Perry Mason: About the Show

America's Favorite Television Lawyer
Perry Mason is the most successful and longest-running lawyer series on American television. The series debuted on September 21, 1957 with The Case of the Restless Redhead, guest starring Whitney Blake.

The episode was based on a 1954 novel by the show's creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, who was also an attorney. The premiere episode introduced millions of viewers to Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, and Ray Collins in roles that would forever define their acting careers.

Since July 2006, the original Perry Mason episodes have slowly been released by CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount). Each season has been released in two volumes of approximately nineteen episodes each. Fans who enjoyed the show in syndication will be pleasantly surprised by additional scenes contained in the DVD versions. The original episodes were 53 minutes long—up to ten minutes were cut to accommodate commercials in the rerun versions. If you ever wondered why an episode didn't make sense, it's probably because critical scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

The Case of the Missing Button
Original Air Date: September 24, 1964
William Hopper, Raymond Burr, Anthony Eisley, Mike Mazurki
and Claire Wilcox as Button Blake

Erle Stanley Gardner
The prolific writer used many pen names, including A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, and Les Tillray.

Erle Stanley Gardner
Creator of Perry Mason

Erle Stanley Gardner
American Lawyer and Author

In 1923, lawyer and fledgling writer Erle Stanley Gardner submitted one of his novels to a popular pulp magazine. It was so awful that the magazine’s prankish staff proffered it to the circulation director as a joke. They laid it on thick, proposing the novel as a featured story worthy of a special publicity campaign. Thinking his staff had gone mad, the circulation director bounced the manuscript back, accompanied by a scathing memo that ripped Gardner’s novel to shreds. One of his kinder comments read: "this plot has whiskers like Spanish moss."

After the laughs, Erle Stanley Gardner’s novel was mailed back, along with a boiler-plate rejection letter. In a twist of fate, the circulation director’s note was included by mistake, exposing Gardner to the brutal truth. Many writers might have thrown in the towel at that point, but Gardner rose to the challenge. He reworked the story until his fingers were literally bleeding, and sent it back. Impressed that Gardner had taken the criticism to heart, the magazine bought the story, thus launching the writing career of the author who would go on to create the most memorable attorney in crime fiction history.

Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale
Working Hard in Perry's Office

Perry Mason and Della Street
Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. And who besides Barbara Hale could fill the shoes of his faithful private secretary, Della Street?

Yet ironically, neither actor was the first choice for these career-defining roles. Popular character actor and My Three Sons patriarch Fred MacMurray was originally tapped as Perry Mason, but eventually turned it down.

Erle Stanley Gardner offered the role of Miss Street to the show’s attractive executive producer, Gail Patrick Jackson. She declined, but hand-picked Barbara Hale for the role based on a favorable screen test audition.

Raymond Burr was initially considered for the role of Hamilton Burger, but made a deal with producers to audition for the Perry Mason role as well. On the day of the audition, Erle Stanley Gardner was so impressed with Raymond Burr’s portrayal of the fictional lawyer, he jumped to his feet in excitement—he had found his Perry Mason!

Raymond Burr Screen Test
Perry Mason Audition (1956)

William Hopper
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten

Detective Paul Drake
William Hopper

Handsome William Hopper came to the attention of Perry Mason producers when he, along with scores of other actors, auditioned for the title role. When Raymond Burr was selected as Perry Mason, the role of Detective Paul Drake was given to William Hopper. He often remarked that he would probably not have done justice to the demanding role, and agreed that Raymond Burr was a perfect choice for the celebrated attorney.

In 1959, William Hopper was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series. Just as Raymond Burr defined the role of Perry Mason, William Hopper will always be remembered as Paul Drake.

He retired from acting after the show ended in 1966, though he did appear (uncredited) as a judge in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge in 1970. Sadly, William Hopper succumbed that same year due to complications from a stroke. He was just 55.

Perry Mason Loses!
May the record reflect that Perry Mason did indeed lose three cases over the course of nine seasons—a record any lawyer would envy. The losses were: The Case of the Witless Witness, The Case of the Terrified Typist, and The Case of the Deadly Verdict.

Extra! Extra! Burger Defeats Mason
The Case of the Deadly Verdict

District Attorney Hamilton Burger
William Talman

The New York Times referred to his character as “the built-in loser,” but in real life William Talman was an accomplished director and screenwriter. He also enjoyed a successful career as a stage, film, and television actor before he went on to portray hot-tempered L.A. District Attorney Hamilton Burger.

Erle Stanley Gardner based his volatile Burger character on the cranky district attorneys who vexed him as a young lawyer. Unlike most of his peers, Erle Stanley Gardner passed the California state bar exam without graduating from law school. He had attended the Valparaiso University School of Law for one month in Indiana, then pursued a legal education on his own after moving to California.

In the television series William Talman portrayed Mason’s adversary as a likeable character. This pleased Gardner so much that he once remarked, “Bill Talman is really a wonder. He actually looks as if he expects to win a case.”

Although William Talman and Raymond Burr played rivals on the show, they were close friends behind the scenes. When William Talman was fired from the show in 1960, Raymond Burr campaigned tirelessly and successfully for his friend’s reinstatement.

Ray Collins
Veteran Film Star

Lieutenant Arthur Tragg
Ray Collins

A working actor from the age of 13, Ray Collins had more than 50 movies under his belt when he joined the cast as hard-working, resolute Lieutenant Tragg. At 67, he was the oldest of the Perry Mason players.

Generous with his experience and knowledge, Ray Collins was known to purposely blow his lines just to help struggling guest actors feel more at ease during big scenes. Viewers could always count on Lieutenant Tragg to show up like clockwork at crime scenes and to periodically threaten to have Perry disbarred. Though he talked tough, Tragg harbored a deep respect and admiration for the brilliant lawyer.

Ray Collins was a regular cast member for six years, until he became very ill with a lung condition in 1964. Though he was credited during the 1964-65 season, Ray Collins appeared for the last time in "The Case of the Capering Camera" which aired on January 16, 1964. The producers continued to include Collins in the credits to assure the actor that he would have a job to return to if his health rebounded. Sadly that never happened. Ray Collins died of emphysema at age 75. As it was impossible to replace such a beloved character, Wesley Lau joined the cast as Lieutenant Andy Anderson and Richard Anderson finished out the series as Lieutenant Steve Drumm.

The Perry Mason Theme Song
Fred Steiner's "Park Avenue Beat"
The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra

Watch Perry Mason on DVD
Perry Mason Complete Episodes

I have most of these episodes recorded on tape, but they’re crudely edited and many are missing critical scenes. Don’t even get me started about the tacky late-night 900-number commercials! These DVD sets are mastered from the original film elements and are complete 52-minute versions in glorious black and white.

It often puzzled me why some of the episodes didn’t make sense. I’ve watched each of these Perry Mason DVDs as they’ve been released, and have discovered several scenes for the very first time. They were ruthlessly cut from the original shows to accommodate too many commercials. Once you see the uncut episodes, you’ll never go back to the inferior, botched versions.

Perry Mason: The Complete Series
Produced by Paisano Productions

Perry Mason DVDs were released in this order, which kept fans anxious for more with each new volume. Now you can purchase the entire set!

Season 1, Volume 1: July 11, 2006
Season 1, Volume 2: November 21, 2006
Season 2, Volume 1: June 19, 2007
Season 2, Volume 2: November 13, 2007
Season 3, Volume 1: August 19, 2008
Season 3, Volume 2: December 2, 2008
Season 4, Volume 1: June 9, 2009
Season 4, Volume 2: December 8, 2009
Season 5, Volume 1: April 20, 2010
Season 5, Volume 2: November 16, 2010
Season 6, Volume 1: October 4, 2011
Season 6, Volume 2: November 22, 2011
Season 7, Volume 1: August 21, 2012
Season 7, Volume 2: October 23, 2012
Season 8, Volume 1: November 27, 2012
Season 8, Volume 2: January 15, 2013
Season 9, Volume 1: June 11, 2013
Season 9, Volume 2: August 13, 2013

Perry Mason TV Show

Perry Mason Phone Number
Here's a bit of trivia. Perry Mason's office phone number is Madison 5-1190. Della Street's home phone number is Hollywood 2-1799.

Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Edition
Perry Mason fans won't want to miss this 4-DVD set featuring 12 exciting episodes, each introduced by Barbara Hale.

Guest stars include Robert Redford, Barbara Bain, Leonard Nimoy, James Coburn, Bette Davis, and Adam West. The set features never-before-seen items including Raymond Burr's original screen tests, archived CBS news footage, cast interviews and a photo gallery.

Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Episode List

The 50th Anniversary Edition features these Perry Mason episodes: The Case of the Wary Wildcatter, The Case of the Treacherous Toupée, The Case of the Envious Editor, The Case of the Barefaced Witness, The Case of the Counterfeit Crank, The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe, The Case of Constant Doyle, The Case of the Deadly Verdict, The Case of the Bountiful Beauty, The Case of the Twice Told Twist, The Case of the Dead Ringer, The Case of the Final Fadeout.

The Case of the Missing Button
Raymond Burr and Mike Mazurki

Keep Calm and Watch Perry
Unique Gift Ideas for Perry Mason Fans
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Keep Calm and Watch Perry Coffee Mugs
See the Entire Keep Calm and Watch Perry Collection

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