Hamilton Burger

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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 the 10th chapter of Gardner's 1935 novel, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye, where 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. In the 15th chapter of The Case of the Caretaker's Cat, we learn that Burger's residential address is 3297 West Lakeside, and his phone number is Exposition 96949.[1]

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.[2]

Television portrayal[edit]

Burger was portrayed in the long-running original Perry Mason television series by William Talman. 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."[3]

Talman was replaced briefly after he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and indecent exposure. Talman returned to the show after all charges against him were dropped.

Burger did defeat Mason twice on the television series; once in "The Case of the Terrified Typist" {Mason does expose the real killer in the end} and again in "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" {Mason's client is exposed as an imposter}. In addition, in "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe", Burger figured out the true culprit (after some nudging in the right direction by Mason). In "The Case of the Ruinous Road" and "The Case of the Crafty Kidnapper" it seems that Burger will actually win murder cases after Mason does not put a strong defense for his client {in fact it is part of Mason's plan to trap the real murderers}. In "The Case of the Careless Kitten" Burger is a witness to Mason exposing a murderer-without even going to court! In the television series, the closest Burger gets to having Perry Mason arrested is when he has Mason cited for causing a trash fire within city limits (part of Mason's plan to free an innocent client-"The case of the Blushing Pearls"); another time Burger served Mason with a twenty-cent bill from the District Attorney's Officer for rental of a Bus Depot storage locker! {"The Case of the Reluctant Model"}. another time Burger tries to get Mason indicated before a grand Jury for changing a apartment doorbell buzzer-only to find out that Mason is the owner of the building in question-{"The Case of the Curious Bride"}! In one unusual case Mason uses a cure for goldfish demonstrated by Hamilton Burger to expose a killer! {"The Case of the Glittering Goldfish"} In another unusual case Mason acts as both a District Attorney before a Grand Jury and as a defense attorney in a related case -in the same episode! {"The Case of the Fraudulent Photo"}. In the last episode of the series, when a witness for the prosecution is exposed by Mason for perjury and Burger nearly becomes hysterical and claims the witness was "coached" to lie by Mason; of course Mason did no such thing and in fact exposes the real killer in two murders! {"The Case of the Final fade out"}

In a later series, The New Perry Mason, Burger is played by Harry Guardino.


  • Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (1935), and about 80 more novels by this author.


  1. ^ Gardner, Erle Stanley, Case of the Caretaker's Cat, New York, William Morrow, 1935, chapter 15, page 237
  2. ^ CNN: Sotomayor: “Perry Mason” episode influenced her to become a prosecutor
  3. ^ Nogler, Pat (July 20, 1958). "An Open Case: Snooping Behind Scenes Pays Off". Pasadena Independent Star-News.