into the scene.

There is a lovely and satisfying epilogue once everything is solved. Perry and Hamilton have apparently been out hunting together. They’re cleaning their rifles back near the gun club and discussing the case with Jefferson.

The killer had turned out to be Jefferson’s neighborhood friend, who also despised the murder victim. Jefferson shows some sympathy and understanding for him, as well as for the wife of another neighbor who seemed to have been involved with the murdered man. Jefferson is an interesting fellow that way. He seems to try to look for the good in most people and not think the worst of them. The murder victim is an exception; him having a hold over Jefferson’s son was the last straw there.

Jefferson leaves for a moment to talk to his son, who’s going up to Lake Tahoe to work. Hamilton and Perry observe, and Hamilton says with a smile, “You know, I think I won this case.” Perry smiles too, and they clink their mugs.

One curious omission to this episode is Paul Drake. He is nowhere to be seen. Out of the handful of episodes in which he does not appear, this is one where I would have particularly liked to see him. His reaction to the request for help and the truce would have been fascinating and enlightening. Perhaps we could have finally learned a little more on what he thinks of Hamilton after season 1. Then again, perhaps not, since Della is there and says nothing. If Paul had been there, however, I have a hard time believing he would have kept silent.

But in spite of any flaws or things that could have been done better, this episode is thrilling. It was a wonderful turning point in the series and I am very glad that Erle Stanley Gardner allowed it to happen.

Long live the curious and deep friendship of Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Case of the Fickle Fortune: Season 4 gold

The Fickle Fortune is an episode I was very happy to see. I believe it was the first time Hamilton was back in season 4 since the first two episodes.

Vaughn Taylor, one of the classic recurring Perry guest-stars (and the one who played the very first murderer, in The Restless Redhead) plays a good guy this time around. Working on the inventory of a large house for the county, Ralph Duncan discovers a large amount of greenbacks stuck to the bottom of an old drawer. Fascinated and intrigued, he gathers up the money with the desire to show it to his family before turning it over to the county. But somehow it vanishes from his locked car when he stops at the grocery store. Now he has a big problem.

It turns out it was his cousin who lifted the money, and he turns it over to a guy he’s been working with stealing and fencing items from the houses Ralph oversees. The guy then crafts a plan for them to be able to get the old greenbacks exchanged for current money without anyone realizing where the bills really came from. He concocts an elaborate scheme by using an elderly and terminally ill man as the supposed secret owner of the majority of the greenbacks. The man wills all his possessions to another fellow, who’s being blackmailed by the fence and will have to hand over all the greenbacks to him.

Ralph reads about the old man and “his” greenbacks in the paper and becomes suspicious. It seems strange, for such a large amount of greenbacks to surface twice in such a short time. He goes to Perry for help and Paul begins investigating. Although Paul can’t find any indication that the old man’s greenbacks are the same ones taken from Ralph’s briefcase, Perry is not convinced.

In the middle of all this, the fence ends up dead and Ralph, discovered at the scene along with five thousand in greenbacks, is the prime suspect.

The plot continues its twisted path as Perry and company try to unravel the mystery. The witnesses in court are stacking up, and not in Ralph’s favor. It’s finally a woman working at the old man’s rest home who puts the puzzle piece in place that they need in order to fit in all the rest of the pieces. And even then, discovering the true murderer is a difficulty and plays out very intensely in court. First it seems it could be one person, then another.

At last, of course, the criminal’s plot crumbles and the identity is revealed. The culprit, the maid of the woman whose estate the whole plot revolves around, was furious at the fence for not agreeing to let her have some of the greenbacks. She seems to regret having killed him. Although she had the gall to go around posing as a maid to different households and then stealing from them, she didn’t want to be a killer.

It was wonderful as it was to see Hamilton back in the courtroom where he belongs, but the epilogue provided one more treat. Hamilton is visiting Perry’s office, hanging out with him, Della, and Paul as they discuss the case and wrap up loose ends. It’s notable for being, I think, the only time Paul is seen talking with Hamilton outside of times on the witness stand. They discuss the fate of the fickle fortune. Hamilton says that as property of the estate, with no heirs, it reverts to the state. Paul sighs and says that as a taxpayer he supposes he should be glad about it. Hamilton smiles and says that as a public official, he is glad.

It’s a very relaxed scene, with Della shooting Hamilton a couple of what appears to be fond looks. It could be more Barbara Hale than Della Street (even though I still think Della is fond of Hamilton); I imagine they were all happy to have William Talman finally back.

And so was I. The Fickle Fortune stands as one of my favorites from not just season 4, but the series overall. There’s an intense pretzel of a plot, good character interaction between everyone, and the much-needed return of William Talman. Awesome.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Case of the Awesome Canaries?

I apologize in advance for any possible disjointedness of this entry. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get it written and posted today, as I haven’t been feeling well at all.

There’s something curious I noticed some time back: it seems that if a canary is present in the episode, it’s going to be awesome. I’m aware of two episodes in which a canary is most important, The Lame Canary and The Reluctant Model, and both rank very highly among my favorites.

The Lame Canary is the final episode of season 2. It concerns a woman certain her husband is trying to kill her. Later, he winds up dead and she is accused. The bruised state of the little canary bird in their ransacked house eventually leads Perry to begin putting the pieces together concerning who killed the guy. It’s a very exciting and intense plot all the way along, and the epilogue features Hamilton’s first friendly visit to Perry’s office. It’s about time; Tragg’s been randomly popping in to say Hello since the beginning of season 1! They’re both present here, and the epilogue concludes with all the original five cast members plus the defendant sharing a good laugh. Hamilton’s joke may be a bit corny, but I love the fact that he feels relaxed enough to make one in the first place.

Also of interest is his discomfort around Perry’s client when they show up. He awkwardly says that they’ve met and he’s sure both of them would rather forget the circumstances of their previous meetings. We don’t see her reaction, unfortunately, but it’s an interesting bit in any case. I think it’s only one of a handful of times where Hamilton interacts with any of Perry’s clients after the case is solved. Another time is in The Lover’s Leap.

Season 7’s The Reluctant Model brings us many unique elements. Poor Perry ends up walking into a legal trap set up by the episode’s resident creep and eventual murder victim and ends up feeling that instead of being a genius, as he’s hailed to be for an idea of his during the plot, he’s actually a “prize boob.” Della finds the body later, and screams for Perry in a fit of horror. Tragg and Andy are both present; indeed, this is Tragg’s second-to-last appearance. And Hamilton and Andy are along for most of the solving of the case.

The plot itself involves a painting reported to be a fraud by afore-mentioned creep, Colin Durant. Perry suggests to the irate art gallery owner Leslie Rankin that the painting should sue instead of her, since that would turn the spotlight away from her having been accused of shady dealings. Mixed up in the mess is a hapless and innocent protégé of Colin Durant’s, aspiring art student Maxine Lindsay (the “reluctant model”). It’s her canary that plays a part in the tale, as someone posing as Maxine runs off with it right before the body is found, fully clothed, in Maxine’s shower. Maxine, meanwhile, is apprehended in Mexico after taking a bus there in hopes of getting into an art school.

Towards the end of the scene in court, following the bus depot attendant’s testimony, Perry says that it’s become obvious that Maxine couldn’t have killed Durant. When court adjourns for the day Hamilton goes over to him, apologizes for interrupting, and asks to know what Perry meant. Perry responds by asking Hamilton if he would like to go on a bus ride. Hamilton is bewildered.

Of particular interest to the case are the lockers at the bus station. The murder gun, Maxine’s, was found in one. Perry asks for twenty cents from Hamilton to demonstrate the locker’s usage and points out that by counting back to when the gun must have been placed in the locker according to the attendant’s testimony, it proves it was put there after Maxine was already in police custody. Andy is chagrined and says that the detective who brought the gun to the station will be walking a beat tomorrow.

Also heavily mixed up in the case are the Olmeys, a couple constantly squabbling over the picture that caused all the fuss to begin with. When Perry and company go to the Olmeys’ yacht, the Olmeys’ involvement in the mess becomes more twisted. Apparently each wanted a copy of the painting (which is a copy itself) and both paid a beatnik artist to make one.

Hamilton gets some very classic lines in these scenes. In addition to the previously noted exchange between him and Della concerning the canary, there is this bit on the yacht:

Mr. Olmey: Now wait just a gosh-darn minute, Grace!

Hamilton Burger: Now wait just a gosh-darn minute everybody! Two paintings here, another in court . . . Perry, what in the name of . . .

Eventually he inquires of the Olmeys as to which one of them killed Colin Durant. They explode, and despite the fact that they’ve been flinging insults at each other the whole episode, they now each chew out Hamilton for ever thinking that the other would be capable of murder. A classic arguing but ever-loving couple there.

As it turns out, both are innocent. But Mrs. Olmey was the woman who ran off with Maxine’s canary, using the cage to conceal her face from the landlady. She was at the apartment paying off Durant for her copy of the painting. He was the one who arranged the deals with the beatnik artist. It’s the artist who ends up being the murderer, although it seems to have been an accidental death during a struggle over the gun.

The epilogue reminds me of the epilogues of The Curious Bride and The Blushing Pearls. Hamilton is grateful for the exposing of the true killer, but that doesn’t mean he feels he needs to lose twenty cents to the locker at the bus depot. He sends Perry a bill.

It’s very obvious throughout this episode how things have changed since season 1 (although that’s apparent in The Lame Canary, too). Hamilton is by and large relaxed and very friendly towards Perry. The events could have potentially happened during season 1, I suppose, and maybe even played out largely the same, but I don’t know if the writers even would have thought of it back then. Although it is an adaption of one of the books, I highly doubt that any of this fascinating stuff with Hamilton was in the source material.

You know, suddenly I wonder how and why the writers even came up with the idea of having Perry and Hamilton grow closer through the seasons. There was certainly no precedent in the books. Was it because of the actors’ real-life friendship? The fact that Hamilton was always more sympathetic and three-dimensional on the show? Was it even just something that sort of happened, with no rhyme or reason to it? I know that when I’m writing stories, and there’s continuity for them all (i.e., when what happens in one affects the next, and so on), character relations are going to change and deepen over time. It’s just something that naturally happens, since good characters, like people, never stop developing.

I suppose all in all, The Reluctant Model is my favorite of the two episodes, but they’re both such fun. And I must wonder at the amusing coincidence of the canary birds present in each.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Case of the "Hostile" Witness?

The four season 6 episodes with guest lawyers are understandably not that greatly appreciated. After all, what’s Perry Mason without Perry himself around to take the reins?

Despite having seen Constant Doyle, I’ve balked at seeing the others (and those two from season 8 likewise). However, finally realizing that there was probably some good stuff I was missing (including scenes with Hamilton!), I decided to break down and try another.

And . . . well, I loved it. I felt it made much better use of the other main characters than Constant Doyle did. In that one, Constant and the other guest-stars were pretty much always the focus. The others were regulated to small roles, save for Hamilton (and he had some wonderful scenes). But in this other one, The Two-Faced Turn-A-Bout, everyone was there and had decent screentime. (Well, other than Perry, that is.) Even Tragg was back, and of course we know that in the later seasons, seeing him was quite a rare treat. He and Andy have an interesting exchange early on, as Andy complains about being assigned to a special detail on his first day off in a month. And we get to see them both on that special detail, as what happens is critical to the whole plot.

Overall, I enjoyed it so much that I looked up the other two infamous season 6 episodes to determine which one to watch next. And when I stumbled on The Surplus Suitor, an intriguing bit of dialogue on the page immediately answered that question.

Hamilton Burger: Well Miss Street, having you here just as a witness for the prosecution is a rare experience for both of us.

Della Street: I'll try not to be hostile, Mr. Burger.

Hamilton Burger: Well... That would be a rare experience too.

I think that’s probably the most interesting exchange they’ve ever had. Canonical interaction between them is so hard to come by.

And here’s where I show just how much I enjoy analyzing even the smallest thing. When I watched that part of the episode (I didn’t have time for the entire thing right then), I found that Hamilton’s response to Della’s “hostile” comment was a quiet aside. I don’t think he meant for anyone other than Della to hear it. And he sounded rather awkward and uncomfortable when he said it. Della, I assume, is just making a quip on the idea of being a possible “hostile witness.” Hamilton seems to clearly mean much more. It could be interpreted one of two ways: either Della really does treat him hostile in general, or he feels that she does, regardless of her intentions.

Which is it? Good question, perhaps one only the fans (or Barbara Hale herself) could answer. There is certainly a coolness in the air whenever Della is called as a prosecution witness. Sometimes it’s when Perry’s been up to some of his law-bending and Hamilton is trying to get confirmation from Della on what happened. Naturally she doesn’t want to get Perry in trouble and is unhappy about being called.

But on the other hand, outside of scenes in court, Della seems quite congenial towards him. Her telephone conversations, albeit only heard on her end, don’t appear to hint at hostility. She seems outright friendly at the end of The Purple Woman. Perhaps she’s a bit coy in The Reluctant Model during this exchange:

Hamilton Burger: What’s that?!

Della Street: This, Mr. Burger, is a canary.

Hamilton Burger: … Well, ask a stupid question….

But she still doesn’t seem hostile.

Hamilton could have very well gotten that vibe from her over the years, though. Things started out with him frustrated over Perry’s law-bending and Della steadfastly loyal to Perry, so naturally that would create some friction. But it all smoothed out later, making Hamilton’s aside in The Surplus Suitor all the more intriguing.

I rather suspect that Della does not feel hostile towards him and does not mean to treat him as such. But that doesn’t mean Hamilton doesn’t honestly think it.

And there’s also the possibility of off-screen interaction that could have furthered Hamilton’s thoughts. I wonder if Della could have ever got angry with Hamilton, say circa season 1, and actually bawled him out. It’s highly unlikely, especially if she knew Perry would not want her to do it, but an angry Della is a very defensive Della. To that end, there is some chance of it.

In any case, that little exchange certainly opens up a channel I want to explore in a fanfiction story.

And oh my goodness, there’s something else I just realized. Della is willing to talk to Hamilton even if she doesn’t actually have to, such as in The Purple Woman. Paul, by contrast, is routinely silent. I think he only ever talks to Hamilton when he’s called as a witness. Even when Hamilton is right in the room in The Lover’s Leap, Paul talks around him. (“Why don’t we just give him the anchor?”)

EDIT: Correction, Paul does seem to be talking to Hamilton in the epilogue of The Fickle Fortune.

Although to be fair, Paul usually seems to be smiling and fairly relaxed when they all meet under peaceful circumstances. And he doesn’t seem at all the type who would put on airs or pretend to be enjoying something if he isn’t. Whether he actually continues to feel as on the rocks towards Hamilton as he usually did in season 1 is still up for debate. It’s certainly something that continues to puzzle me.

With so little to go on where both his and Della’s feelings towards Hamilton are concerned, it really forces one to try to read between the lines of what’s available. But for me, I’m up to the challenge. Some find analysis difficult. For me, it’s part of what makes things fun.

Lesson learned—even with very little Perry, episodes can be very worth watching.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Notable Guest Stars: Fay Wray

Fay Wray was a mature and highly under-rated performer. Most are familiar with her name from horror flicks in the 1930s, but in the 1950s and 1960s she started appearing on television to earn much-needed money. She appeared on three episodes of Perry, twice as a good person and once as the bad-tempered murder victim.

For her first episode, season 1’s The Prodigal Parent, the story concerning her only available day on the set and how they worked around her schedule is almost legendary. Her character, Ethel Harrison, is caught up in the scandal surrounding her family when her ex-husband is accused of murder. Having divorced him unwillingly because of her son’s hateful feelings towards him, she disappears to avoid having to testify against him. A large part of the episode is devoted to finding her, as what she knows is critical.

Her second episode, season 3’s The Watery Witness, has her cast as Lorna Thomas, an old and bitter movie star who refuses to give a young woman the time of day when she comes in suggesting that she is the daughter the actress long ago put up for adoption. The character is among the most despicable of murder victims. Since Fay plays her, I don’t like to say it was a relief when she was gotten rid of. But she certainly is a wretch. I don’t recall that she had any visible, redeeming qualities.

She didn’t come back until season 8, in The Fatal Fetish, when she once again played a regal and aloof protagonist. Mignon Germaine, one of Hamilton’s close friends, is certainly my favorite of her Perry characters. Mignon is, as she says, willing to do anything to save her son Larry from the dastardly femme fatale Carina Wileen. This includes threatening her with voodoo when she’s finally had enough. But unfortunately it backfires when Carina really is killed and Larry is blamed.

Mignon is an enigma. And with the most screentime of Fay’s characters, there are more opportunities to figure her out. Normally she is completely aloof, her true feelings hidden behind a mask. She only drops this a handful of times, mostly to show visible worry over the predicament Larry is in. The remaining occasion is after Agnes Fanchon, a fellow performer at Mignon’s nightclub, bursts in and mistakes Hamilton for Larry. Hamilton stares at her in bewilderment and Mignon shoots him a fondly amused glance.

Was it a touch thrown in as the scene was being filmed? And whose idea was it—Fay’s, William’s, or even a member of the set? And was the look just as much Fay as Mignon? I would like to know if she ended up forming friendships with any of the cast members. Being back more than once could logically result in that. And from everything I’ve read about her and by her in real-life, it sounds like she was every bit as mature and distinguished as both Mignon and Ethel Harrison.

In any case, I feel that look, coupled with Hamilton’s admission that they have been good friends for a long time, says a lot. Mignon apparently knows Hamilton very well and is willing to let her guard down around him. I would have loved to have seen more scenes between them, either in this episode or another, but I’m very grateful for what we do have.

If anyone has information on any of Fay’s appearances on the show, I would be most interested in seeing it. She became a favorite of mine with her portrayal of Mignon. And even though she never reached the level of recognition she should have had overall, at least while she was alive, I consider her one of the greats of the Golden Age of Hollywood and am thrilled that she appeared on the series.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Memoriam: Erle Stanley Gardner

I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t get up a tribute to the man who made everything Perry possible. And I thank Crystal Rose for having seen the piece on CBS this morning and letting me know.

It seems almost eerie, that less than a week after William Hopper’s death Erle Stanley Gardner passed away on March 11th, 1970. He left a lasting legacy of not only novels about Perry and others, but everything in which the characters he created had a part.

I disagree with some of Mr. Gardner’s decisions concerning his formula for his Perry novels, but one can’t deny that regardless, those stories were immensely successful. They got off to a bit of a rocky start; however, the public quickly caught on and the books became wildly popular.

It was only several years after the first book was published that Warner Brothers came knocking, wanting to make Perry Mason movies. Their attempts were, by all accounts, abysmal. Mr. Gardner certainly wasn’t pleased. And I can’t say I care for Paul’s name change. But Perry/Della shippers are surely thrilled by at least one thing: the two tied the knot in one of the films. Now that’s something you’ll never see in any other branch of the franchise! (Except in fanfiction, of course.)

Mr. Gardner was understandably hesitant about bringing the characters to life in other formats after the movie fiasco. But he finally agreed, and was involved with the radio show when it came about. He tried writing scripts for it, but determined he did his best work in prose. The same thing happened with the television series years later.

The radio show's staff had their own ideas about how the show should go, ideas that Mr. Gardner largely did not like. But although smarting from his experience over losing control of the characters once again, he came to like the radio idea after all once a new writer came onboard. Apparently deciding he had learned his lesson, however, he proceeded to be very important to the television series’ casting and format years later. He had to approve each script. And (to my delight), when he saw Raymond Burr and William Talman trying out for the roles of Hamilton Burger and Perry Mason, respectively, he insisted they switch parts. And thus one of the greatest and most enduring on-screen rivalries (and later, friendships) was born.

Before he became famous as a writer, Mr. Gardner was a lawyer. Reportedly, he channeled some of his frustrations over the prosecutors he dealt with into the character of Hamilton Burger. I’ve long heard that the book Hamilton really has no redeeming qualities or scenes. (Although it is said that he is “honest, but stubborn”, if I remember right.) If it is true, then it makes me all the more impressed and thrilled that Mr. Gardner was willing to let the show’s writers and William Talman develop the character as much as they did. Going from being the books’ one-dimensional adversary to one of Perry’s most trusted friends is quite a path!

Another of Mr. Gardner’s decisions I quite agree with was not to drop romance into the series. He always refused to let a romantic relationship between Perry and Della be outright stated, much to the consternation of the shipper fans. But there are plenty of lovely bits that can be interpreted as either platonic or romantic, bringing, I feel, the best of both worlds. Everyone can imagine them just as they want.

I am intrigued to learn that Mr. Gardner’s Doug Selby books concern a district attorney as the protagonist. But in quite a different swing from Perry, the defense attorney is an out-and-out shyster! Even in his Perry books, at least Perry’s opponent was upright and never crooked (despite being, perhaps, a stereotypical prosecutor in other ways). I think I should like to read the Doug Selby books. I would also be interested in investigating some of the Perry books, if I ever chance to come upon them.

I love that CBS paid tribute to Mr. Gardner today on their morning broadcast. Whichever part of the Perry franchise is one’s favorite, we owe it all to the fact that in 1933, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote The Case of the Velvet Claws. And that he followed it up with another, and another. . . .

Thank you, Mr. Gardner, for 79 years of Perry Mason.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Article!

I made a discovery last night that I’m too excited about to keep until the weekend post, so you’re getting a short post about it now.

I was in the process of randomly taking a fun survey on about the classic film era. The final question asked me for a childhood picture of my favorite actor or actress. I doubted I could find one of either Simon Oakland or William Talman, but I decided to try anyway.

And I stumbled across a brand spanking new tribute article for William Talman! It’s a wonderful article, giving us an overview of his life and telling about the landmark anti-smoking message he filmed. There is some information I don’t recall reading anywhere else before, as well as various photographs throughout. One shows him as a child with his father and younger brothers. (Which is why my Google search brought it up, I suppose.)

I’m not entirely sure why the author picked this year and this month to write the tribute, but I am ecstatic to see William still remembered and loved today. Here is the link:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Memoriam: William Hopper

My gosh, I feel horrible about this. It’s still the 6th where I am, but just barely. I feel like I’ve done William Hopper a grave disservice by not getting this up in the morning or afternoon. That was my original plan; however, due to the way I shuffled all my projects around, it ended up like this instead. And by the time I finish writing this and post it, it will probably be the 7th.

Anyway, this is a memoriam post for William Hopper. Born into a socialite life due to his extrovert and famous mother Hedda Hopper, William H. really wanted to go into a career other than acting, and tried more than once.

Rather than rebellious, he was shy, and felt much more at home away from the Hollywood spotlight. When he became an actor, as he said, because it was expected of him and was the easiest thing for him to go into, he did not like it. His parts were usually small, but that was just fine as far as he was concerned.

He served in underwater demolitions during World War II, returning home a hero after being injured in the Philippines. He tried being a car salesman for a while, which he said he was not good at. He returned to show business in 1953, beginning to appear on television as well as in the movies. It was during a live television performance that he at last was able to begin to overcome his anxiety of performing.

He had appeared in countless movies and some TV shows by the time he auditioned for Perry Mason. He tried out for the role of Perry himself, as well as for Paul. Watching those screen tests on the 50th Anniversary DVD set is very interesting. He certainly does a good job as Perry, although I feel that placing him as Paul was the most ideal choice. He felt the same, and said as much in subsequent interviews.

Another of the most interesting and fun things available for Perry fans on the 50th Anniversary set is a clip from the game show Stump the Stars, a sort of charades game. Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, and the Williams appeared on it around 1963. It’s one of the only things available for fans to see how they interacted out-of-character, and it’s a true delight. The camaraderie and close friendship that they’ve each spoken of in interviews is very visible. And some of the comments as they try to guess each other’s assigned charades are hilarious. After Barbara makes one amusing quip about what Raymond’s charade might be, (“The Case of the Nose!”) William H. good-naturedly swats her on the shoulder.

Barbara Hale has said that she thought of the Williams and Ray Collins as “the boys” and they all treated her like a younger sister.

I can’t remember who said this, but William Hopper and William Talman shared a dressing room. They both said that they got along quite well (claiming they never had a disagreement, in fact). That makes me regret all the more that there were not more scenes between their characters on the series. It was definitely a missed opportunity; I’m sure their interaction would have been delightful to see.

In any case, William H.’s interaction with Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale was always wonderful. Perry, Della, and Paul were a trio of friends, out to solve the most complicated cases possible. And somehow, they always managed to succeed.

Paul Drake’s interaction with the police characters was very varied and interesting. With Tragg there was usually a sense of tension, no matter how friendly Tragg appeared on the surface. With Andy there was usually, but not always, a more relaxed atmosphere. As previously noted, Paul seemed to get along best with Steve. I wonder how William H. and Richard Anderson got along in real-life.

(And speaking of Andy, after watching The Careless Kitten again and seeing the context in which Paul was delivering his unfinished comment, I wish he had been allowed to complete it. It almost looked like he might have actually been going to say, “There’s nothing Andy likes better than to stay on top of things” or something similar. If he had been allowed to finish his thought, and it had been along those lines, it would have been the explanation I was complaining there wasn’t. Hamilton tried to explain something along those lines in his awesome scene, talking about the police department’s opinion in general, but it would have been compounded and more understandable if Paul had been able to explain more precisely about Andy in specific.)

Always content to play the sidekick rather than the lead, William H. departed this life March 6th, 1970. (Forty-two years ago. . . . How does the time go by like that?) He is greatly missed. And he will always be remembered as our Paul Drake.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Andy and Steve: So who's really the most friendly?

Wow, I’m sorry about the quality of that last entry. I was upset and in a fog, and it shows. The only part of that entry I really like is where I’m describing and musing on the climax of The Empty Tin.

I’ve been pondering on whether to do the weekend post this time at all, since as I mentioned, I’ll be posting on Tuesday. But there’s several topics floating through my mind, so I guess I’ll surprise myself and see what one I pick for today.

I’m still puzzled over why Wesley Lau left the series. I know I said in the past about him being let go because they thought Andy was too friendly, but that’s only a rumor, as I learned later. There’s also the story that he had signed on to appear as a regular on a different show, but there’s holes in that idea too. He didn’t appear as a regular on any series that season. The closest was his recurring role on The Time Tunnel, but he was only in a handful of episodes, according to It’s possible that he thought he would appear more than he did, but that’s also only speculation. In the end, no one seems to know for sure.

The main problem with the concept of him being let go because of Andy’s friendliness is that his replacement often appears to be more friendly, not less. Lieutenant Steve Drumm sadly gets mostly ignored by the fans. The majority, of course, prefer Tragg, although many of them are accepting of Andy too. But Steve doesn’t seem to get much fan recognition. Maybe it’s because season 9 is generally disliked (although largely not for the same reasons I dislike some of it), but that shouldn’t affect the fact of there being an awesome and interesting character in it.

Steve seems to be inspired by hardboiled detectives of the 1940s. He sometimes comes off like that when he’s questioning suspects. (“Oh come on, Mr. Soandso. That isn’t what really happened, is it?”) And in The Silent Six he tells Perry that in his line of work he’s not supposed to have friends. (Although he clearly considers his partner his friend.) But on the opposite end of the spectrum he often dines and jokes with Perry and company and has an obvious friendship with Paul.

Paul quite likes him; in an early season 9 episode he calls the police station and ends up talking to Steve about whatever it was he wanted to know. He perks up and asks, “Is that you, Steve?” He and Steve share some very friendly and relaxed conversations throughout the season. Paul seems much happier to see him than he even is at times to see Andy.

Of course, friendliness is what Andy is known for. That, and not really caring about catching Perry and Paul on their law-bending. But although he has also shared friendly exchanges with them, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dining with them or being as relaxed in general as Steve often is around them. And Andy does get upset if he thinks Perry and Paul are bending the law, so it isn’t as though he just turns a blind eye to it, which is the impression some fans seem to give off.

Andy, I’ve noticed, can sometimes get wound up pretty tight. In some ways, fascinatingly, I think he gets more upset than Tragg ever has. But whether he’s supposed to be that way is still up in the air, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t always appear to gel with what else we’ve seen from him. He seems stressed in some season 6 episodes, such as The Golden Oranges, but it’s still not to the extent he was upset in those season 8 episodes I’ve mentioned before. I’m still trying to figure out if the latter was bad/over-done writing or if it’s something to be incorporated into his canonical personality. His frustration and even aggravation in The Careless Kitten is such a far cry from easy-going scenes such as his stroll into Perry’s office in The Prankish Professor.

But what bothers me most is how Paul seems to think Andy is out to get him and Perry in season 8. Actually, it seems like they don’t even call him Andy as much in season 8 as they did before. They’re more likely to be formal and say Lieutenant Anderson. I still wonder if these changes all had to do with Ray Collins’ departure and they decided that they needed to make Andy’s character a bit harsher and less friendly since Tragg was no longer around to be the counter to Andy’s previous congeniality.

Ha, maybe Wesley wasn’t let go for Andy’s friendliness, but because they ended up changing the character. Not likely, but it seems just as possible as any of the other ideas.

Now, let me make it clear that I don’t think Perry and Paul should be excused for their law-bending. Of course none of the police should allow it or turn a blind eye to it. But Andy didn’t anyway, so I just don’t understand the reason for making him harsher at times in season 8.

In The Wooden Nickels, when he warns Paul about the possibility of his license being taken away, his behavior could be interpreted as worry, not wanting Paul to dig himself in that deep. That is the clear reason for Hamilton’s outburst in The Careless Kitten. But Andy’s actions in that same latter episode, however, do not seem to have a clear explanation that fits with his established personality.

As for Steve, facing the law-bending problem. To be honest, I can’t even remember if he ever went up against it. If he did, it seems to me that it must have been in one of those episodes I did not like, perhaps in The Vanishing Victim. But I do know that he would not like those antics, either. He’s a good cop, by-the-book a lot, and any sort of law-bending would make him very unhappy.

I’ve praised The Sausalito Sunrise more than once for its handling of showing a character’s darker side. It does not ignore prior character development; it builds on it by having the other characters recognize that something is wrong. It surely would not have hurt in The Careless Kitten for someone to say that Andy was really stressed that night, instead of making it sound like he was always that way and out to get Perry and Paul. Which he just isn’t.

That angle was Paul's fault rather than Andy's, although in the end it was really the writers' fault overall. When there's obvious out-of-character behavior going on, I blame the writers. It's when I can't quite tell whether it's out-of-character, such as Andy's extreme stress in that episode, that I scratch my head in bewilderment.

In any case, surprisingly, Steve honestly usually seems to come across as more easy-going, even in spite of his hardboiled attitude on police work. He certainly seems to be Paul's closest friend among the main police on the series.

Both he and Andy are very good characters and should be accepted and enjoyed for what they have to offer and bring to the show. I love them both, dearly.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Case of the Empty Tin

Being a Monkees fan since 1999, the death of Davy Jones yesterday has hit me hard. So hard that I haven’t much heart right now to even work on my weekday post, nor the chapter of The Spectral Stalker. I’m not even sure what to make the topic of the post be on. I had several ideas, so I guess I’ll just keep typing and see what comes out.

Out of all the early Perry episodes, currently offers most of season 1 and one season 2 episode for online viewing in the U.S. And by “most” of season 1, I mean everything except episode 25, The Case of the Empty Tin.

Why is this one ignored? It’s a wonderful episode! In fact, it’s one of my very favorites of season 1.

The plot is one of the “missing heiress” variety, something that turned up several times throughout the run of the series. But it’s very unique in how it revolves around two objects that the correct girl is supposed to be able to present for identification: a book and a photograph. The proof of whether she’s brought the right ones is supposed to be locked in a safe, but following the episode’s murder the safe is found to contain only the titular item. But is the tin truly empty, or does it conceal a secret or two? Is it in itself a vital clue?

Perry's client for the episode is one of the heiress-hopefuls. She shows up with all the information she can, but is rejected. She remembers a book and a photograph that she was previously sent, however, and sends for them. In the middle of all the commotion, there is a mysterious murder and she is accused.

I am not sure if I have ever seen this episode in its entirety, due to its absence at But I may have seen it at when it offered episodes did not. Perry’s trip to San Francisco to talk with his client’s employer sounds very familiar to me, as I read over the scene here: The courtroom banter revolving around Hamilton’s “pretender” comment, however, I do not recognize.

There is another contender for the Hocksley fortune in addition to Perry’s client Doris—a girl named Miriam. She is involved with Alan Neil, the lawyer of the deceased Hocksley’s business partner Elston Carr (who is murdered within the episode). Neil is overseeing the search for the missing heiress. They end up married.

One of the most shocking twists of the episode happens very late in, when Perry receives a late-night call concerning their fate. The Carr secretary, Rebecca, calls in hysterics saying that Miriam shot Alan and then herself. But there is more to the call than what it seems. And the solution to that mystery solves everything and uncovers the true killer.

The confrontation/confession scene is one of the most intriguing and unique throughout the entire series’ run. It happens outside of court and Lieutenant Tragg and Hamilton are both present, rarities for season 1 in particular. The murderess breaks down in the living room, confessing to not one, but two murders. She appeals to Hamilton as she speaks, finally collapsing to her knees as she clutches his tweed overcoat and sobs against him. Tragg comes over and helps her up, then proceeds to lead her away.

I wish we could have seen Hamilton’s expression as he was grabbed. If his stunned and occupied visage when he gets up is any indication, however, he is rather shaken by the encounter. The scene ends as Perry offers to buy Hamilton a drink, to which Hamilton consents. It is the second time in the series that I know of where they are going to share some form of refreshment under fully friendly conditions. The epilogue of The Sun-Bather’s Diary is the first.

I suppose the murderess pleads with Hamilton as she does because he is the district attorney, but it’s still a very interesting and sad bit. It’s the only time I know of when that has happened; Mr. Burger is rarely addressed during the confrontation scenes at all (even the out of court ones), and when he is, the murderer is usually furious at him. I’m trying to remember if he had any prior interaction with the murderess in The Empty Tin earlier in the episode. I don’t think he did, at least not in the edited version I recently saw again. He must have interviewed her off-screen at some point, though, so he wouldn’t be a complete stranger to her.

I need to make a post on Tuesday, so I’m unsure how I’ll work my weekend post this time.