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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Perry Mason and Me ► The Case of the Growing Child

Erle Stanley Gardiner (L) with Luther S. Cressman,
"father of Oregon archaeology" in 1966
Perry Mason transformed me from a child into a young adult. Let me explain. A Perry Mason novel was the first adult book I ever read. I was about 10 years old and found it while rummaging around the basement among Pops' books. I was attracted to the pulp paperback by its lurid cover, but I already knew the name Perry Mason. I read it quickly -- all the Mason books are quick reads -- and loved it!!! I could identify with it in a way I could not other books because Perry Mason was a character on my tee vee!!! I soon found another Mason. Then another one. After 3 books I was hooked. I became a lifelong fan of author Erle Stanley Gardner, who would have celebrated his 123rd birthday today, had he not had the misfortune of dying in 1970.


After exhausting all of Pops' Perry Mason books (he had 5 or 6) I found another detective paperback called "Fish Or Cut Bait," by A. A Fair that I also loved. It concerned the Cool and Lam Detective Agency, Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. It wasn't until years later that I discovered A. A. Fair was just one of Erle Stanley Gardner's nom de plumes, not unlike Aunty Em Ericann. Some of the other names used by Gardiner over the years include Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr. As I grew older I started collecting Perry Mason books in both hardcover and paperback. The original idea was to collect every title. However, that changed when I started seeing other printings of the same novels with different lurid pulp cover graphics. That's when I started collecting every different edition of every Erle Stanley Gardner novel I could find. While there are only 82 Perry Mason novels, I have HUNDREDS of Perry Mason books, packed away in boxes because I have no place to display them in the condo.


However, as acquisitive as I was about Perry Mason books, I knew nothing about the author. That all changed one day in a thrift shop when I discovered "Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason," a biography by Dorothy B. Hughes. It was then I discovered the man behind the books; I learned that Gardiner really was a lawyer, as well as an avid rock hound, inveterate traveler and, most importantly, the impetus behind The Court of Last Resort, a place where the wrongly convicted might find justice.

Gardner's rudimentary recreational vehicle
While Gardiner will always be known for his Perry Mason books, I also highly recommend his travel writings. Early in his writing career Gardiner set a goal of putting down 66,000 words a day. However, he didn't want to stop traveling. He created what he called a writing factory and had built a rudimentary RV, which he drove all over the western United States and, especially, Baja, Califoria. Whenever he would find an interesting place, he'd pull over and make it the latest location of his writing factory. He maintained his voluminous output on his trusty typewriter and, over the years, he became an expert in the history and geology of the peninsula.

Over the years, I've seen fewer and fewer Erle Stanley Gardner novels in bookstores, often just a title or two. Yesterday at my local Barnes and Noble I could find NOT A SINGLE PERRY MASON BOOK. That made me incredibly sad.

More:

The Erle Stanley Gardiner collection can be found at the Harry Ranson Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Full episodes of Perry Mason can be found on the CBS web site.

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