1 9 5 7 – 1 9 6 6 (USA)
271 x 60 minute episodes
Trial lawyer and defence attorney Perry Mason and personal investigator Paul Drake were a team that seemingly couldn’t lose a case.
In a predictable but still interesting format, Mason’s skilled questioning of witnesses at the closing trial would always bring out the truth and solve the case.
Perry Mason was television’s most successful and longest-running lawyer series and was previously featured in films and on a radio series on CBS between 1943 and 1955. For nine seasons, Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous defence attorney solved murder mysteries in the courtroom.
With the aid of Drake and his devoted secretary Della Street, Perry always managed to piece together the puzzle just in time to thwart his perpetual adversary, District Attorney Hamilton Burger.
Perry’s clients didn’t just get off, mind you. They got to sit there while the real culprit (who was inevitably sitting in the courtroom) broke down, spewed tears and confessed his or her crime under Mason’s battering cross-examination.
Often the deciding clue would be rushed into the courtroom at the very last moment by Paul Drake, and at the end of every episode, Perry, Della, and Paul would gather to recap and explain what had led to the solution – A neat scene which also served to sort things out for confused viewers.
Over the show’s long 1957-66 run on CBS, Mason racked up a near-perfect record against DA Burger (William Talman), but for one trial he actually lost because a client was unwilling to give him access to the evidence that would exonerate her.
Perry being Perry, of course, went out and got the evidence himself, clearing her name anyway (the device that made the drama more of a mystery series than a legal show).
In retrospect (and given his long string of losses), it’s a wonder poor DA Burger kept getting elected! It was bad enough that he couldn’t beat the imposing Mason, but he also pressed case after case against the innocent only to have his mistakes revealed in dramatic fashion in front of everyone.
Perry Mason returned to CBS for a short time in 1973 as The New Adventures Of Perry Mason, with Monte Markham as the title character, Sharon Acker as Della and Albert Stratton as Drake, but it didn’t catch on.
Burr came back in 1985 for a series of Mason TV movies, cranking out 10 before his death in 1993. The character’s name then carried two more TV movies, billed as Perry Mason Mysteries, even though he didn’t actually appear in them.
In 1963 Raymond Burr did lose a court case off-screen when, presumably believing himself to be as invincible as Perry Mason, he conducted his own defence. A court in Phoenix, Arizona, ordered him to pay $402 to a creditor that claimed Burr had owed him the money since 1949.
The judge said he would have dismissed the case because the debt was too old but, instead of answering the summons through a lawyer as Arizona law required, Burr had followed the improper procedure of pleading his own case.
This, remarked the judge, was not good law. Sometimes it simply doesn’t pay for an actor to identify too closely with a part.
Lt. Arthur Tragg