Perry Mason (TV series)

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Perry Mason
Perry Mason Title Screen.png
title card
Created by Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
Developed by Paisano Productions
Starring Raymond Burr
Barbara Hale
William Hopper
William Talman
Ray Collins
Wesley Lau
Richard Anderson
Theme music composer Fred Steiner
Opening theme "Park Avenue Beat"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 9
No. of episodes 271 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Gail Patrick Jackson
Producer(s) Ben Brady
Herbert Hirschman
Seeleg Lester
Art Seid
Arthur Marks
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 53 minutes (original) ~44 minutes (some syndication versions) ~95 minutes (TV movies)
Production company(s) TCF Television Productions, Inc.
Paisano Productions
CBS Productions (original series)
Intermedia Entertainment Company (1985-1986)
Strathmore Productions (1985-1988)
The Fred Silverman Company (1987-1995, TV movies only)
Dean Hargrove Productions (1988-1995, TV movies only)
Viacom Productions (1985-1995, TV movies only)
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Original channel CBS
Picture format Black-and-white
Color (one episode)
Audio format Monaural
Original run September 21, 1957 (1957-09-21)[1] – May 22, 1966 (1966-05-22)[2]

Perry Mason is an American dramatized court show produced by Paisano Productions that ran from September 1957 to May 1966 on CBS. The title character, portrayed by Raymond Burr, is a fictional Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who originally appeared in detective fiction by Erle Stanley Gardner. Many episodes are based on stories written by Gardner, others are based on characters created by him. At one time, the show was "television's most successful and longest-running lawyer series."[3] Another series, The New Perry Mason, starring Monte Markham, ran from 1973 to 1974, and 30 made-for-TV movies aired from 1985 to 1995, with Burr returning as Mason in 26 of them.


Each episode's format is essentially the same: the first half of the show usually depicts a prospective murder victim as being deserving of homicide, often with Perry's client publicly threatening to kill the victim; the body is found (often by Perry and his private investigator, Paul Drake, played by William Hopper or with his secretary Della Street, played by Barbara Hale, who through circumstance happen to stumble upon the body) surrounded by clues pointing to Perry's client. Perry's client is charged with murder, but in the second-half courtroom setting, Perry establishes his client's innocence by dramatically demonstrating the guilt of another character.[4] The murderer nearly always breaks down and confesses to the crime in the courtroom – if not on the witness stand, then in the arms of the bailiff, who blocks the murderer's effort to escape into the hallway.

In most episodes, the identity of the guilty party is uncovered without an actual trial being held. Instead, this occurs at the preliminary hearing stage, in which the district attorney is only required to produce enough evidence to convince the judge that the defendant should be bound over for trial. (This spared the production company the expense of hiring twelve extras to play jurors.[5] It also compressed the time element, since a preliminary exam usually takes place within weeks of an arraignment, while a full blown murder trial might take a year to get to court.) During this stage, other malefactors – blackmailers, frauds, forgers, etc. – are frequently forced into confessions by Mason's relentless and clever questioning, and the real killer is exposed. (Drake would often rush into the courtroom at this point with vital information or evidence to turn the tables on the prosecution in the nick of time.) It was common for the camera to zoom in on the faces of the potentially guilty (visibly uncomfortable in their seats and usually guilty of other crimes) as Mason slowly but surely moves to the climactic identification of the real murderer, who confesses, often to the accompaniment of an orchestral score, followed by a fade to black as the show went to commercial. In the closing scene (the epilogue), the characters often gathered together to discuss how the case was solved. Occasionally, Mason invites District Attorney Hamilton Burger (played by William Talman) and Police Lieutenant Arthur Tragg (played by Ray Collins) to join them.

Scattered throughout the run were episodes that would take place beyond Burger's jurisdiction as Los Angeles District Attorney. In 1960, when William Talman, who played Hamilton Burger, was suspended for allegedly violating the morals clause in his contract, several assistant prosecutors were seen in court. Talman had attended a party at which he was charged with having engaged in indecent activities.[6] He was later acquitted, and largely through the efforts of Burr, Talman was reinstated to the show.[6]

Burr and actor Ralph Clanton on the premiere episode of the show in 1957.
Burr with Robert Bray, 1962.


Disappointed with the six Perry Mason films released by Warner Bros. between 1934 and 1937, and the radio series broadcast on CBS Radio from 1943 to 1955, Erle Stanley Gardner sought to take a more proactive role in any future adaptations of his novels. He set up his own production company, Paisano Productions, which would produce the Perry Mason TV series from its beginning in 1957 to its cancellation in 1966.[7] The Lady Justice statue (with Blindfold) is the Best Known Icon for the Perry Mason series.

William Hopper auditioned for the role of Perry Mason, and Raymond Burr auditioned for the role of Mason's rival, district attorney Hamilton Burger. Due to Burr's history of playing thugs and villains, he was not initially considered for the lead role, but he was eventually granted the chance to audition for Mason as well. It was Gardner himself who insisted that Burr be cast as Mason. Hopper was later cast as Mason's friend and private detective, Paul Drake. Hopper's audition as Perry Mason, along with Burr's auditions for Burger and Mason, were included as special features on the 2008 "50th Anniversary Edition" Perry Mason DVD set.[8]

Numerous actors famous for past and future roles in film and television made guest appearances on the show, including Barbara Bain, Robert Redford, James Coburn, Adam West, Burt Reynolds, Leonard Nimoy, Bette Davis, Ryan O'Neal, Dick Clark, Lee Meriwether, Lee Van Cleef, Fay Wray, Barbara Eden, Robert Armstrong, Elisha Cook, Jr., Tom Conway, Barton MacLane, Angie Dickinson, Brian Donlevy, George Takei, Paul Winfield, Louise Fletcher, James Hong, Norman Fell, Alan Hale, Jr., DeForest Kelley, Cloris Leachman, George Kennedy, June Lockhart, Bill Mumy, Gary Lockwood, and Keye Luke.[9]

Among the actors appearing as judges were John Gallaudet, S. John Launer (the father of Dale Launer, who wrote My Cousin Vinny), Bill Zuckert, Morris Ankrum, Frank Wilcox, Willis Bouchey, and Kenneth MacDonald, well known for his appearances as a villain in Three Stooges shorts. Connie Cezon, who had a recurring role as Gertrude "Gertie" Lade, Perry's receptionist, had also appeared in a number of Three Stooges short films. After the series ended, several of the actors who played different character roles during the series worked for Jack Webb in the 1967–70 Dragnet series. Erle Stanley Gardner played the judge in the last episode of the original series.

The show's theme music, "Park Avenue Beat" by Fred Steiner, is one of television's most recognizable themes.[10]

The series set a precedent for future mystery series in being the first detective show to feature either a tape or chalk outline to mark the spot where the murder victim's body had been found.[citation needed] This first appeared in the episode "The Case of the Perjured Parrot." However, Gardner used this idea in a much earlier book, Double Or Quits (1941) written under his pen name of A. A. Fair.[11]

All but one of the episodes in the series were filmed in black and white. The episode "The Case of the Twice-Told Twist", an episode heavily influenced by Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, was the sole exception. (Dickens did not receive screen credit.)

In the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee, during questioning by Senator Al Franken, Sotomayor said that watching the series had made her want to grow up to be a prosecutor. Franken noted that the prosecutor lost all the cases on the series, but one.[12] Subsequent research by CNN found that the prosecutor won two cases against Mason, and Mason himself lost in some form or manner in at least three cases.[13]

May the record reflect that Perry Mason did lose three cases of almost 300 – a record any lawyer would envy, especially since he got one of his losses reversed on appeal. His losses were: "The Case of the Witless Witness," "The Case of the Deadly Verdict," and "The Case of the Terrified Typist."[14]

  • The Case of the Witless Witness-Mason loses a civil case-yet ends up defending the judge on a murder charge.[15]
  • The Case of the Deadly Verdict-Despite losing in the beginning Mason helps expose the real killer.[16]
  • The Case of the Terrified Typist-Mason's client is exposed as an imposter.[17]

Mason also loses a civil case at the beginning of "The Case of the Dead Ringer," partly due to being framed for witness tampering. He and his staff then spend the rest of the episode trying to prove his innocence. They eventually do, and—although this is not stated explicitly—the verdict of the civil case is presumably either overturned or declared a mistrial. In a July 15, 2009, interview on National Public Radio's program All Things Considered, Barbara Hale claimed that all of Mason's lost cases were declared mistrials off the air.[18] Mason did lose, at least by inference, a capital case off screen, in "The Case of the Desperate Daughter," where he and Della Street are first seen preparing a last minute appeal for a "Mr. Hudson", who has an impending date with the gas chamber. Nothing more is heard of this client. In "The Case of the Ruinous Road" it seems that Hamilton Burger will actually win a murder case against Perry Mason who doesn't put up much of a defense for his client {in fact it is part of Mason's plan to trap the real murderer!} In "The Case of the Careless Kitten" is most unusual in that Mason exposes a murderer with the help of a cat and a old postcard-without even going to court!

When asked by a fan why Perry Mason won every case, Burr told her, "But madam, you see only the cases I try on Saturday."[3] on The ABC Comedy Hour presentation, The Kopycats in 1972, Burr reprised his Perry Mason role for some short comedy sketches spoofing the Mason series.


  • Perry Mason – defense attorney (played by Raymond Burr)
  • Della Street – Mason's confidential secretary (played by Barbara Hale)
  • Paul Drake – private investigator (played by William Hopper)
  • Hamilton Burger – District Attorney (played by William Talman)
  • Lieutenant Arthur Tragg – Police homicide detective (played by Ray Collins)
  • Lieutenant Andy Anderson – A police homicide detective, who appeared from 1963-65 as Ray Collins missed many episodes because of emphysema (played by Wesley Lau)
  • Lieutenant Steve Drumm – Another police homicide detective who appeared in the final season after the death of Ray Collins (played by Richard Anderson)
  • Dr. Hoxie – "Autopsy surgeon" (medical examiner) (played by Michael Fox)
  • Sgt. Brice – (played by Lee Miller)
  • Gertrude "Gertie" Glade – Mason's frequently mentioned but seldom-seen receptionist (played by Connie Cezon)


The series was set in Los Angeles, California, and often included real-life street names. In the early years of the series, filming would be done on location in and around Culver City and a few downtown locales. In one episode, Drake gets out of a car on Wilshire Boulevard and goes into an apartment building; in the distant background, the lights and cameras from the set filming an episode of Peter Gunn are visible. There are numerous sweep shots of the iconic Los Angeles City Hall, the Hall of Justice building (presently being renovated) and the Los Angeles County Court House. All these buildings are still standing.

Although his office was located in Downtown Los Angeles, the phone number was MAdison 5-1190 (625–1190). The MAdison or 62 exchange covers Hollywood and Huntington Park. Mason's office was Suite 904 in the Brent Building.[19] Although the Brent Building was fictional, the series used the entrance and the building exterior of the former Superior Oil Company Building (completed in 1956), which was registered in 2003 as a historical landmark and is now The Standard Downtown LA.


Broadcast history[edit]

  • Saturday at 7:30-8:30 PM on CBS: September 21, 1957—May 26, 1962
  • Thursday at 8:00—9:00 PM on CBS: September 27, 1962—May 16, 1963; September 24, 1964—May 13, 1965
  • Thursday at 9:00-10:00 PM on CBS: September 26, 1963—May 21, 1964
  • Sunday at 9:00-10:00 PM on CBS: September 12, 1965—May 22, 1966


  • October 1957-April 1958: Not in Top 30
  • October 1958-April 1959: #19/27.5
  • October 1959-April 1960: #10/28.3
  • October 1960-April 1961: #16/24.9
  • October 1961-April 1962: #5/27.3
  • October 1962-April 1963: #23/22.4
  • October 1963-April 1964: #26/22.1
  • October 1964-April 1965: Not in Top 30
  • October 1965-April 1966: Not in Top 30


The original series was a staple in syndication, running for many years on local television stations (including WGN-TV in the 1990s when it was a Chicago-based superstation), TBS and on the Hallmark Channel. Originally, only 195 episodes (out of 271) were available to stations. These episodes included all of the first six seasons (except four from the sixth season where Raymond Burr only makes a brief appearance), four episodes of the seventh season and fourteen episodes of the ninth and final season including the final episode ("The Case of the Final Fade-Out"). It wasn't until the mid-1980s when TBS obtained the rights to the remaining episodes that these were also seen in syndication.

As of August 2014, the TV series is shown weekdays on both Me-TV and the Hallmark Movie Channel, as well as on local stations in various local markets. Portland, Oregon station KPTV aired reruns of Perry Mason weekdays during its noon time slot since 1966. This unprecedented run ended on September 4, 2012, when KPTV ceased airing the show. It continued to be aired on KPDX, sister station of KPTV, in the 8 AM time slot through September 12, 2014.[20][21] The series was distributed CBS Films, then Viacom Enterprises, Paramount Domestic Television and CBS Paramount Domestic Television, and now by CBS Television Distribution.

CBS posted full 60-minute episodes on its website from the first and second seasons for viewing.[22]

DVD releases[edit]

CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released all nine seasons of the 1957-66 Raymond Burr edition of Perry Mason on DVD in Region 1. Each season has been released in two-volume half-season sets because each season of Perry Mason contains considerably more material than a modern TV series. The first season of Perry Mason featured 39 episodes, Season 3 had 26 episodes, and all other seasons had either 28 or 30 episodes; this compares with 22 for a typical modern series. In addition, Perry Mason episodes are 50 to 53 minutes long, as opposed to a typical running time of 43 minutes for a modern 1-hour TV show release. Season 9, Volume 1 was released on June 11, 2013.[23] Season 9, Volume 2 was released on August 13, 2013.[24]

In April 2008, a special 50th Anniversary DVD set was released with selected episodes from the 3rd through 9th seasons, as well as various bonus material that included the first of the 1980s Perry Mason TV movies (Perry Mason Returns), archived screen tests done for the 1957 TV series, interviews with the stars over the years, etc.[8]

The DVDs contain the original full-length version of each episode (with one exception: the second season episode "Fancy Figures" had about a minute of dialog missing in the Region 1 DVD release; later issues included the full unedited version), while re-runs broadcast in syndication have usually been heavily edited down to allow for more time for commercials.

In Region 2, Paramount Home Entertainment has released the first three seasons in complete sets on DVD in the UK.

In Region 4, Paramount Home Entertainment has released the first two seasons on DVD in Australia/New Zealand. These releases are similar to the Region 1 releases whereby each season has been released in two-volume sets.

DVD Name Episodes Release dates
Season 1, Volume 1 19 July 11, 2006
Season 1, Volume 2 20 November 21, 2006
Season 2, Volume 1 15 June 19, 2007
Season 2, Volume 2 15 November 13, 2007
50th Anniversary Edition 12 April 8, 2008
Season 3, Volume 1 12 August 19, 2008
Season 3, Volume 2 14 December 2, 2008
Season 4, Volume 1 16 June 9, 2009
Season 4, Volume 2 12 December 8, 2009
Season 5, Volume 1 15 April 20, 2010
Season 5, Volume 2 15 November 16, 2010
Season 6, Volume 1 14 October 4, 2011
Season 6, Volume 2 14 November 22, 2011
Season 7, Volume 1 15 August 21, 2012
Season 7, Volume 2 15 October 23, 2012
Season 8, Volume 1 15 November 27, 2012
Season 8, Volume 2 15 January 15, 2013
Season 9, Volume 1 15 June 11, 2013
Season 9, Volume 2 15 August 13, 2013

Series revival[edit]

An unsuccessful attempt to re-create the series was made in 1973. Starring Monte Markham and Brett Somers, The New Perry Mason only lasted half a season.[25]

Television films[edit]

Raymond Burr with special guest star Diana Muldaur in Perry Mason and the Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991)

Television producer Dean Hargrove resurrected the Mason character in a series of television films for NBC beginning in 1985. Hargrove was able to bring back the two then-surviving major stars, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale (reprising their roles as Mason and Della Street, respectively) for the first telefilm, Perry Mason Returns, in which Mason resigns his position as an appellate court judge to defend Street on a murder charge. William Katt, Hale's real-life son, was cast as private investigator Paul Drake, Jr., the son of private investigator Paul Drake played by William Hopper in the original television series. Katt appeared in the first nine movies, after which he left and was replaced by William R. Moses as Ken Malansky, a law student who works with Mason investigating his cases. In Moses' first appearance as Malansky, Perry defended him on a murder charge. Fred Steiner's theme music was re-recorded by famed mystery music composer Dick DeBenedictis; Steiner himself arranged the theme at DeBenedictis's request.[26]

A total of 30 movies were made between 1985 and 1995, with Burr starring in 26. After Burr died in 1993, Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook starred in the final four episodes from 1993 to 1995. These post-Burr films were entitled A Perry Mason Mystery with Sorvino starring in the first film and Holbrook starring in the remaining three. Their characters, Anthony Caruso, and Bill "Wild Bill" McKenzie, respectively, are both lawyers and introduced as close friends of Mason. Both Barbara Hale and William R. Moses reprised their roles for all four films (although in the final film in 1995, Hale only contributed a small cameo with Holland Taylor substituting for her.) Instead of killing off Mason for these films, his absence in these films was explained by having him out of town (for example, in the first film, The Case of the Wicked Wives, Perry's absence is explained by having him away doing business in Washington D.C while Sorvino's character uses his office for a few weeks.)

  1. Perry Mason Returns (1985.12.01)
  2. Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun (1986.05.25)
  3. Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star (1986.11.09)
  4. Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987.02.23)
  5. Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987.05.24)
  6. Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987.10.04)
  7. Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987.11.15)
  8. Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988.02.28)
  9. Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988.05.15)
  10. Perry Mason: The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989.02.12)
  11. Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder (1989.04.09)
  12. Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989.11.19)
  13. Perry Mason: The Case of the Poisoned Pen (1990.01.21)
  14. Perry Mason: The Case of the Desperate Deception (1990.03.11)
  15. Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer (1990.05.20)
  16. Perry Mason: The Case of the Defiant Daughter (1990.09.30)
  17. Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991.01.06)
  18. Perry Mason: The Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991.02.11)
  19. Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin (1991.05.14)
  20. Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991.09.24)
  21. Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Framing (1992.03.01)
  22. Perry Mason: The Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992.05.05)
  23. Perry Mason: The Case of the Heartbroken Bride (1992.10.30)
  24. Perry Mason: The Case of the Skin-Deep Scandal (1993.02.19)
  25. Perry Mason: The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host (1993.05.21)
  26. Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993.11.29)

Perry Mason Mysteries (1993–95)

  1. A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Wicked Wives (1993.12.17) (starring Paul Sorvino)
  2. A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle (1994.05.10) (starring Hal Holbrook)
  3. A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor (1994.11.09) (starring Hal Holbrook)
  4. A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995.04.10) (starring Hal Holbrook)

DVD releases[edit]

On December 31, 2013, Paramount released Perry Mason - The Movie Collection: Volume 1, featuring the first six post-series tele-films.[27] Volume 4 was released in October 2014.

DVD set TV-movies Release date
Volume 1 1–6 December 31, 2013
Volume 2 7–12 May 13, 2014
Volume 3 13–18 August 5, 2014
Volume 4 19–24 October 7, 2014
Volume 5 TBA

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kelleher; Merrill (1987). "The Case of the Restless Redhead". The Perry Mason TV Show Book.
  2. ^ Kelleher; Merrill (1987). "The Case of the Final Fadeout". The Perry Mason TV Show Book.
  3. ^ a b Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (1979). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946–Present. New York: Ballantine. ISBN 0-345-28248-5. OCLC 4496779. 
  4. ^ Leitch, Thomas (2005). Perry Mason. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0-8143-3121-1. It is never enough for Mason to establish a reasonable doubt of his client's guilt; he must clear the client absolutely by pinning the guilt on someone else, almost always by extracting a confession. 
  5. ^ Kelleher; Merrill (1987). "Plenty of Judges but No Jury". The Perry Mason TV Show Book.
  6. ^ a b Kelleher; Merrill (1987). "Innocent as Charged". The Perry Mason TV Show Book.
  7. ^ Kelleher; Merrill (1987). The History of the Show: On to TV, and Lawyers in Love. The Perry Mason TV Show Book.
  8. ^ a b Perry Mason - 50th Anniversary Edition : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video by Stuart Galbraith IV, DVD Talk, April 8, 2008
  9. ^ Perry Mason TV Series: Famous People
  10. ^ Bank, Ed (May 6, 2001). "Top TV songs are woven into the fabric of our lives". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 
  11. ^ Fair, A. A. (1941). Double Or Quits. New York: W. Morrow. OCLC 3743209. The coroner ... brought out a piece of chalk and said, 'All right, now mark there on the floor right where the body was lying. Make a little diagram. Mark the position of his head, of his feet, and of his arms.' 
  12. ^ CNN coverage of Senate confirmation hearing coverage of Sonia Sotomayor, July 15, 2009. Viewed July 15, 2009.
  13. ^ Kelleher; Merrill (1987). "Perry Mason Loses Case!". The Perry Mason TV Show Book.
  14. ^ "Lawyers in the Movies". WendyTech. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Synapois
  17. ^ Synapois
  18. ^ "'Della Street' On Perry Mason's Sole Loss". All Things Considered. NPR. July 16, 2009. 
  19. ^ "The Case of the Fanciful Frail". Perry Mason. Season 9, Episode 24. Original airdate: March 27, 1966.
  20. ^ Turnquist, Kristi (August 27, 2012). "Breaking 'Perry Mason' news: Reruns moving from KPTV to KPDX". The Oregonian. 
  21. ^ Turnquist, Kristi (September 16, 2014). "Case closed: After 48 years, 'Perry Mason' reruns end on Portland TV station". The Oregonian. 
  22. ^ "Perry Mason". CBS. 
  23. ^ Lambert, David (March 18, 2013). "Perry Mason - The Final Year! DVDs for 'The 9th Season, Volume 1' Have Been Scheduled". TV Shows on DVD. 
  24. ^ Lambert, David (May 13, 2013). "Perry Mason - The Gavel Bangs: Date Now Set for 'The 9th and Final Season, Volume 2'". TV Shows on DVD. 
  25. ^ "The New Perry Mason". IMDb. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  26. ^ Bond, Jeff (1999). The Music of Star Trek. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Publishing Company. ISBN 1-58065-012-0.
  27. ^

General references[edit]

External links[edit]