Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason

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

poor scan quality due to this being a pretty beat-up library book - click to enlarge if you dare.

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.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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11 Responses to Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I don’t know if you have the two Gardner collections (so far) from Crippen & Landru, but if not you should check them out – The Danger Zone and Other Stories and The Casebook of Sidney Zoom.

  2. I read this book long ago and found it fascinating. Jeff is right about those Crippen & Landru collections, Rick. They’re must-buys!

  3. Richard says:

    I have them, fellows, I’m a C&L subscriber, I automatically get every book they publish.

  4. Richard says:

    By he way, credit for my reading this goes to Ted Fitzgerald, who suggested it in the pages of DAPA-Em.

  5. I think I have most of the Mason books, though I still have about half to read. Only read a couple of the Lam/Cool titles thugh.

    This sounds interesting though. I like reading about those old days when some of the giants were getting established.

  6. Richard says:

    This one starts with his pulp fiction and goes all the way to his death, Randy, plus there is a very complete (as far as I can tell) listing of his work as an appendix.

  7. Evan Lewis says:

    Yep, I have that book. And yep, I forgot it.

  8. Richard says:

    Randy – I have closer to 2/3 of them still to read, but I have 2/3 of them here. So if I have 2/3 of 2/3 to read, thats… never mind.

  9. Todd Mason says:

    I liked the datum, in one of the anthologies (THE BLACK MASK BOYS? One of Pronzini’s?) that he won a tough case for a Chinese-American client, and found himself the favored lawyer of Chinatown, much to the resentment of some of his fellow barristers.

    Dorothy Hughes being a not inconsiderable CF writer herself, that adds a certain something to the project, I’m sure.

  10. Richard says:

    Todd – that is covered in this book, it was a case where the county D.A. was trying to shut down the local Chinatown and rigged a deal to bust the leaders as a gambling ring. Gardner switched the suspects around, since they all looked alike to the cops and D.A., then made a mockery of the cases in court.

  11. Carl V. says:

    It sounds like a great book. After I get to some of my Perry Mason novels that I have yet to read I’ll have to remember to come back to this. Speaking of, I checked out a season of the Perry Mason tv show on DVD recently. Not sure how these compare to the books. They always end quite conveniently with everything wrapped up in the last minutes of the show, but I have fond memories of watching this in syndication during afternoons at different periods in my life.

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