Hamilton Burger

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William Talman (right) as Hamilton Burger, with Raymond Burr in the CBS-TV series Perry Mason (1957–66)

Hamilton Burger is the fictional Los Angeles district attorney (D.A.) in the long-running series of novels, films, and radio and television programs featuring Perry Mason, the fictional defense attorney created by Erle Stanley Gardner.


Hamilton Burger first appears in chapter 10 of Gardner's 1935 novel, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye, in which he is described as "a broad-shouldered, thick-necked individual with a close-cropped moustache". Gardner describes Burger in the cast of characters of that novel as an "honest but stubborn" D.A.[1] In chapter 15 of The Case of the Caretaker's Cat (1935), we learn that Burger's residential address is 3297 West Lakeside, and his phone number is Exposition 96949.[2]

Burger is one of literature's least successful district attorneys, and critics have suggested that he must have been the most incompetent lawyer in history, although his record against defense attorneys other than Mason is unknown. Burger's cases inevitably involved prosecuting the wrong person, who was defended by Mason, who, in the end, revealed the true criminal through a series of tactics that Burger characterized as courtroom tricks. Burger's bag of tricks was comparatively empty, chiefly comprising indignant exclamations of, "Incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial!" Once Mason had exposed the true perpetrator, Burger often joined in Mason's motion to the judge to dismiss the charges against Mason's client so that Burger could then charge the actual wrongdoer. A scene from the television series in which Mason consoles Burger after such a dismissal inspired a young Sonia Sotomayor to become a prosecutor.[3]

Television portrayal[edit]

Perry Mason[edit]

Burger was portrayed by William Talman in the long-running CBS-TV series Perry Mason (1957–66). Asked about how he felt about Burger losing to Mason week after week, Talman said, "Burger doesn't lose. How can a district attorney lose when he fails to convict an innocent person? Unlike a fist or gun fight, in court you can have a winner without having a loser. As a matter of fact Burger in a good many instances has joined Mason in action against unethical attorneys, lying witnesses, or any one else obstructing justice. Like any real-life district attorney, justice is Burger's main interest."[4]

Burger did defeat Mason twice on the television series: in "The Case of the Terrified Typist" (episode 1-38), and in "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" (episode 7-4),[5]:12369 a much-publicized episode that begins with Mason's client being sentenced to death.[6][7]

The character of Hamilton Burger temporarily disappeared from the TV series during the series' third season. Talman was fired by CBS March 18, 1960, hours after he entered a not-guilty plea to misdemeanor charges related to his presence at a party that was raided by police.[8][9] The schedule was immediately juggled to minimize Talman's presence on the show. "The Case of the Crying Cherub" (episode 3-20) debuts a pared-down title sequence that omits Talman; he is credited only in the four episodes he filmed before he was fired. Talman was defended by the show's executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson,[10] Raymond Burr[11] and others, but even dismissal of the charges in June[12] did not soften the network's position.[13] Patrick said that the role of Burger would not be recast, but that various actors would play assistant district attorneys.[14] CBS reinstated Talman only after Gardner himself spoke out, together with millions of viewers.[15][16]:71 Talman went back to work in December 1960,[17] and Burger returned in "The Case of the Fickle Fortune" (episode 4-15).

The New Perry Mason[edit]

In the short-lived CBS-TV series, The New Perry Mason (1973–74), Burger was played by Harry Guardino.[18]


In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2009, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor prefaced her remarks on the role of the prosecutor by saying that she was inspired by watching Perry Mason as a child. "I was influenced so greatly by a television show in igniting the passion that I had as being a prosecutor, and it was Perry Mason", Sotomayor said.[19]

In her 2013 memoir the Supreme Court justice wrote of the show's influence on her while she was growing up in a Bronx housing project.[20][a] Sotomayor granted that the defense attorney was the show's hero, "but my sympathies were not entirely monopolized by Perry Mason. I was fond of Burger, the prosecutor, too. I liked that he was a good loser, that he was more committed to finding the truth than to winning his case. If the defendant was truly innocent, he once explained, and the case was dismissed, then he had done his job because justice had been served."[21][b]


  1. ^ Nina Totenberg's NPR story on Sonia Sotomayor uses an excerpt from "The Case of the Prodigal Parent" (episode 1-36).[5]:35107
  2. ^ At the conclusion of "The Case of the Purple Woman" (episode 2-9), Burger congratulates Mason on another courtroom victory. When Della observes that he seems almost pleased with the outcome, Burger replies, "I am." Mason then says, "Della, there was an article in the Law Journal recently. Let me quote you the last paragraph: 'A well tried criminal case is a credit to all involved. There is no winning or no losing in the true administration of justice.' The article was signed, 'Hamilton Burger'."[5]:35155


  1. ^ Gardner, Erle Stanley (1935). The Case of the Counterfeit Eye. New York: William Morrow and Company. OCLC 1655952. 
  2. ^ Gardner, Erle Stanley (1935). The Case of the Caretaker's Cat. New York: William Morrow and Company. OCLC 1833522. 
  3. ^ CNN: Sotomayor: “Perry Mason” episode influenced her to become a prosecutor
  4. ^ Nogler, Pat (July 20, 1958). "An Open Case: Snooping Behind Scenes Pays Off". Pasadena Independent Star-News. 
  5. ^ a b c Davidson, Jim (2014). "The First TV Series (1957–1966)". The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice (e-book). ASIN B00OOELV1K. 
  6. ^ Adams, Val (September 8, 1963). "Astounding Event! Perry Mason Client Is Found Guilty—Other Items". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  7. ^ Kelleher, Brian; Merrill, Diana (1987). "The History of the Show: Perry Mason Loses Case!". The Perry Mason TV Show Book. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780312006693. Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  8. ^ Associated Press (March 14, 1960). "District Attorney of TV Show Is Arrested on Marijuana Charges". Ocala Star-Banner. Retrieved 2015-05-23. 
  9. ^ Associated Press (March 18, 1960). "Perry Mason's DA Foe Fired Without a Hearing". Big Spring Herald. 
  10. ^ Carroll, Harrison (March 19, 1960). "Behind the Scenes in Hollywood". The Brazil Daily Times (Brazil, Indiana). We take the attitude, as our show does, that a man is innocent until proven guilty. 
  11. ^ Thomas, Bob (April 9, 1960). "The Talman Case: 'Most Unfortunate'". The Day. Retrieved 2015-05-23. 
  12. ^ "Finally! Victory for Burger". The Windsor Star. June 18, 1960. Retrieved 2015-05-23. 
  13. ^ Humphrey, Hal (August 7, 1960). "Tic Tac TV". Hayward Sunday Review (Hayward, California). 
  14. ^ United Press International (June 13, 1960). "Camera Angles". Middletown Daily Record. 
  15. ^ Humphrey, Hal (August 28, 1960). "Tic Tac TV". Hayward Sunday Review (Hayward, California). 
  16. ^ Kelleher, Brian; Merrill, Diana (1987). "William Talman: TV's Hamilton Burger; Innocent as Charged". The Perry Mason TV Show Book. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 67–74. ISBN 9780312006693. Retrieved 2015-05-23. 
  17. ^ "Talman Back On TV". Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Associated Press). December 9, 1960. Retrieved 2015-05-23. 
  18. ^ Stout, David (July 18, 1995). "Harry Guardino, 69, an Actor In Romantic and Gangster Roles". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  19. ^ "Confirmiation Hearing on the Nomination of Hon. Sonia Sotomayor, to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States". U.S. Government Printing Office. July 13–16, 2009. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  20. ^ Totenberg, Nina (January 15, 2013). "Sotomayor Memoir: Don't Let a Door Stop You". Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  21. ^ Sotomayor, Sonia (2013). My Beloved World. New York: Knopf. p. 102. ISBN 9780307594884.