|The Case of the Happy
The production crew of the Mason series was noted not just for its professionalism, but also for being a close-knit bunch. "As a kind of handyman actor who works in all kinds of TV series," Philip Ober, a veteran of several Mason episodes, told TV Guide, "I can honestly say this is the happiest company in Hollywood."
"We've got the greatest crew in the business," Burr told a reporter. "Without them, we'd be nowhere."
The cast and crew hung out and hung tough together. The set had a built-in kaffeeklatsch nook, a cupboard containing ceramic mugs for each member of the cast and crew. It was Burr's idea, as an example of not just the show's longevity, but also its permanency.
Most series celebrate when a season's worth of episodes are complete. Tradition calls for the stars of the show to ante up money for the season wrap-up party. The Mason series crew would have a party at the end of filming of each episode, with Burr and Gail Jackson splitting the cost.
There are good points and bad points to being the "happiest company in Hollywood," though. Happiness can breed complacency. And apparently Burr was the ringleader of all these positive vibes. The negative side was voiced by coproducer Art Marks: "Ray has a desire for everybody to be happy, to be wanted and to belong," Marks told TV Guide. "And this can backfire. He's too good to people. The set be comes a country club. The technicians aren't in there fighting to do their very best. They're too happy."
Too happy? Maybe. But the good humor and friendliness was not without compassion. Witness the case of George E. Stone. A regular member of the cast, he appeared in numerous episodes as the court clerk. Yet he never uttered a line, never moved, never did much more than sit there, filling a spot on the set. The inactivity was due to the fact that Stone, a veteran actor, was sick and half blind during his tenure on the Mason show. Yet he stayed. He can be seen planted in the clerk's chair in many of the courtroom. scenes. "This company has heart," is how one cast member explained Stone's presence.
It also had a funny bone. The Mason set was a well-known battlefield of practical jokes. Burr, a jokester par excellence, almost single-handedly made this the company's trademark. And while poor Barbara Hale was the chief target, Burr and William Talman would square off on occasion, just to keep in fighting trim.
One of their best gags was the famous brick joke. It had several variations. In one, Burr fired the opening salvo by driving to Talman's house, knocking on his door and, without saying a word, handing Talman a brick. To Talman, this meant war. The next day, in his dressing room, Burr opened his chafing dish to find two bricks. The following day, Talman found three bricks hiding in his personal property; the next day, Burr discovered four more.
As the gag continued, the number of bricks escalated. Burr finally delivered the coup de grace when a ton of bricks was dumped on Talman's front lawn.
Another running gag had the cast playing a joke on the viewers at home. There was a painting that appeared frequently on the wall of the set. The cast members, Burr the chief among them, would add a little coloration or modification to the painting on a regular basis. Only the sharpest-eyed fans can spot the painting and its gradually changing content.
|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.|