Erle Stanley Gardner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Erle Stanley Gardner
Erle Stanley Gardner.png
Gardner in 1966
Born (1889-07-17)July 17, 1889
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.[1]
Died March 11, 1970(1970-03-11) (aged 80)
Temecula, California, U.S.
Pen name Kyle Corning, A.A. Fair, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Robert Parr, Les Tillray
Occupation Lawyer, writer
Education Palo Alto High School (1909)
Valparaiso University School of Law (1 month)
Genres Detective fiction, true crime, travel writing
Notable work(s) Perry Mason
Cool and Lam
Doug Selby
Notable award(s) Grand Master Award, Mystery Writers of America
Edgar Award


Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889 – March 11, 1970) was an American lawyer and author of detective stories.[2] Best known for the Perry Mason series, he also published under the pseudonyms A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr.


Born in Malden, Massachusetts, Gardner graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1909, and received his only formal legal education at Valparaiso University School of Law in the state of Indiana. He attended law school for approximately one month, was suspended from school when his interest in boxing became a distraction, then settled in California where he became a self-taught attorney and passed the state bar exam in 1911. He opened his own law office in Merced, California, then worked for five years for a sales agency. In 1921, he returned to the practice of law, creating the firm of Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau and Gardner[3] in Ventura, California.[4]

In 1912, he wed Natalie Frances Talbert; they had a daughter, Grace. Gardner practiced at the Ventura firm until 1933, when The Case of the Velvet Claws was published. Much of that novel was set at the historic Pierpont Inn, which was just down the road from his law office.

Gardner gave up the practice of law to devote full-time to writing. In 1937 he moved to Temecula, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. On August 9, 1968 he married his long-time secretary Agnes Jean Bethell (1902–2002), the "real Della Street".[5]

Gardner, wife and friend Sam Hicks, Dutch Slough, Oakley CA, 1969.


He died on March 11, 1970, in Temecula, California.[2][6] His ashes were scattered over the Baja California Peninsula.[7]

Gardner's ranch was known as Rancho del Paisano at the time. It was variously described as being 700 acres (2.8 km2), 1,000 acres (4.0 km2), or 3,000 acres (12 km2) and was sold after his death to a Newport Beach couple. In 2001, the ranch was resold to the Pechanga Band of Indians, renamed as Great Oak Ranch and eventually joined to the Pechanga reservation.

In 2003, Temecula Valley Unified School District named a newly opened middle school after Gardner.


The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), 1953 U.S. paperback edition

Innovative and restless in his nature, Gardner was bored by the routine of legal practice, the only part of which he enjoyed was trial work and the development of trial strategy. In his spare time, he began to write for pulp magazines, which also fostered the early careers of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. His first story was published in 1923. He created many different series characters for the pulps, including the ingenious Lester Leith, a parody of the "gentleman thief" in the tradition of Raffles; and Ken Corning, a crusading lawyer who was the archetype of his most successful creation, the fictional lawyer and crime-solver Perry Mason, about whom he wrote more than eighty novels. With the success of Perry Mason, Gardner gradually reduced his contributions to the pulp magazines, gradually withdrawing from the pulps until the medium itself became extinct in the 1950s. Thereafter he still published a few short stories in the "glossies" such as Collier's, Sport's Afield, and Look.[8] However the majority of his postwar magazine writings were non-fiction articles on travel, Western history, and forensic science.

In his early years writing for the pulp magazine market, Gardner set himself a quota of 1,200,000 words a year.[9] (When asked why his heroes always defeated villains with the last bullet in their guns Gardner answered, "At three cents a word, every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has fifteen cents worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts".[10]) He was a two-finger typist, but later turned to dictating his stories to a team of secretaries. Gardner's public was a broad and international one, and included the English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who in 1949 only half facetiously called Gardner the best living American writer.[11]

Gardner also devoted thousands of hours to a project called "The Court of Last Resort", which he undertook with his many friends in the forensic, legal and investigative communities. The project sought to review and, if appropriate, to reverse, miscarriages of justice against possibly innocent criminal defendants who were originally convicted owing to poor legal representation; or to the inadequate, careless or malicious actions of police and prosecutors; or most especially, because of the abuse or misinterpretation of medical and other forensic evidence. The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category.[12]

The character of Perry Mason was portrayed in various Hollywood films of the 1930s and 40s, and a long-running radio program from 1943 to 1955. "When Erle Stanley Gardner was reluctant to allow CBS to transform Mason into a TV soap opera, (CBS) created The Edge of Night. For that latter enterprise, John Larkin, radio's best identified Mason, was cast as the protagonist-star, initially as a detective, eventually as an attorney, in a thinly veiled copy of Mason."[13]

Gardner also created characters for the radio programs Christopher London (1950), starring Glenn Ford, and A Life in Your Hands (1949–1952). "As on other Gardner-inspired narratives, someone else actually penned the scripts."[14]

Eventually Perry Mason became a long-running TV series with Raymond Burr as the title character. At the auditions to cast the parts, as Burr entered the room, Gardner shouted, “That’s him! That’s Mason!”, changing the course of Burr's career forever.[15] Gardner himself made an uncredited appearance as a judge in the final episode of the original series titled "The Case of the Final Fade-Out." [16] In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mason was revived for a series of made-for-TV movies featuring surviving members of the original cast, including Burr and Barbara Hale as Mason's secretary Della Street.

Under the pen name A. A. Fair, Gardner wrote a series of novels about the private detective firm of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. He also wrote another noteworthy series of novels about District Attorney Doug Selby and his opponent, the rascally Alphonse Baker Carr. This series is an inversion of the motif of the Perry Mason novels, with prosecutor Selby being portrayed as the courageous and imaginative crime solver and his perennial antagonist A.B. Carr being a wily shyster whose clients are always "as guilty as hell".

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center currently archives Gardner's manuscripts. The library has constructed a miniaturized reproduction of his study room.[17]

Gardner held a lifelong fascination with Baja California and his written works became an authority on the early exploration of the Mexican peninsula. He used various modes of transportation to traverse Baja, including boat, oversized trucks, airplane and even helicopter.

In a real murder trial case in Arizona, the district attorney used The Case of the Curious Bride as the basis for his line of questioning. According to the Gardner Mystery Library (Walter J. Black, Inc.): "The Arizona murder trial was going badly for the district attorney. He knew the accused was guilty; but because of a quirk in the law, he had no hope for a conviction. Then, one day, the district attorney called the suspect's wife to the stand and started an unexpected line of questioning. When the judge demanded an explanation, the district attorney produced The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner. In it, he said, Perry Mason used the same questioning. The judge withdrew to his chambers, and when he returned, he allowed the district attorney to proceed with his ingenious approach. It changed the course of the trial and led to a verdict of 'Guilty.' "[citation needed]


Major mystery series[edit]

Terry Clane mysteries[edit]

  • Murder up my Sleeve (1937)[18]
  • The Case of the Backward Mule (1946)[18]

Gramps Wiggins mysteries[edit]

  • The Case of the Turning Tide (1941)[18]
  • The Case of the Smoking Chimney (1943)[18]

Other fiction[edit]

  • This is Murder (1935)[18]
  • The Clue of the Forgotten Murder (1935) (criminologist Sidney Griff)[18]
  • Over the Hump (1945; a different version of this novella is also included in The Case of the Murderer's Bride under the title "Death Rides a Boxcar")[18]
  • Two Clues (1947) (two novelets about Sheriff Bill Eldon, The Clue of the Runaway Blonde and The Clue of the Hungry Horse)[18] A third Eldon novelet, The Clue of the Screaming Woman, was published and reprinted in the 1979 anthology Ellery Queen's Secrets of Mystery.
  • The Case of the Musical Cow (1950)[18]
  • The Case of the Murderer's Bride (1969; includes various short stories and novelettes)[18]

Posthumous Collections (mostly reprints of stories originally printed in the pulps):

  • The Bird in the Hand (1969; includes five Lester Leith stories)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Lester Leith (1980; five Lester Leith stories, three duplicated from previous collection)[18]
  • Whispering Sands – Stories of Gold Fever and the Western Desert (1981; nine stories—seven feature Bob Zane)[18]
  • The Human Zero (1981; seven science fiction stories)[18]
  • Pay Dirt and Other Whispering Sands Stories of Gold Fever and the Western Desert (1983; nine Bob Zane stories)[18]
  • The Adventures of Paul Pry (nine Paul Pry stories)[18]
  • Dead Men's Letters (1990; a compilation of six Ed Jenkins novelettes)[18]
  • The Blonde in Lower Six (1990; a compilation of four Ed Jenkins stories)[18]
  • Honest Money (1991; the six Ken Corning stories)[18]
  • The Danger Zone and Other Stories (2004; ten miscellaneous stories)
  • The Casebook of Sidney Zoom (2006; ten Sidney Zoom stories)
  • All Detective Magazine (2009; seven stories originally published in All Detective Magazine in 1933)
  • The Exploits of the Patent Leather Kid (2010)



  • The Land of Shorter Shadows (1948)
  • Neighborhood Frontiers (1954)
  • Hunting the Desert Whale (1960)
  • Hovering Over Baja (1961)
  • The Hidden Heart of Baja (1962)
  • The Desert is Yours (1963)
  • The World of Water (1965)
  • Hunting Lost Mines by Helicopter (1965)
  • Off the Beaten Track in Baja (1967)
  • Gypsy Days on the Delta (1967)
  • Mexico's Magic Square (1968)
  • Drifting Down the Delta (1969)
  • Host With the Big Hat (1969)


  • The Court of Last Resort (1952) (revised and enlarged paperback edition in 1954)
  • Cops on Campus and Crime in the Streets (1970)

In popular culture[edit]

Gardner appears in William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, 1959, page 72. He is mentioned in relation to a psychotic disorder known as Bang-utot and thought related to Koto.

Erle Stanley Gardner's name is well-known among avid crossword puzzle solvers, due to his first name's containing an unusual pattern of common letters, and few other famous people have the name Erle. As of January 2012, he is noted for having the highest ratio (5.31) of mentions in the The New York Times crossword puzzle to mentions in the rest of the newspaper among all other people since 1993.[19]

In 2001 Huell Howser Productions, in association with KCET/Los Angeles, featured Gardner's Temecula Rancho del Paisano in California's Gold; the 30 minute program is available as a VHS videorecording.[20]


  1. ^ "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841–1910". New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "'The Fiction Factory'. Erle Stanley Gardner, Author of Mystery novels, Is Dead at 80". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-19. "As the best-selling American author of the century, Erle Stanley Gardner often ..." 
  3. ^ Senate, Richard. "Erle Stanley Gardner". Benton, Orr, Duval, & Buckingham. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Current Biography 1944, pp. 224–226
  5. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner Weds". New York Times. August 9, 1968. Retrieved 2013-12-19. "Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of fictional Perry Mason, married Agnes Jean Bethell, his secretary of 40 years, last night at the home of a former Nevada State ..." 
  6. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner, Author of Perry Mason Stories, Dies". Los Angeles Times. March 12, 1970. "Erle Stanley Gardner, whose Perry Mason mysteries made him the world's best selling author, died Wednesday at his ranch home at Temecula in Riverside County." 
  7. ^ Hughes, Dorothy Belle (1978) Erle Stanley Gardner: the case of the real Perry Mason, Morrow, ISBN 0-688-03282-6
  8. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner Bibliography". Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  9. ^ Hughes, Dorothy Belle (1978) Erle Stanley Gardner: the case of the real Perry Mason, pg. 13, Morrow, ISBN 0-688-03282-6
  10. ^ Maher, Jimmy (2014-06-05). "Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Stannard, Martin (1992) Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939-1966, p. 240, Norton, ISBN 0-393-03412-7
  12. ^ "Interesting Facts About Erle Stanley Gardner". Phantom Bookshop. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  13. ^ Cox, Jim, Radio Crime Fighters, 2002, pp. 199–201, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, ISBN 0-7864-1390-5
  14. ^ Cox, Jim, Radio Crime Fighters, 2002, pp. 10, 157, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, ISBN 0-7864-1390-5
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Perry Mason TV Series". Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  17. ^ Duffy, Jill; Rachel Howarth. "Law-Related Resources at the Harry Ransom Center". Jamail Center for Legal Research. Archived from the original on 2008-06-10. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Hubin, Allen J. (1984). Crime fiction, 1749–1980: a comprehensive bibliography. New York: Garland Pub. ISBN 0-8240-9219-8. 
  19. ^ Matt Gaffney (2012-01-27). "The Shortz List of Crossword Celebrities". Slate. Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  20. ^ OCLC 53175485

Further reading[edit]

  • Mundell, E. H. Erle Stanley Gardner: A Checklist. Kent State University Press, 1968. ISBN 0873380347.
  • Senate, Richard L. Erle Stanley Gardner's Ventura: Birthplace of Perry Mason. Ventura, California: Citation Press. ISBN 0-9640065-5-3.
  • Fugate, Francis L. & Roberta B. Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer: The Story Telling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner. New York, William Morrow & Co. 1980. ISBN 0-688-03701-1.
  • Hughes, Dorothy B.. Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason. New York, William Morrow & Co. 1978. ISBN 0-688-03282-6.
  • Johnston, Alva. The Case of Erle Stanley Gardner. New York, William Morrow & Co., 1947.

External links[edit]