The Perry Mason TV Show Book
The History of the Show

The Case of the Lousy Movies

Before Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason character became a TV star, the infallible lawyer took a few turns on the big screen. Unsuccessful turns. As soon as the printed Perry Mason became a success, Warner Brothers bought the film rights to several of Gardner's books. In 1935 the studio released The Case of the Howling Dog, starring Warren William as Perry. According to TV Guide, Gardner hated it. In an interview with the magazine in 1964, the author openly accused Warners of trying to ruin his hero. Said Gardner: "It seemed to me he had about an acre of office and Della was so dazzling I couldn't see her for her diamonds. Everybody drank a lot." Warren William, the actor who portrayed Perry Mason, hated it too. He was forced to act like a William Powell clone in the film, which was produced shortly after Powell had scored big in The Thin Man. Warner Brothers' idea was to use the Perry Mason theme to capitalize on the successful "sophisticated murder-comedy" trend that The Thin Man had started. But neither this first Perry film nor the two others released that year ever reached "big time" status.

Warners tried again in 1936 with The Case of the Black Cat. For some reason, they cast Ricardo Cortez, a Rudolph Valentino clone, as a kind of Latino Perry. This approach also bombed. In 1937, there was The Case of the Stuttering Bishop, with the exciting-as-watching-paint-dry Donald Woods. When this wimpy version of Perry Mason fell flat, some whiz at Warners went to work on The Case of the Dangerous Dowager. What they came up with--and it's almost unbelievable--was a Western. Released in 1940, the movie was retitled Granny Get Your Gun. Mercifully, the character of Perry Mason was completely written out. Gardner never forgave Hollywood.

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The Perry Mason TV Show Book Copyright 1987 by Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill. All rights reserved. Presented here by permission of the copyright holder. Commercial use prohibited. Web page Copyright 1998 D. M. Brockman. Last edited 04 Nov 2004.