Friday, March 11, 2016

The Case of the Unknown Parentage

And so we arrive at March 11th, the anniversary of Erle Stanley Gardner's death in 1970. He gave us the wonderful characters who made up the original Core Five and wrote all the original novels first bringing them to life. He lost control over his characters for the 1930s films and the 1940s radio series and demanded better for the television series. Whether or not one agrees with every decision he made for the television series (and I don't always), I am thrilled for him that he finally had and kept control over his beloved series and characters for the best-loved media adaptation. Regardless of whether one wishes the show had tried some other paths every now and then, Mr. Gardner apparently knew what he was doing by making and keeping his rules; the formulaic nature of the series remained the same for nine popular seasons.

I wonder what he would have thought of the idea of The New Perry Mason, had he lived to see it. Much of the crew was still the same, and they tried to be faithful to the original series in both the scripts and the characters' behaviors, but some of the performances still fell very flat. (I find it both amusing and terrible that Monte Markham reportedly jeered at Raymond Burr's portrayal of Perry, yet clearly tried to imitate his speech pattern in the episodes!) I like to think Mr. Gardner would have complained about some of the casting, at least. But who knows. Maybe he would have liked it all. Or maybe he would have disliked it all.

In any case, I am, as always, very grateful to him for his imagination, his skill at weaving mysteries, and his intriguing characters. Because of Mr. Gardner's writings, we have the wonderful Perry Mason television series to watch and enjoy and the characters are still fondly remembered decades later. All thanks to whatever inspired Mr. Gardner to start writing The Velvet Claws. Thank you, Mr. Gardner.

I have fallen very far behind in watching my Perry DVDs, even though I was trying to keep up with MeTV's nighttime schedule. I'm in season 6 and am picking and choosing my way through the season by mainly selecting episodes I rarely watch. I suddenly discovered something very odd. While every season of Perry has at least one episode where a child's parentage is questioned, kept secret, etc., season 6 has an explosion of such episodes!

To demonstrate my point, here is a list I've compiled of all such episodes I can pick out from a titles-only episode guide. If anyone else can think of more, feel free to remind me in the comments!

Season 1

The Baited Hook (Daughter's true parentage was the reason for the murder.)
The Empty Tin (The initial mystery revolves around trying to find a man's real daughter.)

Season 2

The Stuttering Bishop (The mystery involves a girl being told her parentage is not what she thought.)

Season 3

The Watery Witness (The initial mystery concerns a girl trying to find out if she is the daughter of movie star Lorna Thomas.)

Season 4

The Wandering Widow (A woman tries to keep her son from learning about his horrid real father.)
The Nine Dolls (Perry tries to find a young orphan's identity.)
The Duplicate Daughter (Twins separated at birth.)

Season 5

The Borrowed Baby (Perry tries to find the family of a baby left in his office.)

Season 6

The Unsuitable Uncle (A girl's true father's identity is kept secret from her.)
The Stand-In Sister (Confusion over which man's daughter survived a car crash.)
The Polka-Dot Pony (Two girls are discovered when searching for a woman's long-lost child.)
The Bluffing Blast (A young woman shows up claiming to be the daughter of a man who supposedly didn't have any children.)
The Skeleton's Closet (A woman tries to prevent the news of her children's real father leaking out.)

Season 7

The Nebulous Nephew (Confusion over whether a boy is really a long-lost nephew or a con artist.)
The Simple Simon (A large part of the mystery stems from the fact that the defendant has a son somewhere and believes him to be one person when he is in actuality another.)

Season 8

A Place Called Midnight (A girl is distressed over being an orphan with no known family name. Not a major plot point, but since it is there and it's a large part of the character's emotional makeup, I'll include it.)

Season 9

The Fugitive Fraulein (Trying to retrieve the correct granddaughter from behind the Iron Curtain. This one may be stretching it a bit, but there is an attempt to confuse the girl's identity.)

Wow. So why was that such a popular plotline in season 6? It's the only season to have more than three such episodes, unless there's others I've forgotten about.

One possibility would be that the same person wrote them and it's a plot device they like. Well, among the five season 6 episodes, two were written by Robert C. Dennis, two by Samuel Newman, and one by Robert Leslie Bellem. Every episode is thankfully extremely different in the plot details, which is why I assume this was allowed to happen and every script greenlit, but it's still rather curious to suddenly realize that so many episodes had the concept of unknown parentage in one season!

In the end, I suppose there's no real answer as to why. For some reason, the writers' inspiration just traveled on that path that year. Most of the season 6 episodes with that plot device are not among my favorites or semi-favorites, aside from The Polka-Dot Pony, but I've liked the others a lot better on this viewing.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Memoriam: William Hopper

And so we come to another March 6th, another anniversary of the date William Hopper tragically left us far too soon in 1970. Eerily enough, Erle Stanley Gardner died within the week of the same year and we lost two key figures in the shaping of Perry Mason.

William Hopper brought his immortal contributions to Perry when he showed up to do a screentest for Perry Mason himself. He definitely left an impression and ended up cast as our beloved Paul Drake. That was most certainly a wise choice. He brought so much heart and soul to our cast and the reunion movies feel so lonely without him.

I love when Paul gets a chance to be tough and show his stuff, since sometimes he's used as a comic relief character. One of my favorite scenes is in The Stand-In Sister, when he corners the escaped criminal by calmly and smoothly holding a gun on him at the top of the pier as he starts to climb up.

That season 6 episode also has the curious distinction of being the only one, I think, to actually have kind of a downer epilogue. Even if the courtroom scenes end rather grimly, the epilogue usually tries to cheer things up and end the episode on a happy note. In The Stand-In Sister, however, the epilogue has John Gregory talking to his criminal brother Stefan and wondering why he changed his mind and lied on the witness stand in Gregory's favor instead of telling all the things he threatened to that would make Gregory look horrible. Stefan growls that he has to be nice, since Gregory is holding all his money for him. Gregory, who had apparently hoped that there was some spark of brotherly affection as the reason, goes back over to Perry looking downcast and the episode ends. Um, ouch.

The only other episode I can think of that ends rather grim doesn't even fully count, as it's season 9's The Vanishing Victim and it only appears grim because the version usually shown on television cuts off the epilogue for some bizarre reason. In the televised version, it generally ends with Hamilton talking to the murderer and telling him that he has one more trip to take and this time he can't pass it off on someone else to take for him. The real ending is that silliness with Perry and Paul and the money Paul is charging for expenses that Perry decides to give to Steve for charity tickets without Paul's permission. I still wonder whether Paul is really charging unfairly and hence, Perry might be somewhat justified in his actions, or if Paul is being perfectly fair (aside from maybe nineteen cents, heh) and Perry is not being very nice to just give all of Paul's money away. I usually tend to lean more in Paul's favor, since Perry has unfairly taken money away from him in other episodes such as The Married Moonlighter, although I still wonder.

Paul has some interesting hobbies. Fishing seems to be a casual thing with him, judging by the fact that he fishes with Perry in season 5 yet doesn't seem to know a lot about where specific kinds of fish can be found in season 7. He seems to want to take up golfing, at least in season 9, as he wants those clubs in The Vanishing Victim and then the very next episode is The Golfer's Gambit and he's out practicing on the green. He's in excellent physical shape, as shown in The Carefree Coronary, and he likely works out and exercises to be in top form for the very physically demanding parts of his job.

Of course, Paul's favorite hobby, most likely, is dating. And admiring beautiful women. Several episodes have scenes with him getting distracted by women, and many more have him either on dates or talking about going on dates. Or, unfortunately, being pulled away from dates. But, always the loyal friend, he goes about doing whatever Perry wants done.

Paul is more skeptical than Perry. Many times he's certain that a client is guilty, or at least, is wary of their innocence. But he supports Perry anyway. And in The Angry Astronaut, when Paul brings the case to Perry, he says that he thinks the client is guilty but that he still deserves the best counsel. Paul can be a good judge of people at times, though, such as when he pegged Mark Chester as a weak-kneed slimeball in The Candy Queen.

All of the Perry characters are very human and three-dimensional. Paul is definitely not an exception. He can be funny. He can be serious. He makes good decisions and bad. And all in all, Perry Mason could never be the same without him. William Hopper is still very loved and missed.