The opening strains of the theme song are immediately recognizable even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show. And if you haven’t, you should. Perry Mason is classic TV, quite literally. The show ran for nine seasons, starting in 1957.
The show centered around title character Perry Mason (Raymond Burr), defense attorney, his always dependable assistant Della Street (Barbara Hale), and private detective Paul Drake (William Hopper). The law side of things was often represented by state’s attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman), Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins), and Lt. Anderson (Wesley Lau).
Each episode revolved around an innocent person being accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Perry would take their case and with the help of Della and Paul, he’d prove their innocence, usually in dramatic courtroom fashion.
Most of the cases involved a murder and some of them were quite over the top. Several faked deaths and lots of rich people doing horrible things. And Perry seemed to know a whole lot of people quite conveniently. It was how he got involved and/or how he solved the case.
With so many suspects, bad guys, and innocents, there was plenty of opportunity for guest stars. Bette Davis, Jerry Van Dyke, Alan Hale, Keye Luke, Adam West, Lee Merriweather, Victor Buono, James Hong, Denver Pyle, David McCallum, Jackie Coogan, Elisha Cook Jr, Gavin McCleod, Gary Collins, Louise Fletcher, James Best, and James Coburn all made appearances. Don’t recognize some of the names? Look them up. Most of them guested on the show before they landed the roles that you might know them from.
No matter the guest star or the storyline, Perry always came out on top. It made you almost feel bad for Hamilton Burger. I’d like to think that he won every case that didn’t feature Perry Mason on the defense.
Watching the episodes now, the black and white isn’t the only sign that it’s an old show. Back in the late 50’s/early 60’s people smoked freely, could easily board planes, were restricted by landlines, still sent telegrams, had to research by going through papers and files by hand, and social security numbers, birth certificates, and adoption records were more easily forged. There’s at least one thing (usually more) in each episode that could not be done today. Times have definitely changed and it’s fun to compare while trying to solve the case.
And that’s where you can find me most afternoons. Helping Perry, Della, and Paul solve a murder.