One of the most watched and enduring television shows of all time, Perry Mason had a significant impact on the design of virtually every courtroom drama that came after it. Every day, reruns of the series are broadcast in the United States and other countries, keeping it popular more than 50 years after it came to an end in 1966.
But why was Perry Mason so well-liked? What was the basis for the programme, and how much did it affect the decades of legal dramas that followed? Here are five facts about Perry Mason that you probably didn’t know.
10 Based on A Series of Books
Like many modern television programmes, Perry Mason began as a series of books. Over 80 different novels and short tales make up the mystery series, which Erle Stanley Gardner started writing in 1933. Up until the end of the television series run, the series lasted for decades.
Gardner appeared as a judge in the programme. Gardner achieved great success and established a production goal of 1.2 million words annually; today’s typical novel is around 100,000 words.
9. Crash Diet
Raymond Burr, a powerful man with a kind disposition, is the personification of Perry Mason. For the part, hundreds of actors applied, including William Hopper (who eventually played Paul Drake). Gail Patrick Jackson, the producer, wanted Raymond Burr to play the role, but at the time, he was sixty pounds overweight.
A few months after his first audition, Burr, who had long struggled with his weight but was keen to land the part, went on a crash diet to lose the extra weight.
Despite having Perry Mason as its name, the series was actually an ensemble. In the first part of the show, the attention was frequently on his eventual client rather than Mason, which was a format that prefigured Law & Order.
In the investigation and trial that followed in the second part of the episode, his legal team stood with him. Hopper joined the cast as Paul Drake, Mason’s private investigator. Actress Barbara Hale played his secretary Della Street in the movie.
7. Enduring Format
In addition to developing the distinctive structure of the investigation and trial, Perry Mason laid the foundation for many more television programmes in the years that followed. Not just Law & Order, but almost every single programme centred on the legal industry owes a great deal to Perry Mason.
The programme, which established much of how courtroom drama is portrayed on television, serves as a model for L.A. Law, Better Call Saul, and countless more programmes.
Just a few of the now well-known tropes include the notion that detectives and defence lawyers are heroic figures, the surprising confession made during cross-examination, and the protagonist’s complete invincibility.
6. Never Lost
Perry Mason went above and beyond what is typically done by television shows when portraying its heroes. Throughout the whole length of the series, which ran from 1957 to 1966, the former attorney never lost a case. He did occasionally get dangerously close.
The client is found guilty in the episode “The Deadly Verdict,” but Mason unearths information that keeps them off death row at the very end of the programme. Perry was just Perry, unlike some shows that make their characters too good or too flawless to be bearable.
5. Cultural Impact
The show’s influence on culture as a whole extended far beyond its weekly slot of entertainment. The show was cited in more than 250 separate legal rulings, demonstrating that reality is stranger than fiction.
In addition, the programme was mentioned in roughly 500 court briefs and almost 1,000 papers in law reviews. In reality, Sonia Sotomayor, a Supreme Court justice, stated at her confirmation hearing that the character and the show had a significant impact on her decision to pursue a career in law.
4. Lack Of Diversity
In its portrayal of diversity, Perry Mason had a little cultural impact. In almost 300 episodes, Mason has never had an African-American client. Only infrequently and in the background are African-Americans depicted.
Although To Kill A Mockingbird, a cultural icon established a precedent for a show about a lawyer to deal with those topics, the show never did, despite the social and cultural upheaval around race in the 1960s. Sadly, it’s a challenge that both film and television still face today.
3. Famous Guest Stars
Due to the series’ great popularity, guest stars were drawn to it in droves. Among the most noteworthy was film star Bette Davis, who substituted for Perry Mason’s defence counsel while Raymond Burr was absent from the show for a number of episodes due to surgery (he phoned in – literally – for a cameo).
A number of actors and actresses, including Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, and a number of future Star Trek stars, used the show as a launchpad for their early careers. George Takei, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy all made cameos on the programme.
2. 80s Return
Fans are aware that everything old is new again today, but in the 1980s, the return of classic television programmes or movies was a relatively new phenomenon. Perry Mason, however, did so with a vengeance.
The characters were picked up twenty years later in a series of made-for-TV films on NBC, which were similar to The Incredible Hulk at the time. Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale made a comeback. Despite the sad loss of William Hopper, the cast enlarged with the addition of William Katt, who played Paul Drake’s son and was actually Barbara Hale’s son.
1. HBO Revival
In June, the programme will make a triumphant return with a series revival starring Matthew Rhys from The Americans in the lead role. The time he spent as a private investigator before becoming a lawyer is highlighted in this prequel interpretation of the character.
Time will tell if this resembles the original Erle Stanely Gardner books’ hardboiled rendition more or less. Robert Downey Jr., who originally intended to star in the part himself, is the series producer.
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