Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason
Dorothy B. Hughes, William Morrow & Co. 1978 hardcover – biography (authorized by Gardner’s estate)
This is the 35th in my series of Friday Forgotten Books
If you want to know just about anything about Erle Stanley Gardner, this is the book for you. I did want to know, because I’ve gotten interested in the Perry Mason novels, and have been buying them in paperback as I find them, and reading them, and certainly a little background on one of the most prolific mystery authors of the Twentieth Century seemed to be in order.
This biography begins, as do most of them, with Gardner’s grandparents, and parents and his childhood, but it begins to gain momentum when he begins having troubles at school and we learn he was really a handful as a child and young man. He remained a little wild and certainly was full of the longing for adventure his entire life. He had a career in law, not through law school on by on-the-job working in a law office. His intelligence and drive made him a success there, and when he left law practice, having become a partner, to go into business he was successful there as well. This double background, business and law, served him well later when he began writing.
Gardner was always a restless man, and he didn’t like the hours in the office very much. He loved the courtroom, and he loved being in the field, but shackles to office work were something he badly wanted to break. He decided that one of the few things a man could do and be his own boss was to be a writer, and he came to that late, not publishing until he was in his forties.
Starting with stories for the pulps, he gradually felt his way in the writing game, teaching himself how to plot – something he was greatly concerned with in his early writing years, and how to write characters. Slowly, he began to sell a few stories, then enough that he decided to get an agent. Let someone else handle the office work part, he thought. He found a good one, and it worked. His sales increased and soon his agent was suggesting he write longer pieces, then a novel.
The Case of the Velvet Claws was published in March, 1933 by Morrow & Co. It was the first of 80 Perry Mason novels published during his lifetime (two more were published posthumously) , in addition to the Lamb & Cool novels written as by A. A. Fair, the stand-alone novels, the many travel books and articles he wrote.
This biography has a lot of detail, quotes many, many letters to and from Gardner and his agent, publisher, family, associates and friends. There is also an bibliography and index. If you want to learn about Gardner, this is a good place to do it.