A Guide to the Perry Mason Series

Perry Mason was a defense attorney and central character of a series of novels written by Erle Stanley Gardner.   From 1933 when “The Case of the Velvet Claws” was the first novel in the series, until 1973, a total of 80 novels and short stories featuring Perry Mason was written.   Shortly after the novels began to become popular, adaptations of the novels were filmed and a radio series began.

However, most people remember the classic television drama that ran from 1957 to 1966.   The hour-long series ran on the CBS network starring Raymond Burr as the title character.   In addition to Burr as Perry Mason, the series also starred Barbara Hale as Mason’s loyal assistant, Della Street; William Hopper portrayed private investigator Paul Drake, William Talman portrayed District Attorney Hamilton Burger and Ray Collins played Police Lt. Tragg.

The premise of the shows usually followed a similar pattern. A murder was committed and someone was accused of the crime. The suspect would claim their innocence in the face of seemingly insurmountable evidence. At that point, Perry Mason would be hired to defend the accused murderer. With Della Street running the office, and Paul Drake digging for clues based on Mason’s suggestions, the investigation would ensue.  

During the trial, D.A. Burger would weave a story showing that the defendant was guilty, and Lt. Tragg would testify about the evidence that proves guilt. However, as the story advances, Mason would cross examine witnesses, find holes in their testimony and at the end of each show reveal who the real murderer was. Most of the time it was a surprise ending that no one expected, and his client was found not guilty.   In fact, over the course of the series, Mason only lost one case (although by the end of the show he was proven correct).

This formula proved to be a success among viewers, despite the fact that they knew the outcome.  The fact that a murder was committed was more compelling than other possible legal cases such as drunk driving, denture cream lawsuits or jaywalking. During the 9 year TV run the number of viewers continued to increase reaching its peak in the 1961-62 season where Perry Mason was the 5th rated television show.   However, viewers started looking for other television options and the ratings for the show continued to decline until the 1966 season, when the show was cancelled.

During the course of the show, many famous guest stars appeared on the show.   They include Bette Davis, Leonard Nimoy, Burt Reynolds, Ellen Burstyn, Robert Redford, George Takei, Daniel J. Travanti and Adam West. In the 9 year run, the Perry Mason TV series had a total of 271 episodes.  A listing of episodes are available online.  All episodes had similar titles that sounded like the “Case of the poligrip lawsuit.”

Even though the series ended in 1966, it was not the end of the Mason franchise.   From 1985 to 1995 a series of TV movies were produced, with Raymond Burr in the title role until his death in 1993.   The final 4 movies were filmed without Burr.

Perry Mason was a groundbreaking series which led the way for future legal dramas such as LA Law, Boston Legal and The Practice. And, Raymond Burr became tied to the Perry Mason character, which became one of the most iconic roles in Hollywood.

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Published November 17, 2011 by