Friday, September 10, 2010

My Dissertation On "Perry Mason"

Perry Mason originally aired on CBS from 1957 to 1966, and starred the great Raymand Burr in the lead, with Barbara Hale as his trusted assistant, Della Street, William Hopper (son of Hollywood gossip legend Hedda Hopper) as detective Paul Drake, and William Talman as Hamilton Burger, the poor district attorney, who Mason always clobbered in court. Ray Collins, Wesley Lau, and Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) rounded out the additional law enforcement cast in various roles over the years.

Perry Mason was more than just a precurser to countless lawyer shows to follow, including LA Law, Law & Order, and Boston Legal, among many others.

Mason was based on a series of best-selling mystery novels created by attorney-novelist Erle Stanley Gardner, which were transformed into a CBS radio show - with soap-opera elements - that aired from 1943 to 1955. When the radio series became the now iconic Raymon Burr show, the soap-opera slant was shelved. But in 1956 (two years before the Burr series debut), the original radio format was transplanted to the TV daytime serial, The Edge of Night (complete with the PM radio production staff and most of the cast, who were given new character names), where it remained until December 1984.

Meanwhile, in the Fall of 1973 - only a few years after the Burr's Perry Mason TV series was cancelled by CBS in 1966, the show was revived with Monte Markham in the lead, Sharon Acker as Della Street, Albert Stratton as Paul Drake, Dane Clark as Lt. Tragg, and Harry Guardino as Hamilton Burger. This edition was titled, The New Perry Mason and only lasted one sseason.

A little over ten years later, Raymund Burr and Barbara Hale returned to their famous roles in the 1985 hit TV-movie, Perry Mason Returns (this time for NBC), which also featured Hale's real life son, Willam Katt, as Paul Drake, Jr. (William Hopper had died in 1970). The Returns film was so successful it lead to an entire series of TV-movies that lasted even after Burr himself passed away.

In either "case," the original Perry Mason TV series was a stand-out. So very well written, directed and performed with precision, the show remains gripping and entertaining to this day.

Perry never lost a case, except for once - later in the series, when that verdict was then reversed. The chemistry between the main four actors, Burr, Hale, Hopper and Talman was solid. Over time, and especially in the show's later years, we came to observe and understand the respect between not only the characters on the show - but between the actors who played them.

Burr made certain to create a "family atmosphere" on the set, and that transferred to the screen when the cameras began to roll.

There was no gratutious violence on the series. Instead, the series catered to the intellect. Burr's Mason was intelligent, but compassionate - and always fair and honest. His objective for each case was justice and the truth - and not just based on technicalities. But on the heart - which is why it remains so popular today.

A "classic," in every sense of the word - and an inspiration to many, professionally - and personally.

Many viewers were inspired to become attorneys. And many viwers were inspired to treat each other with the highest regard of respect - as set on example by the characters - and cast - of Perry Mason.


Click on the link below for a video clip of Barbara Hale from the "extras" on the 50th Anniversary DVD of Perry Mason.

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