Perry Mason Was Everyone’s Favorite Lawyer – But Not All Fans Will Know These Off-Screen Secrets

In 2020 Perry Mason was given the reboot treatment, with Matthew Rhys assuming the role of the titular lawyer. But the HBO adaptation will have to go some way to make the same impact as the 1950s original. Here’s a look at 20 things you may not know about the classic TV series.

20. Perry Mason made his debut in 1933

The character of Perry Mason became a household name thanks to the iconic TV show. But he already had quite the history before he popped up on CBS. Yes, it turns out that the lawyer is fast approaching the century-old mark. He was first introduced in the novel The Case of the Velvet Claws, which was penned by Erle Stanley Gardner way back in 1933.

Mason went on to appear in 51 other novels before eventually showing up on the small screen in 1957. The character also took center stage in 31 books published during and after the TV show’s run. Gardner’s prolific streak resulted from the targets he set himself. The author ensured he wrote an astonishing 1.2 million words every year.

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19. Its author was also a lawyer

They say you should write about what you know. And that was certainly the case for Gardner, who’d forged a law career before settling behind the typewriter. However, it’s fair to say that the legal profession didn’t always hold his attention. In fact, The New York Times reported that the Valparaiso University School of Law once suspended Gardner just a month into his studies because of his “distracting interest in boxing.”

Following his suspension, Gardner returned to California, where he studied for and passed the bar. The writer often found most aspects of legal practice tedious, although he was fascinated by the processes of trial strategy development and litigation. Nevertheless, without his law background, it’s unlikely that his Perry Mason stories would have rung as true.

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18. It’s regularly been referenced in the legal profession

Perry Mason may be a work of pure fiction. But that hasn’t stopped the lead character and his array of cases from entering the real legal world. Remarkably, the CBS series has been cited in approximately 500 legal briefs, 250 judicial opinions and close to 1,000 official law review articles. And its cultural impact doesn’t end there, either.

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In fact, Perry Mason the TV show had quite the effect on one of the highest ranking officials in U.S. law. Yes, Sonia Sotomayor, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, has admitted that she was inspired to enter the profession after watching Raymond Burr do his thing. Sotomayor revealed this nugget of information at her confirmation hearing in which she became the first ever Hispanic person to hold the position.

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17. Its author made a cameo

It seems fair to say that Perry Mason author Gardner was happy enough staying behind the scenes. The man was responsible for writing dozens of novels, many of which were adapted for both the small and big screen. Yet he only showed up on camera once in his entire career.

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But Gardner certainly chose quite the episode to make both his acting debut and swan-song. You see, he appeared in the Perry Mason finale, an episode called “The Case of the Final Fade-Out.” Naturally, he played a judge. And the accused was portrayed by New Year’s Rockin’ Eve legend Dick Clark.

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16. It was nearly a soap

Perry Mason wouldn’t appear to have much in common with the likes of The Bold and the Beautiful or Days of Our Lives. But author Gardner originally intended to adapt his much-loved creation for the small screen as a soap opera titled The Edge of Night. However, creative differences soon put pay to that idea.

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Indeed, CBS insisted that the titular lawyer should have a romantic interest to keep audiences hooked. However, Gardner believed that this wasn’t the right direction to take the character in. The Edge of Night still made it onto screens in 1956, but without any input from the author. A year later Mason got his very own show.

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15. It was a radio show first

Like many TV shows of the post-war era, Perry Mason was first introduced to American audiences as a radio series. The titular lawyer made his debut on the airwaves during World War II in October 1943. And he would go on to win case after case for approximately 3,200 episodes.

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However, Perry Mason the radio show was a much shorter affair than its TV equivalent. Each episode lasted only 15 minutes. And while Raymond Burr made the role his own on the small screen, the CBS Radio version saw a whole host of actors lend their voice to the iconic character.

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14. It broke syndication records

Perry Mason’s original run spanned from 1957 until 1966. However, several generations have had the opportunity to witness the lawyer win the court case time and time again, particularly in Portland, Oregon. You see, the CBS show enjoyed a syndication run on the city’s KPTV-TV that lasted a whopping 48 years.

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Finally ending in 2014, this astonishing run is said to be one of the longest in syndication history. And although it’s no longer a KPTV-TV staple, Perry Mason can still be viewed in all its glory elsewhere. The show regularly pops up on the Hallmark Channel, while it’s also been released on DVD.

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13. It helped to launch several careers

As you’d expect from a show that ran for nine years and 271 episodes, Perry Mason cast hundreds of actors during its run. And several went on to much bigger and better things after entering one of TV’s most famous courtrooms. Oscar winner Robert Redford, box office star Burt Reynolds and none other than Batman – aka Adam West – all showed up early on in their careers.

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But there’s plenty more where that came from. Perry Mason also gave a leg up to future stars Barbara Eden, Angie Dickinson, Ryan O’Neal, James Coburn and Cloris Leachman. And before he took on the career-defining role of Star Trek’s Spock, Leonard Nimoy helped to establish the CBS show as a breeding ground, too.

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12. Mason didn’t win every case

Perry Mason is renowned for being one of TV’s most successful lawyers. However, contrary to popular belief, he didn’t win every single case. The Perry Mason TV Show Book states that the character’s winning streak was disrupted in “The Case of the Witless Witness.” Here, Mason finds himself on the losing end of a “matter of civil law.”

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Mason is also forced to taste defeat in “The Case of the Terrified Typist” and “The Case of the Deadly Verdict.” In both examples, the lawyer’s clients are found to be guilty of murder, with the individual in the latter even given a death sentence. However, never one to give up, Mason eventually manages to come to the rescue on appeal.

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11. Perry Mason wasn’t his original name

It’s hard to imagine the seemingly impossible-to-beat attorney being named anything other than Perry Mason. But in actual fact, he was derived from a character that had a much less formidable-sounding moniker. Indeed, it seems fair to say that Ken Corning doesn’t quite have the same imposing ring to it.

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But who was this Ken Corning? Well, this was the name of the character that proved to be one of the most promising in Gardner’s early writing career. Like Mason, he was also a fiercely determined lawyer. And according to Dorothy B. Hughes, Gardner’s biographer, Corning eventually evolved into the man we all know and love today.

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10. Burr auditioned for another role

Burr might not have been the first – or indeed the last – man to assume the role of Perry Mason. But he soon made the character his own. And yet the actor, who at the time was renowned for his vast experience in the film noir genre, initially auditioned for another part entirely.

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Yes, Burr first went up for the part of Mason’s district attorney rival Hamilton Burger. However, the casting team were so impressed by his audition that they instead decided to offer him the much more substantial leading role. As a result, William Talman was then able to nab the part of Burger.

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9. Budget constraints put pay to a jury

Considering that the majority of Perry Mason episodes were filmed inside a courtroom, it seems slightly bizarre that a jury was very rarely featured. However, there are two notable explanations for why this had been the case. One, for example, was for creative purposes, while the other was entirely financial.

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The writing team believed that a case would have a more dramatic impact if it concluded with a confession from the accused, rather than a jury verdict. But it was also much more cost-effective to stay within the evidentiary or preliminary hearing stage. This was because the studio didn’t also have to fork out extra money for 12 actors to pose as jurors.

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8. There was only one episode in color

Even though color television was fast becoming the norm by the time Perry Mason concluded its nine-year run, the show remained a black-and-white affair. Well, apart from on one occasion. Yes, in the final season episode “The Case of the Twice-Told Twist,” audiences finally got to see the attorney in all of his colorful glory.

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This particular episode was meant to be a trial run for a tenth season, which would’ve been shot in color. However, viewers were robbed of the chance to enjoy such a radical visual shift. For Perry Mason’s home network of CBS decided that the show had run its course before filming began.

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7. Raymond Burr went on a diet for the role

Raymond Burr sure cut a formidable figure in the courtroom during his nine-year run as Perry Mason. Indeed, with his broad-shouldered, more than 6 foot stature, the man sure looked like someone you didn’t want to mess with. However, when he got the part, Burr actually had an even more imposing presence.

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Having pipped approximately 50 other actors to the part, Burr was asked by producers to shed more than a few pounds in time for the show’s first episode. The then-40-year-old duly obliged, embarking on a crash diet that would put Christian Bale to shame. However, Burr still weighed in at 210 pounds when he first rocked up to the set.

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6. There was a flop ’70s revival

After canceling Perry Mason in 1966, CBS then decided to bring it back just seven years later. However, the network would perhaps have been better off waiting a little longer for the nostalgia factor to kick in. The New Perry Mason proved to be a flop with both critics and audiences alike.

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In fact, while the original lasted nine years, the revival could only make it to 15 episodes before getting kicked to the curb. Of course, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to recapture the magic of the original. Not only was there an entirely different cast, the show was also given a brand-new theme tune.

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5. Mason’s swanky cars came from a sponsorship deal

Perry Mason had the kind of swanky vehicle collection that would make any car enthusiast green with envy. Barely an episode went by in the first season without the character driving a Cadillac convertible or Ford Skyliner. But it wasn’t necessarily the earnings he received as an unbeatable attorney that helped him attain such wheels.

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Audiences probably weren’t aware at the time, but Mason’s vehicles of choice were an early example of product placement. Producers, you see, had negotiated a sponsorship deal with the likes of GM and Ford. These would both boost the show’s coffers and beam the manufacturer’s cars into millions of homes each week.

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4. Perry Mason’s name was borrowed

Author Gardner may have used his legal background to conjure up all of Perry Mason’s fascinating cases. But he looked elsewhere to give the eponymous lawyer his name. In fact, the City of Temecula website reported that a copy of an old magazine was responsible for the character’s memorable moniker.

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As a boy, Gardner had been a keen subscriber to Youth’s Companion, an American magazine aimed at kids. The company behind its publication was known as Perry Mason and Company. Gardner believed that this was the perfect name for his crusading lawyer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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3. Burr and Mason had something in common

We might not have been given much insight into Perry Mason’s early backstory. But we do know that the character shares something in common with the man who portrayed him. Indeed, during World War II, both Mason and Burr spent time in the Pacific while serving in the U.S. Navy.

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In real life, Burr was eventually sent home after being wounded in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. In the fictional world, Mason is revealed to have served on a minesweeper alongside one of his defendants. Audiences learn about this intriguing fact in the fourth season episode “The Case of the Misguided Missile.”

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2. William Talman got into trouble with the law for real

Hamilton Burger, the district attorney for Los Angeles County, was played by William Talman. And the actor found himself involved with the law for real in 1960, after he was arrested at a Tinseltown bash. Talman was accused of indecent activity at the party and was hit with a suspension from the program by producers.

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CBS executives then went even further by dismissing Talman for a violation of the morals clause included in his contract. However, in a fightback that would make his on-screen rival proud, the star eventually managed to clear his name. As a result, Talman was able to resume playing the character that launched him to fame.

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1. There were several early movies

As well as the original novels and the radio series, Perry Mason also hit the big screen before making it to television. Warren William was the first man to assume the part of the titular lawyer in 1934’s The Case of the Howling Dog. The actor reprised the role in three further movies before handing over the reins.

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Ricardo Cortez was the second actor to portray Mason, appearing in the 1936 feature The Case of the Black Cat. However, author Gardner certainly wasn’t a fan and had previously done everything in his powers to try and prevent Cortez’s casting. No doubt much to Gardner’s satisfaction, Donald Woods was given the job a year later for The Case of the Stuttering Bishop.

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