Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Case of the Positive Negative: Positively Wonderful!

First, before I get to the topic of this post, I want to share a comment I received on an older post:

Hello Lucky Ladybug and fellow Masonites
My name is Bob Siler and I'm a long time Perry Mason fan, and at 53, thats really a long time. I've recently put together a list of places where the stars of the show lived, which I call "The Perry Mason Tour". Ms. Ladybug, would you or any of your viewers like a copy? If so, my e - mail address is
I'd be more than happy to send out copies.
I love this site and it would be my way of saying thanks for the great site.
Take care

I have contacted this thoughtful and generous fan and have received and enjoyed “The Perry Mason Tour.” It’s a very good resource and fun for anyone who may live or vacation near some of the locations. I want to get out to at least some of them sometime!

As Bob has kindly offered to share the list with all interested parties, I encourage readers to contact him at the provided email address. Thank you, Bob, for your wonderful and thought-out “Thank you”!

Today’s topic was just decided on yesterday. When it comes to excellent episodes from season 9, I can’t believe I mostly forgot The Positive Negative. I believe that one was the first season 9 episode I found I really liked last year. (I hadn’t quite warmed up to The Twice-Told Twist then, although I did later.)

The plot involves a small community in Los Angeles County that’s run by a shady businessman. A committee is formed to try to oust the man, consisting of two men in the community, Perry, and a retired General. But the General is being blackmailed to refuse becoming the head of the committee. His wife and his aide are both set up and thrown into an embarrassing situation which, while actually innocent, could easily be twisted around and seen as them having an affair. Pictures were taken by a mysterious party and sent to the General with a note to decline heading the committee or the pictures will be printed.

Naturally everyone thinks the crooked businessman is responsible. The aide goes to his house in a fury, demanding the pictures. But instead the gun he brought is taken from him and he’s forced to leave. The gun is later used to kill the man and the General is implicated. It’s his gun. And he was there after his aide left.

The story is twisted and intense, following Perry and the others as they try to clear the General’s name and figure out who’s responsible. The way it’s set up is very reminiscent of early Perry ventures, such as in seasons 2 or 3, which was one thing that drew me to it the first time I saw it.

Another thing that excited me was the portrayal of Hamilton. While in season 9 you never quite know what you’re going to get or what kind of hand poor Hamilton will be dealt, here it was just flawless. Hamilton is depicted with fairness and maturity. He doesn’t want to prosecute the General, who was a noted military hero during earlier wars. He expresses his reluctance in his opening statement and continues to show it in various ways throughout the hearing. His quiet voice when he first says, “Cross-examine,” tells so much, just as his agonized looks do in Paul Drake’s Dilemma. This is Hamilton Burger at his finest: torn between his personal feelings and his job, and his desire to see justice carried out. My congratulations and thanks to the writers!

I couldn’t remember who the bad guy was, but I was happy it wasn’t either the wife or the aide. Sometimes I get tired of seeing marriages or close platonic relationships falling apart on the show. Here, the General and his wife have a good marriage and truly love each other, and the aide is honestly a friend who hasn’t been mixed up in any shenanigans.

I was also pleasantly surprised it wasn’t the aide’s uncle, who runs a photo shop owned by the crooked businessman. Dabbs Greer, a very prominent recurring guest-star on the series, plays the uncle. Usually when he pops up he seems to be playing the villain, or occasionally, the murder victim. Here, he’s neither.

The solution to the mystery is very intriguing and involves one messed-up negative that a clear print can’t be taken from. However, another kind of clear print is lifted from it—a fingerprint, left by the murderer when he had held it while it was still wet.

I was honestly surprised by who the murderer actually was—one of the other two men on the committee, and the one I found least suspicious. The whole thing was, I felt, very well-done. The man was actually Mr. Big in the community, and the crooked businessman everyone had thought was running things was actually just working for the real controlling force.

I only had one quibble with the episode overall, and that was an exchange between Perry and Lieutenant Drumm. When Steve says that the General made a statement, Perry wants to know if he made it before or after he was given his rights. Steve emphasizes, “After, Perry. After.” Steve is very by-the-book and upright. Perry himself has said that Steve is an honest cop. Why would he need to ask such a question, and in such an accusatory voice? That ends up being more of a blight on Perry than Steve. And Steve handled his reply perfectly. The scene did serve one purpose; with Steve’s portrayal in it, it made me love him even more. He’s such a sadly underrated character.

My ultimate verdict on The Positive Negative is that it was one of the best of season 9, preserving many things that made the series great. There were more of those in season 9 than it sometimes may appear offhand. Sometimes that’s forgotten amid the strange things season 9 offered as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leon: Unseen and unheard, but important nevertheless

I’m not sure how or why it happened, but I’ve been especially intrigued by Leon of late, Hamilton’s unseen man Friday around the office. I still think his most likely position is that of secretary, rather than stenographer or receptionist or even assistant D.A. Many times Hamilton speaks over the intercom without saying to whom he’s speaking. I believe Leon is the only person Hamilton ever addresses by name on the intercom.

It puts us in mind of Perry usually talking to Della on the intercom. He only talks to Gertie, the receptionist, when she calls him, but with Della Perry calls her half the time and asks her to place calls or come in to take dictation and the like. It is this latter set-up that we see when Hamilton talks to Leon.

I have to admit, I find the idea of Hamilton having a male secretary quite cool. There’s only a handful of them on the series; at that point secretarial work was usually seen as a feminine job. The only other male secretary I can even think of right now is the character played by William Schallert in episode 5, The Sulky Girl.

I regret that I did not take greater stock of the particular episodes in which Leon is mentioned. Now I don’t remember most of them, and neither does anyone else! (Although most people don’t seem to remember Leon at all, so at least I can’t say that about myself.) I believe all the mentions were prior to William Talman’s suspension/firing, so I figured season 3 was probably the cut-off point. I haven’t seen most of season 3 for some months, however, and I can’t recall if there are even scenes in Hamilton’s office in season 3. Seasons 1 and 2 are plentiful with them. Then, unless I’m mistaken, those scenes sadly disappeared and did not begin to return until around season 7. On the other hand, those scenes could have continued and many were just cut from TV.

The only scenes I’ve re-located to date are both from season 2: The Romantic Rogue and The Bedeviled Doctor. In the former, the mention is indeed in a scene that’s apparently often cut. When the former Casanova’s partner shows up to tell all in Hamilton’s office, the scene is actually shown and not just talked about later, which is the impression that some prints give. In the scene, she wants immunity and Hamilton promises to give her the best break he can. She leaves, and he and Tragg discuss her testimony. Tragg isn’t sure he believes it, and Hamilton doesn’t seem so sure himself, and yet the facts she told added up. He presses the intercom button and asks Leon to step in for a moment.

In The Bedeviled Doctor, the people who have come to see Hamilton are still in his office when he asks for Leon. And that time he says what he wants, which is probably the best evidence that Leon is his confidential secretary: “Leon, would you come in here, please? I need you to take down a statement.”

I’m going to keep looking through season 2. Perhaps I’ll even try some season 1 episodes again, even though I didn’t think Leon was mentioned in those. And when season 3 starts up in a few days on my station, I’ll be paying very close attention.

In some ways, you can draw parallels between Leon and the unseen characters on series such as The Andy Griffith Show. On the latter, characters are often talking to Sarah the telephone operator and Juanita, a waitress at the local diner. Fans have expressed feelings that it would ruin things to hear or show them; not seeing or hearing them was a running gag, and the audience is then free to picture them any way they like. This is true, and somehow for The Andy Griffith Show, I agree.

For Leon, however, I wanted to see or hear him quite badly. He’s a character with close ties to Hamilton, so naturally I’d be interested in him. It is kind of fun, though, to have such a blank slate of a character to work with. We don’t know anything about what he looks like or what his personality is. As I’ve tried to tinker with him in some of my writings, an image of how I see him has been gradually forming.

The Leon I envision is faithful and loyal, always willing to do what Hamilton wants. Perhaps he highly admires Hamilton to the point of slight idolization, feeling that Hamilton is trying to work for justice (which he is, of course) and liking being a part of that.

He’s in his thirties, probably. (For the present day in my stories, Hamilton is in his late forties.) He’s quiet and mature, with straight and very dark brown hair that could potentially fall in his eyes if uncombed, the way Wesley Lau’s hair can, and glasses.

I’ve taken up curiously studying people in all of my shows, looking for anyone who resembles my image of Leon. Some come close, but no one has yet fit the mold exactly as I see it in my mind.

I’ve written a couple of experimental pieces posted solely on Livejournal, for the purpose of looking for Leon’s voice and determining how he and Hamilton interact. In my more “official” stories, Leon has been an occasional player and has also sometimes been mentioned and not seen. This resulted in an unfortunate “out of sight, out of mind” problem on my part and caused me to perhaps make a mistake in how I handled Leon’s role in The Broken Ties, the mystery story in which he previously appeared the most.

I determined that Leon has worked for Hamilton for some time. I’m assuming they have a definite closeness to some degree. And yet in The Broken Ties, nothing was really said or done towards Hamilton trying as hard to get Leon to remember the truth as he tried with the other main players. After discovering that Leon just did not remember and felt that Hamilton was overworking himself, Hamilton seemed to pretty much leave the matter alone. Leon is mentioned by Paul in a later chapter, wondering if they need to worry about him upsetting their plans. Hamilton says that Leon can’t reveal anything said in this office in confidence, but admits that they may have a problem if Leon is worried about Hamilton’s state of mind. At the end of the story, when everyone is trying to return to normal, Leon expresses bewilderment over what happened. Hamilton, still reeling himself and not wanting to concede to the supernatural ideas, tells him only the group hypnosis theory he’s developing to present in court. He decides to himself that he will tell Leon the other stuff if Leon keeps being bothered.

It presented a dilemma when I wanted to focus more on their interaction the past couple of weeks. If they were really close, something more should have been done. It was an oversight on my part, as at the time I wasn’t thinking strongly about Hamilton and Leon and assumed more that they probably were not especially close. But it’s more interesting to think that they are. Hamilton is a friendly, congenial person. And if Leon has indeed worked for him for some time, they surely did develop some kind of rapport. So, not wanting things to reflect badly on Hamilton, I decided to try repairing the potential damage.

In my current mystery The Denying Detective, which focuses largely on Paul but also a great deal on Hamilton, Leon appears extensively in chapter 3. I’ve promised that he will be an important supporting player throughout the story and that I will be developing his character. During one of Hamilton’s soliloquies, he muses that he did tell Leon the rest of the story concerning Vivalene’s spell before too much time had passed. He also mentions that he did try more than once to get Leon to remember the truth, but at the same time felt that since Leon did not appear to be one of Vivalene’s specific targets, he was safest staying in the office and away from the disastrous action. Hamilton and Leon are getting along swimmingly, and since this story relies partially on flashbacks, I may actually show scenes of him telling these things to Leon in the past.

Vivalene’s spell is coming back to bite them and everyone else in this mystery, as Hamilton’s group hypnosis theory is falling apart in the face of people all over the county confirming the bizarre events and he is having trouble getting two of the principle players in the mess convicted. Upon thinking about things, I realized that there were still loose ends such as that which needed to be tied up, and they’ll slide perfectly into the mystery’s main plot, which concerns why Paul suddenly and without warning flipped out and attacked Hamilton before disappearing for three months. And whose blood it was that Paul found on his hands when he came back to himself.

It would be neat if other Perry fanfiction writers decide to jump on my bandwagon and write about Leon. He’s a character who could have been more prominent in the series and might actually have been, had the show not generally followed the point-of-view of the defense team and had instead equally followed both sides. There is always more of that equality when both sides have scenes, but Leon still never had so much as one line. A pity, but a starting point for anyone wanting to explore this mysterious man. Leon, after all, is to Hamilton what Della is to Perry—as far as importance and usefulness in the workplace goes. And that certainly counts for something.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Case of the Angry Astronaut

(Hey, what's the deal with Blogger's complete overhaul? I'm not sure I like this. I didn't think they would change everything. I wanted Blogger in the first place because I found it less confusing than WordPress. And I'm a bit confused by Blogger now. The actual blog page is the only thing left the same; all the editing pages are vastly different.)

I had occasion to watch my (sadly syndication-edited) copy of The Angry Astronaut in the past week. I found I’d made two errors. First, it can’t really be considered a straight-up military episode, as the only characters who served in a branch of the military don’t any longer during the time of the episode. Second, it is actually another occasion in the latter half of season 5 when Hamilton is fairly congenial towards Perry. Well, needless to say, I was thrilled.

The main plot concerns a short-tempered fellow working as a test astronaut in the Human Factors department of a civilian-run space project called Moonstone. They see how he handles simulated conditions in a spaceship and the like. He’s already apparently stressed and upset about something, and when word comes that the retired general whom he served under in the Air Force is going to run the project, things only go downhill from there.

I have mixed feelings about General Brand myself. Yes, he’s quite harsh and says some cruel things. On the other hand, Mitch Heller, the astronaut, really does have a problem with his temper and it’s no surprise that Brand would think him unfit for his position. It doesn’t help when Brand sees some horrible test results on a simulated flight. It turns out later that the results came out that way because of the machine being tampered with to deliberately make Heller look terrible, but Brand doesn’t know that. And the results are truly appalling. He fires Heller over those. If I was Brand and saw those results, I would have done the same thing. They certainly made it look like Heller was either a complete incompetent or too emotionally disturbed for such a job.

James Coburn plays Brand. Previously he got up my ire playing the rotten creep and eventual murder victim in The Envious Editor. He’s the victim again here, but I wasn’t breathing a sigh of relief over the character’s departure this time. I felt kind of sorry for Brand. If I recall, he wasn’t a bad guy really; like the unfortunate Captain Caldwell, he just knew too much.

Heller gets a call from Brand that evening, offering him a different position. He is asked to come to Brand’s lodge to discuss it. When he arrives he’s told by Brand calling downstairs that he remembered another appointment and maybe they can meet at a restaurant down the road. Heller goes off to find the place. He’s stopped by the police on the way and is told that Brand is dead. In fact, Brand was supposed to be dead at the time Heller claims he spoke with him. A photographer who had an appointment with him fifteen minutes earlier than Heller found the body then.

You know, it might have been a more interesting switch-up if the bad-tempered Heller had been killed and Brand had been blamed, instead of the other way around. But it’s still a very good episode.

One thing quite unique is the discovering of the body scene. There’s some loud classical music playing, which I believe is coming from a stereo and hence, is being heard by the characters and not just the audience as incidental music. It’s used to great effect, coming in on the dramatic climax as the body is found and the camera zeroes in on it.

Also, both Tragg and Andy are here. They’re the ones who stop Heller on the road and bring him back to the lodge to find the body. Tragg and Andy each have separate scenes later on, as well as appearing together at least one other time.

Paul, who was hired by Heller to locate a missing folder, thinks Heller is off his rocker when he claims to have spoken to Brand after Brand had already been killed. He also thinks Heller is guilty. But Heller is a decorated veteran and Paul feels he should have the best possible representation. He asks Perry if he’ll at least consider the case. Perry is willing.

When Perry talks with Heller at the jail, Tragg shows up with Hamilton, who has a fairly friendly exchange with Perry before they discuss a bit of the case. Hamilton wants permission to have Heller examined by a psychologist. Perry is agreeable.

Along the way, Paul tries out the simulation that gave Heller the faulty results. When he gets a better score than the professionally trained Heller, Perry starts suspecting the deliberate tampering.

The hearing has some very interesting scenes. Perry sets up a situation during the lunch break to prove that someone could think they heard his voice when he was somewhere else and the voice was an impostor. The situation is an argument with Paul over an unknown thing. Paul yells he’ll have no part of it and throws some papers. Reporters rush to take pictures. The clock gets in the picture, showing the time. Perry is then somewhere else for thirty minutes and Tragg, who was supposed to meet him at 12:30, had to have heard someone else. Perry points out the voice actor in the gallery.

Perry also has an elaborate set-up in the courtroom of the lodge’s living room, where the body was found. He suggests that the murderer himself set up both appointments and killed Brand. Then he arranged the living room to look like there had been a fight and waited for the photographer. After he had left, the murderer dragged the body off and fixed the living room to look normal, then went upstairs and pretended to be Brand calling down to Heller. Following Heller’s departure, the murderer came back down and messed up the living room again and brought the body back.

That ends up all being true. The murderer killed Brand because Brand had found out about his crooked activities and knew about an invention of Heller’s that the murderer wanted to get. So when Brand was killed, it seemed too perfect to blame it on Heller.

In the epilogue Heller is working as the head of the Human Factors sector. He likes that better than being the test astronaut. They’re doing a test with a monkey. Perry and Della suggest Paul try the thing again, since he did so well before, but Paul makes a hasty retreat.

All in all, it’s a very interesting venture. I like the Space Age episodes, as I mentioned before. Sure, they’re a little different from Perry defending more average Joes and Jills, but there’s nothing wrong with that. And they're still basically the same as far as format and main characters are concerned. It’s further proof that the series and the characters can easily move along with the changing times. Perry Mason is not static. It’s adaptable to every modern era.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Barbara Hale!

Today is Barbara Hale’s 90th birthday. This is awesome! She is one of only three still-living main cast members (Richard Anderson and Karl Held being the other two).

Barbara had a long and illustrious film and television career, in addition to an enduring marriage to fellow actor Bill Williams. They were married for over forty years until his death in 1992. During their time together they sometimes appeared in the same productions (although they may or may not have shared scenes). Bill was on Perry several times. They also appeared together on the religious anthology Insight and in an episode of the police drama Adam-12. And there are most likely others.

I have seen Barbara’s (and Bill’s) guest-spots on those series and enjoy them highly. As far as Barbara’s movies go, I’m sadly far behind. (My mother liked trying to see them all. I’m not sure if she succeeded!) Last year we stumbled across her as the leading lady in the second movie about singer Al Jolson, Jolson Sings Again. She turned out a splendid performance as the nurse Jolson meets during World War II who later becomes his second wife.

I must admit, most of the movies Barbara has been in I haven’t even heard of. I’m looking forward to taking up my mom’s goal of attempting to see every one of them.

And of course, Della. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone coming close to Barbara’s wonderful performance as the faithful secretary. As Della Street, Barbara portrayed a beautiful, intelligent, and compassionate woman. Her first interest is always in Perry’s well-being and happiness, and she is always ready to handle whatever bit of investigating or secretarial work he has for her.

Although she is fully on the side of justice, there are quite a few times she indicates sympathy towards some of the murderers. Some of them, having killed in self-defense or by accident, are more deserving of her kind feelings than others. Paul usually expresses bewilderment or amazement when she professes such compassion during their conversations.

Sometimes Della’s helpful nature gets her into trouble. More than once in season 1 she ends up in hot water with the police and Hamilton due to some aspect of her investigating for Perry. And who can forget when she tried to assist Janet Brent in season 6’s The Weary Watchdog and ended up threatened with a charge of accessory to murder?

Showing how three-dimensional and human of a character she is, her sympathy is occasionally ill-placed. I, like Paul, have had some raised eyebrows over Della’s choices of pitiable criminals. Perhaps her strangest moment is in season 8’s The Sad Sicilian. The good-natured but incorrigible young fellow accused of murder is a thief and a liar. By the end of the episode he shows no signs of changing his ways, or of feeling rattled at all by his experience. Della is fond of him throughout the episode, she claims because he’s Italian. I don’t know; I think there’s plenty of Italian men more appealing than he. It’s possible Della felt more of a motherly affection for him than anything else, but she shows no signs of being bothered by his behavior or of feeling he needs to turn over a new leaf.

(The whole episode is rather odd, and to be honest, one of the few way down at the bottom of my list, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Of course, in spite of any fleeting interest in characters such as that, it’s clear that her deepest feelings are saved for Perry. They have a close bond, whether or not one chooses to believe they eventually confirm a romantic relationship. It’s often a random comment of Della’s that starts Perry thinking on the right path towards finding the murderer. And they have an entire series of silent signals and looks that they understand quite well between them.

Della and Paul are close friends too. They would have to be, to so smoothly and effortlessly engage in their innocent flirting and comebacks. The rapport between them and Perry as they interact is a joy to watch.

Less seen is Della’s interaction with the police or Hamilton. She seems to get along alright with all of them, in spite of any trouble she may end up in along the way. Although she can and sometimes does adopt a very cool tone of speech if she is displeased with the way they are handling some things. It’s difficult at times to really gauge what her feelings are for any of them. But it’s hard for me to believe that she doesn’t hold some level of fondness for them, due to the looks she sometimes shoots at them (and especially at Hamilton). It could be Barbara herself slipping out of character. Or it could be a mysterious side to Della we were sadly never given the chance to really see.

Della is a strong woman. Throughout the many tense situations she and the others end up in, and even when discovering many bodies with Perry, she rarely loses her cool. She does panic and exclaim in horror when she is alone to discover the body in The Reluctant Model. And when Paul is brought to death’s door in The Carefree Coronary, Della delivers the news to Perry while breaking down in tears.

She will not tolerate slurs and false accusations against her loved ones. When things look bad for Perry in The Dead Ringer and his client is ranting against illegal actions that Perry supposedly (and didn’t) commit, Della and Paul become visibly angry and staunchly defend Perry’s integrity. And when the robbery sergeant is frustrated and confused over Perry refusing to press charges on a juvenile who very likely helped to strip his car in The Twice-Told Twist (because Perry hopes to resolve things without bringing a life-damaging felony charge on a minor), Della lets the amazed sergeant know that even though it will be costly repairing the car himself, Perry doesn’t put a price tag on his conscience.

Della has a gift for interacting with children, another something I wish we had seen more of. The way she easily talks with the little boy in The Deadly Toy and makes friends with him is adorable. And she bonds so beautifully with the baby in The Borrowed Baby. As much as I have little interest in personally reading or writing stories where she and Perry finally get together, I do like to think that eventually they do, and Della gets to have the children she longs to have. Judging from Perry’s surprising and adorable interaction with a baby in The Deadly Toy, he would make a wonderful father.

Though I also have little interest in the Perry Mason reunion movies and can’t bring myself to consider them absolute canon, I do thrill that audiences got to see the beloved characters of Perry and Della shine in new adventures twenty years after the end of the original television series. The TV movies brought in some new fans, both young and old, who then went on to explore the other facets of the franchise.

On the 50th Anniversary DVDs, there is an interview with Barbara where she is asked (approximately) how much like her Della is. She said that they really weren’t much alike; for one thing, she is a practical joker and Della definitely is not. I can’t picture Della going in for that sort of thing, it’s true, but she certainly likes a gentle tease when she gets the chance. She often teases Paul, and even occasionally Lieutenant Tragg (who may or may not have a crush on her, age difference notwithstanding).

Barbara’s website has a Guestbook where visitors can drop by and leave comments (using the password “Della” to prove themselves genuinely interested and not spammers). I suggest that everyone who reads this post head over there today and add a Happy Birthday comment. I’m intending to do so right now. Barbara, here’s to more happy years to come!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming ...

Alright, I just want to clear the air on something here, once and for all. I wondered when it would be time to get to this topic. After a brief and anonymous encounter, the likes of which I’ve been expecting for a while, I decided it’s time now. I just want to make sure there hopefully won’t be any misunderstandings on this front.

I’ve always been quite frank on this blog. And I’ve admitted more than once that I haven’t read any of the books. Sacrilege, perhaps, but I see no reason it should be. There are many different branches of Perry: the books, the movies, the radio series, and two television shows. Some people may enjoy all versions equally. Others may latch on to one or two particular versions. I really don’t believe that any of us are lesser fans because of however we choose to express our enjoyment of the franchise. We are simply fans of different branches. And in the end, we’re all Perry fans.

However, I am quite willing to eventually try every branch of the franchise. I can’t promise I’ll latch on to every version (and I doubt I will), but that doesn’t mean they don’t all deserve their fair chance. I gave a chance to The New Perry Mason. There’s no reason I won’t get to the books, once I actually have access to them.

I admit I don’t think I care to purchase any of them; with their unfair treatment of Hamilton and prosecutors in general I just don’t think they will appeal to me. I have very strong feelings on the villainization of prosecutors. (Really, I see no need to villainize either side. Erle Stanley Gardner apparently had a villainous defense attorney in his district attorney series. That seems just as unnecessary to me. He wanted to champion lawyers, I’ve heard, so I feel he should have tried to portray both sides fairly in the same series—not one in one series and one in the other.) But in spite of this, if I can locate some of the books somewhere in my area I am still open-minded and curious enough to look through and/or read them for myself.

As I’ve stated before, without the books there would be nothing else, so they should be respected for that aspect at least. They are certainly important. But I don’t believe that being a true fan means one has to read them.

Also, on the subject of Perry/Della romance, yes, I freely admit I’m not that interested in that, either. It’s not unusual for me; there are very few romantic pairings in any series that grab me enough to make me enthused about them. In Perry and Della’s case, there’s already such a wonderful dynamic in their possible romantic feelings being unresolved. My general reaction to such dynamics in any series is that to resolve it spoils it and takes much of the fun out of it. The goal has been reached, but that element of the relationship, what made it so appealing for some of the fans in the first place, is gone and can never be brought back. I am actually quite a fan of Perry and Della’s interaction; I just don’t like the thought of it changing from what it already is.

I am aware that in the books Perry has proposed to Della more than once and she has turned him down. I am also aware that in spite of that, some of the fans feel that they are definitely in an established relationship, particularly in the early books. That is interesting, certainly a different-sounding take on their interaction. But I can’t say as how that would appeal to me over the television series. I’m curious enough to want to see those scenes, because I enjoy their interaction on the series, but I’m equally curious to see how everyone else interacts in that first Perry medium.

For me, the television series vastly improved on the elements that most bother me in the books. (Even though it has its own problems.) And I’m grateful that Erle Stanley Gardner allowed it to happen (especially in spite of his insistence on his formula). But I feel sorry for the book fans who may feel that the Perry/Della content was watered down in the series. It’s generally not fun to have something you particularly like be absent or changed. I know I’ve been in situations like that at times when I like things about more than one branch of a franchise but don’t like that one version changed something I deem important.

I am a big fan of the long-running television series. I have not as yet read the books, but I am aware of them and have a natural interest in exploring at least one or two, possibly more.

I am not especially interested in the idea of reading or writing about Perry and Della getting together once and for all—just in the idea that yes, they are meant to be together eventually and the fans can fill in the gaps any way they desire. I don’t like picturing either of them with anyone else; I’ll give the shipper movement that much.

My favorite character is Hamilton Burger and I enjoy writing about him above all other aspects of Perry. If I feel he is being treated unfairly, I will complain. If I feel he’s getting decent treatment, I will be pleased.

Yes, I am unconventional. My likes and dislikes are most likely shared by only a small number. But I am every bit the true fan that every Perry book, radio, and even movie fan is.

Thank you, everyone who has been reading this humble blog. I’m honored that you’re interested in my perspective. I will be making the weekday post a day early this week; Barbara Hale deserves an enthusiastic and rousing birthday post!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Special Request: The Case of the Nervous Neighbor

While I find the latter half of season 7 mostly average (the first half is chock-full of wonderful episodes, by comparison), it has a couple of episodes that stand out a great deal. One is #18 in the season, The Nervous Neighbor.

This episode should be familiar to anyone who appreciates Hamilton. If it isn’t, I hope they can see it right away. It’s very fascinating and unique in many aspects, with the general plot as well as with Hamilton’s actions.

We begin with a case of Paul’s, which is the first lesser-seen approach. And it’s not just any case of Paul’s, but a case that has made him very angry. He was hired to find Charles Fuller’s mother, by the worried son himself. In the process of discovering her, Paul has also discovered that she is wanted for killing her husband. He is furious at being used and refuses to become an accessory to harboring a fugitive. He agrees to take Charles to see her only if he promises to call the police after thirty minutes. Charles is not pleased, but consents.

As it turns out, his mother Alice has a complete loss of memory after being found in Nevada with a serious head injury. She can’t remember her own son, let alone that she was supposed to have killed her husband after she was pushed and hit her head during an argument. And an anonymous party has already called the police. Shortly after Paul and Charles arrive and Charles is left stunned by Alice’s state, Andy arrives to arrest her.

Charles works for the company his dead step-father and Alice had both been part of. The company’s other partner wants him to see that Alice is pled Guilty, certain that, being an amnesiac older lady, she would only get a suspended sentence. He’s concerned of all the dirty laundry that may come out if a hearing and trial get underway. Some of that dirty laundry involves Charles himself and some false accusations that he embezzled from the company. But Charles insists on having Perry plead Alice Not Guilty anyway.

During the hearing Perry wishes to put a well-known and widely respected neurosurgeon on the stand before Hamilton has finished presenting the prosecution’s case. Hamilton, knowing that medical testimony is vital to the case due to Alice’s injuries right before the murder, agrees. The doctor describes how Alice’s skull and brain were both badly damaged from her fall against the stone hearth and says that she could not have been conscious of her actions when she struck out and hit her husband with the fire poker. And her injuries were such that her loss of memory will be permanent; there is no re-growth of brain cells. The other doctors questioned in the case have said that they would defer to the neurosurgeon’s opinion. Hamilton moves for a dismissal of the charges, feeling that to continue would not advance justice any.

The accusations about Charles’ supposed embezzling does come out in the hearing. Following the dismissal, he and Alice are both bothered by a junior partner seeking to take over the entire company. This unscrupulous fellow manages to manipulate Alice into signing over everything that should be hers, so he won’t make Charles’ embezzling public. Enraged, Charles goes over to have it out with him. Alice fears what might happen and calls Paul in a panic. When he goes over, Charles is not there and the junior partner is lying dead.

Of course Charles is accused and arrested. And it’s while he’s talking with both Perry and Hamilton at the jail that the most intriguing and different scene of the episode happens.

Charles is a very impulsive, quick-tempered man. He insists over and over that he wants to testify on the witness stand. Perry doesn’t think it’s a good idea at all, particularly with Charles’ nature. He asks if Charles has ever been on the receiving end of a cross-examination before. This gives Hamilton an idea. Even though it would really be to the prosecution’s advantage to have such a short-tempered defendant on the witness stand, he doesn’t want to see Charles do something stupid. He puts Charles under a rigorous example of what his cross-examining would be like and within moments gets him to snap. “Yes, I hated him and I wanted him dead!” Charles screams. “But I didn’t kill him!” Hamilton looks him straight in the eye and asks if he stills wants to testify. “I suggest, Mr. Fuller, that instead of doing what you want to do, you should think about doing what your lawyer thinks you should do.”

The rest of the episode concerns unraveling corporate scandals and proving Charles innocent. While investigating at the elderly community where Alice is staying, Paul makes friends with one of the older ladies and promises to dance with her some time in the future. Hamilton is present again as Perry eventually picks apart the intrigue going on at the company. And the guilty party is revealed in a set-up of Perry’s, during perhaps one of the most intense and chilling confession scenes outside of court. Alice ends up nearly being killed for her bluff about knowing the truth, whereupon Perry appears and wrenches the murderer’s arm back to keep her from stabbing Alice. The murderer, I think, definitely ranks among the most frightening on the show. The complete turn-around of her personality, especially when she acts saccharine with a fake smile and a noticeable bite to her words, is chilling.

The epilogue is sweet and shows Perry, Della, and Paul attending the fund-raising event the elderly community has set up. A woman’s choice dance starts and Della opts to dance with Perry. Paul’s friend returns to have the promised dance with him.

I remember seeing the episode years ago on my local station. Last year I was reminded of it after starting a discussion in the Perry Mason Yahoo Group. Upon discovering it again I found it to be every bit as amazing as I had in the past.

Hamilton is just wonderful in it, from his compassion towards Alice and his desire to dismiss the charges due to the complex circumstances to his interrogation of Charles. He manages to show Charles, in the most effective way, just how foolish it would be for him to take the stand. I love that, as always, he’s more concerned about seeing justice done than allowing something to happen that could cause the trial to become biased and unfair (even if it would almost surely net a win for the prosecution). And it shows us a side of Hamilton we don’t often see—a sort of “tough love” part of his personality, harsh but ultimately serving the ends of kindness. I wish this had come up again in the series.

Paul also gets some good moments in this episode. An angry Paul is a rare thing, and he demonstrates here that being used is one of the things that will definitely set him off. His friendship and dance with the elderly woman is sweet, too. Paul is certainly a gentleman.

Once I’d seen this episode again for the first time in years, as well as every succeeding time since, I discovered more reasons to love Hamilton. The Nervous Neighbor is one of the most important episodes, both overall and in the later seasons.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

So help you, God: Mentions and omissions of God and religion on Perry

Happy Easter, everyone! I have another special request post that I fully intend to get to this coming week. But today I’ve been pondering on a different topic: mentions and references to God, religion, and books of scripture on the series.

Of course it would be impossible to write such a post without discussing the truncation of the witnesses’ oath in court. In the first couple of episodes it’s complete with the “so help you, God” part (although I think they still omit the Bible). And it resurfaces that way now and then, such as during the coroner’s inquest in The Perjured Parrot. But by and large they do not keep the “so help you, God” part. Sometimes they even cut the “nothing but the truth” part, too.

I have certainly wondered what the explanation is behind this. Contrary to the common thoughts of whether the powers at be didn’t want it there because they didn’t want references to God, I’ve heard that it wasn’t wanted because some God-fearing viewers thought it would end up becoming too trivial if repeated over and over multiple times per episode. I have no idea if either is true or if it was something else. But it does make me roll my eyes a bit that it couldn’t have always been included.

Such a glaring omission doesn’t mean that God and the Bible were never mentioned, however. Particularly in the later episodes, some characters seem to address God with agonized exclamations of “Dear God!” and other variants, and with relieved expressions of “Thank God!” A handful of times, I seem to recall a character outright praying.

It’s unknown if any of the main characters are particularly religious or spiritual. Perry and Della both seem quite up to date on the Bible and occasionally quote verses when they fit into the context of discussion. Paul doesn’t appear able to rattle off verses as easily as they can, and is surprised at their knowledge, but that means little. Some religious and spiritual people love the scriptures, but don’t have many verses memorized. And by contrast, some people not necessarily involved in worship might have verses memorized but mainly be studying for academic reasons.

Sometimes I wonder if Perry might fall into the latter category. He seems greatly interested in the various cultures of the world, judging by some of his art choices in his office (and by the assorted random facts he knows). I can easily picture him studying all kinds of books of scripture from many religions, in his desire to understand people and their beliefs better. But he could be like that and be an active participant in religion, too.

Della I really do picture as a quiet, church-going sort. Who knows; she and Perry might even attend church together and study the scriptures together. Maybe that’s one reason why they can both deliver verses seemingly on cue.

It’s in season 7, episode 14, The Accosted Accountant, when I clearly remember them doing this. Perry mentions a scripture in Proverbs, Paul wonders what it is, and Della quotes it. I seem to remember a similar scene in another episode, but I can’t place where it is offhand.

Several episodes earlier, in The Festive Felon, Perry actually makes a Biblical reference in court. While talking to one witness he comments that she and a man broke two Commandments. I believe it was that the man coveted another man’s wife and the woman stole. Or they both stole. I believe something similar to this happened in another episode as well.

Season 5’s The Missing Melody opens at a wedding rehearsal at a church. Della comments in surprise about the modern music being played by the band. Perry remarks that more and more, some churches are becoming open and welcoming towards such things.

EDIT: Gah, I can't believe I forgot to say anything about The Renegade Refugee, which is not only one of the best of season 5 for me, but one of the best and most unique of the whole series. The murder takes place at a spiritual retreat, and there are several fascinating points of dialogue through, particularly when Perry converses with a monk about Francis of Assisi. (And, as a wonderful bonus, William Boyett appears in a small role.)

I don’t recall anything throughout the series that gives any possible indication of the stance the police and Hamilton take on God and religion.

Of course, Hamilton is quite well-known for his skepticism on anything supernatural and paranormal; we see that in all four episodes that brush such subjects—The Meddling Medium, The Fatal Fetish, The Fatal Fortune, and The Wrathful Wraith. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s also skeptical about the existence of God. It could, but that’s such a cliché in media that I wanted to explore a lesser-visited possibility when I addressed the subject in The Broken Ties. One of my most favorite passages is this exchange I wrote between Hamilton and Mignon in chapter 8:

“Tell me, what made you the way you are? So skeptical, unable to take anything serious if it’s the slightest bit supernatural?”

Hamilton raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think anything really made me that way,” he said. “Well, I mean, if you’re trying to ask if I had a specific experience that made me a cynic, the answer is no. Not everyone who disbelieves had some life-shattering experience that made them bitter. Some people just never see the sense or logic in it. It sounds ridiculous, even crazy, to them.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Now that really has nothing to do with it,” Hamilton frowned. “Yes, actually, I do believe in God. But not everyone who believes in God also swallows everything supernatural hook, line, and sinker. In fact, in some cases it may shape why they don’t believe in stuff like that. I guess the way I look at it, I honestly can’t believe God would’ve created a world where things like magic or spells run rampant. If He’s supposed to be a God of order, then to me it doesn’t make sense. It would result in complete chaos!”

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” Mignon said. “But there are so many things that don’t make sense in this world. And there is already chaos without the aid of magic and spells.”

“Exactly. So why make more?”

“I believe that magic can be used for good as well as for evil,” Mignon said. “And therein lies the balance. With a proper balance you have order and not chaos.”

I confess that I believe in ghosts, unlike Hamilton, but on many other paranormal subjects I’m as skeptical as he is. And I do believe in God.

Mignon, by the way, we also don’t really know about where it comes strictly to episodic information. I write her as a believer in vodun, but the episode itself has her relate misleading and inaccurate information on the religion to Hamilton. Since the episode seems in general to stick to Hollywood’s basic incorrect assumptions on vodun, however, I bulldozed that and had her give correct information in The Macabre Mansion. After all, if we are to assume that Mignon is an outsider and doesn’t really know much about vodun, we must also assume that the “expert” Paul talks to doesn’t know much, either—as he delivers misleading information as well. So I prefer to just dismiss all of that and assume that if the writers had known more themselves, both Mignon and the expert would have used proper explanations. (Although it could also be decided that Mignon only knows more Hollywood-ized ideas about vodun, and that it’s the case from hearing them through her various spots as an entertainer. But I think it’s more interesting for Hamilton’s friend to be a staunch believer in the actual religion.)

In the end, it becomes clear that despite the omission of the “so help you, God” part of the oath there are many interesting little theological references throughout the series. That makes me wonder all the more why there was never a Christmas episode. Even though a lot of dramas did not do Christmas episodes in the 1950s and 1960s, it wasn’t unheard-of. Dragnet did several.

Ah, well. The lack of a Perry Christmas episode will remain, most likely, an unsolved mystery.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Please Murder Me: A Perry Prototype?

Months ago I said that I might take certain posts to highlight various characters from other movies and TV series played by our beloved cast members. This is more of a movie, rather than a character, highlight, but the general proposition still stands.

In 1956 a little noir was released called Please Murder Me. It features Angela Lansbury as a woman accused of murdering her husband and Raymond Burr as the lawyer who loves her and is set to defend her. It’s in the public domain these days, and while it’s definitely a B movie, it’s an interesting watch, for old movie buffs, crime movie buffs, and Perry Mason fans.

There are certainly elements reminiscent of Perry episodes. Even Raymond Burr’s character, in some ways, is like good old Perry—especially in his desire for justice above all else. He’s a bit darker, faced at the beginning of the flashback with a moral dilemma that Perry never had, but he deals with it in an honest, straightforward way, not wanting to hurt the party involved. If Perry had ever been confronted with such a problem, he might very well have handled it the same way.

One thing I like looking for when seeing actors in other roles is determining what mannerisms are theirs and which are their individual characters’. Raymond has several mannerisms in the movie which we’ve all seen and heard from Perry: that certain way he says “Oh?”, the way he lays one hand in his other hand and gazes at them, and his pacing.

The thing that thrilled and excited me most about the film is that Craig Carlson, our defense attorney protagonist, has a good friendship with Ray Willis, the district attorney. The very first spoken words in the film are addressed to Ray from Craig, as he begins to narrate the events of the plot in flashback. He even says “Dear Ray” to open his spoken letter/confession. They clearly have a great amount of respect for each other throughout the film, including during the court scenes and afterwards, as they share a dinner. Me being me, it would have been impossible to watch that and not think of Perry and Hamilton, especially in the later seasons.

Of course, the movie is not without its flaws. Its most glaring, as far as I’m concerned, happens during the trial. A critical part of the case (and what ends up closing it), is the defendant’s reason for wanting a divorce from her husband. And it’s not revealed to the court until Craig addresses the jury. My jaw dropped. And even more shocking, there was no protest from the prosecution whatsoever. All I could think was, “… Shouldn’t someone be getting charged with withholding evidence for this?!”

One thing Perry Mason was well-known for was its adherence to proper courtroom procedure (excepting the often preposterous confessions and Perry usually winning, of course). And although I certainly can’t claim to know much about law beyond Perry and some assorted research, I can’t believe that something like what happened in Please Murder Me would have ever been allowed in real-life. And if it had happened on Perry, Hamilton Burger would have most definitely been crying out in justified protest! Clearly, whoever wrote Please Murder Me just wanted an intensely dramatic scene, not caring whether or not it was plausible.

But, ridiculous flaws aside, the movie is quite worth a watch. As B-grade film noir goes, it’s got some good things going for it: Raymond Burr, Angela Lansbury, and the titular plot twist. It’s a dark and tragic spiral that, for me, leaves deep questions not easily answered. Is what Craig eventually does to bring Myra Leeds to justice a good thing? A bad thing? Each viewer will have to try to come to his or her own conclusions about that. I’m still debating it. I like a movie that makes me think.

And I’m curious as to whether or not Raymond had yet auditioned for Perry Mason at the time. Please Murder Me was released only a year before Perry started, so it’s highly possible that either Raymond had indeed auditioned or that he decided to audition later after playing a defense attorney in this film. (Especially since I was thinking the auditions started in 1955, which could have been either before or after this movie was filmed.)

I imagine it’s also possible that this film could have had something to do with him eventually being cast as Perry, but I’m not as sure about that. Just watching him in those early screen tests on the 50th Anniversary set, without yet having seen this film, I saw that he was just perfect. Others were good trying out too, such as William Hopper, but Raymond was fabulous. Erle Stanley Gardner knew what he was doing by insisting on Raymond playing Perry. In the process, Gardner was opening the door for the creation of a TV legend. I seriously doubt Perry would have ever been as successful without everyone in the roles they ended up having.

In the end, I thoroughly recommend Please Murder Me for all Perry fans to try, if they haven’t seen it. It raises some interesting queries. And it’s also a just plain good watch for crime/noir seekers.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Military episodes and fanfiction projects

I have varying opinions on episodes without Hamilton. I figure to be fair, every episode deserves at least one watch. But if Hamilton isn’t in it, I usually don’t care to see it if it doesn’t happen to be on the TV right then. If I’m choosing something specific to watch, I’d much rather see an episode that he’s in. There are only a handful of episodes without him that I like enough to deliberately select.

Seasons 2, 3, and 4 each feature a very interesting out-of-town episode involving the military. There are others in later seasons, even a couple with Hamilton such as The Angry Astronaut. I’m not sure what the fans’ opinion on the military episodes is in general, but I do hear mostly negative feedback on any involving the Space Age. I’m not sure whether that’s because they just don’t like things getting that modern or if it’s something else. (Hmm, I suppose if they have that much of a problem with the setting being contemporary for the times, they wouldn’t like me casually sliding the time period to the present day in my stories, either.)

Actually, my favorite episode without Hamilton is one of the military episodes and also one of the Space Age episodes. I refer to The Misguided Missile from season 4. With Simon Oakland in it (and William Schallert, too), I’ll return again and again. Whenever I watch it, however, I like to make sure I have time for two so I can also watch one with Hamilton.

I find all of the military episodes quite fascinating. Maybe that’s because I’ve always had a certain interest in military-related shows. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. and M*A*S*H are two of my perennial favorites. I also enjoy Disney movies in which the military plays a large part, such as The Cat From Outer Space. And I like military dramas, too (especially if someone I like is in them). So I suppose it’s not surprising that I would enjoy the military episodes of Perry.

I don’t see any real reason to dislike them, honestly. They’re just as good as general Perry episodes: talented guest stars, intense plots, and the like. I’m sure the reason for the dislike has nothing to do with Hamilton and the police being missing, since there are plenty of Los Angeles-area episodes without them that are highly praised.

Maybe people just don’t like seeing Perry so far removed from his element. Perhaps they prefer seeing him defending civilians in a regular courtroom, rather than military officers in a military court. Of course, my absolute favorite scenario is Perry Mason classic: regular courtroom, Mr. Burger prosecuting, and the police around. (Bonus points if both Tragg and Andy are available.) But for out-of-town episodes, I’m happy to watch the military ventures.

Although The Misguided Missile is the only one I’ve actually selected on purpose when I had a choice.

I’m still working with my mystery story based on that episode. This is the longest it’s taken me to get a Perry mystery done. But I have every intention of finishing it. I’ve been working on chapter 13 over the weekend, and finally got past a roadblock that’s been bothering me since early on. I’m glad I got some more inspiration for it at last. The strange dream I had about Captain Caldwell probably helped with that.

With a mystery story it’s difficult enough to keep one plotline straight. For this one I have about three different threads of plot that will eventually connect into one big explanation. There is the main plot, with Jerry Reynolds being stalked by someone who looks eerily like Captain Caldwell. There is a subplot involving a client of Perry’s who apparently commits suicide. And there is another subplot as some of the characters are still trying to recover from their experiences in the previous mystery, The Broken Ties. Trying to keep all of the plotlines straight and figure out how to connect them is probably another reason why it’s taking longer to finish this one.

I'm heading steadily towards the climax, in which both Jerry's and Paul's situations will play a large and important part. I'm not sure as yet what will happen with Paul's angle, but I do know I don't plan for the mad scientist to have any success turning him against anyone. (Unless she finally tries the drug on him that she's using on Jerry, and I'm not sure she will.)

I do honestly intend that Jerry's stalker really is Captain Caldwell. I'll admit the reason I started this story was because I wanted to "fix" things due to being so grossly dissatisfied by the character's death. (Usually I don't have that reaction. This was a special case.) And due to the gruesome nature of his fatal injuries in the episode, it certainly required a lot of thought to figure it out and be halfway logical. But I'm afraid the story has become rather sci-fi because of what I chose. Oh dear. Sci-fi Perry? That has to be a first.

I’m honestly not sure if I’ll continue the mystery series when I complete The Spectral Stalker. But then again, I had no intention of writing more past The Persecuted Prosecutor, nor the next installment The Memento Mori Murderer, and I continued to get ideas. So who can say. Certainly not me.

I have some oneshots (single-chapter stories) I’ve been working on over the past few weeks. This is interesting to me, as usually I get ideas for oneshots first and then the big mysteries. Instead, for Perry I only wrote one short story and then immediately started on a big mystery. Now I’m suddenly getting some episode-inspired story ideas and other single-chapter ideas.

One was for The Carefree Coronary, the episode in which Paul ends up at death’s door. I wrote some short “missing scenes” from it and put it up as Tomorrow Always Comes.

I just put up one yesterday called A Touch of Honey, which revolves around my fascination of The Surplus Suitor. It’s mostly Della soliloquizing about Hamilton and then attempting to be friendly to him. He isn’t sure what to make of it.

And a third idea concerns Della and Hamilton ending up in a car wreck and trying to get back to civilization while meanwhile Perry tries frantically to find Della. It’s mainly shameless Della and Hamilton interaction and hurt/comfort (with Della hurt more than Hamilton, to see how he would try to help her), but I’ve been trying to put in some nice Perry/Della tidbits for the shippers. It’s not finished yet and I don’t have a title for it.

As far as multi-chapters are concerned, I’m also currently writing a three-way crossover mystery/horror story in which some of the Perry characters play a large part. So far it’s mainly Hamilton and the police, but though they’re the only ones really planned to be in it, Perry may come into it later. I have a vague scene in mind where Hamilton goes to bounce the case off of him as it becomes more and more weird, frightening, and dangerous. I call it Lullaby of Silence, and it’s crossed over with Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The Monkees TV show. (Yes.) I actually think it’s coming out quite well in context, even though that description probably sounds nuts.