Tag Archive for: Perry Mason

Perry Mason, You and Me by Debra H. Goldstein

Perry Mason, You and Me by Debra H. Goldstein

Looking back, I can identify many people who made me the person I am.  There were family members, teachers, and people who passed through my life for a moment, but one “person” stands out. Perry Mason.
During junior high and high school, my routine was to attend class, participate in after school activities and plop on our den’s couch at five p.m.  That’s when Perry Mason went on.  During the first commercial, I’d empty the dishwasher; at the second commercial, I’d set our dinner table; my dad got home from work during the third commercial and our family sat down for dinner when the show ended.
I thought Perry Mason/Raymond Burr was perfect.  He creatively thought outside the box, was considerate, had cute dimples when he smiled, treated Della, his secretary, well, and had an office and décor that appealed to me.  Perry Mason influenced me to become a lawyer. Of course, reality was different.  I don’t have dimples. Although I was a litigator for twelve years, a secretary neither physically shared my desk all day nor sat at counsel’s table with me, and my witnesses didn’t consistently confess.
The original and in my mind “real” Perry Mason show was on from 1957-1966.  Considering my age and the time of day I watched it, the episodes I was glued to were re-runs. Recently, I discovered Perry Mason running twice a day on an oldies channel.  Using modern technology, I set my DVR to capture “first run” episodes. This has allowed me to binge watch it from its beginning episodes.  To my surprise, the show holds up.
Maybe it is the fact that I’m not used to seeing television shows in black and white.  Maybe it is the simplicity of the sets, but I think the real reason is that it is written to a formula. Because characters, conflicts and a relationship to Perry are introduced in the first few minutes, I am engaged by the first commercial.  By the second commercial there is a dead body, an accused party who Perry knows isn’t telling him everything, and some fancy footwork between Perry and Lt. Tragg.  The next segment takes place in the courtroom.  Things look bad for Perry’s client, but a word or a scene triggers something in Perry’s mind that results in him figuring out the real culprit.  Through spectacular questioning (which might be considered leading), he elicits a confession from a witness on the stand or a bystander sitting in the courtroom (and the judge never cuts that person off). The final moments are the weakest of the show – it is always a scene where Della and Perry or Perry, Della, and investigator Paul Drake discuss how Perry figured it out and go over the motive and unseen actions that explain the murder. 
From a writer’s perspective, the show’s formula almost works.  Scene 1 – set up the conflict and the murder; scene 2 – the deadly middle where everyone becomes suspect; scene 3 – the solution. The only weak point is the final segment. It is always the writer’s sin of being a contrived dump of information. Still, there are plenty of things for a writer to take away from each Perry Mason episode.

1) Write a good story.
2) Set up the plot and then have pacing ups and downs in terms of scenes with conflict, and tension.
3) Make characters realistic, but give them traits that when the character comes back on the scene, the reader or viewer immediately associate a positive or negative feeling with them.
4) Keep dialogue on point.

In retrospect, I realize there also were many subtle things I took away from the show. 

1) Common curtesy can exist between characters – even when Burger and Mason were on opposite sides of an issue, they might get sarcastic, but they did it with a tone of respect.
2) Women could be anything they want – Perry always went up against a male lawyer, but if one watched carefully, one realized the sex of the judges was evenly divided between males and females. In a way, this was radical.  In real life, women were barely represented in law school classes until the mid to late 1970’s.  When I became a judge in 1990, it was still a novelty. (ask me the stats sometime)
3) Precise use of language is key to effective communication – and sometimes omission of words can be the friend of a mystery writer.

There is no question that Perry Mason played a big role in my life.  Were you influenced by any TV shows or books?  How?

Erle Stanley Gardner’s Influence on Me

Erle Stanley Gardner

Author Erle Stanley Gardner’s first book was published the year I was born. I didn’t bother to count how many books (many) or short stories (hundred plus) have been published, but there were a bunch.

When I was a kid, I went to the Lux Radio Theater to see the Perry Mason radio show being broadcast and got the autographs of all the stars.

A lawyer by profession, Gardner had an active practice in Ventura for many years. I began reading Gardner’s mysteries when I was a young mother living in Oxnard–where some of his tales were set.
I’m not sure if I started reading him because of the Perry Mason radio plays or the TV series, but both were my favorite shows for the entire time they were on.

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason

When I was in labor with my third child, much to my husband’s dismay, I wouldn’t go to the hospital until the Perry Mason episode I was watching was over.

I’ve visited Gardner’s law office and the Ventura coutrhouse where he defended his clients.

I participated in an Erle Stanley Gardner weekend in Temecula, where I learned he owned and lived on a large ranch until his death. He wrote many books while living there, four at a time. He had four secretaries he dicated too. (One he was romantically involved with.) During that Gardner weekend, I met three of those secretaries who had many intriguing tales to relate about the author.

Gardner took all of his friends (most lived on the ranch with him) on many camping trips, many into Mexico. He even wrote while he was off on these adventures.

No, I don’t write anything like Erle Stanley Gardner, but I think I did learn one big thing from him, a writer never really takes a vacation from his/her writing.

What about you other writers out there? Is there an author who has really influenced you?


What Really Influenced my Love of Mysteries

Like many mystery authors I often attribute my love of mysteries to Nancy Drew, but thinking back it was really something else.

Back in my childhood we didn’t have a TV until I was in junior high. Our entertainment came from the radio. We had our big standing radio in the living room, and my sister and I each had our own little Philco on our bedside table. I listened to every mystery show I could. Inner Sanctum was scary enough to send shivers down my spine, but among my favorites were I Love a Mystery, Sam Spade, The Shadow, and Philip Marlowe.

Every Monday night, Lux Radio Theatre had a live radio show, though later on they recorded them for later broadcast. Many of them were mysteries.

My very favorite though was Perry Mason. I went to one of the live broadcasts. Afterwards I went to the parking lot and got autographs of all the stars.

 Of course I continued to read Nancy Drew and soon graduated to grown-up mysteries. I loved the paperback detectives like Mike Hammer. I remember making book covers out of paper sacks so no one would know what I was reading at school.

If you like reading mysteries what ones do you remember best? And if you write mysteries, what influenced you to begin writing them?