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|Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) - also wrote as A.A. Fair, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny|
Prolific American author, whose best-known works center on the lawyer-detective Perry Mason, his helpmates the loyal and beautiful secretary Della Street, the private detective Paul Drake, and the opponent, District Attorney Hamilton Burger. Gardner worked as a professional attorney for twenty-two years. He was an ardent sportsman, an enthusiastic wildlife photographer, and a constant traveler, who spoke fluent Chinese.
"Murder is not perpetrated in a vacuum. It is a product of greed, avarice, hate, revenge, or perhaps fear. As a splashing stone sends ripples to the farthest edges of the pond, murder affects the lives of many people." (from The Case of the Horrified Heirs, 1964)
Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts. His father, who was a mining engineer, took the family west to Portland, Oregon. Three years later his father found employment as a mining engineer in Klondike. Finally the family settled in the small mining town of Oroville. During these years Gardner also picked up knowledge of mining, which was reflected later in his novels. In 1909 he graduated from Palo Alto High School, in the San Francisco Bay Are.
In his youth Gardner led a wild life. He was kicked out of Valparaiso University in Indiana after some weeks – he was involved in a fistfigh. Later he boxed and arranged unlicenced wrestling matches. While working as a typist in an law office in California, he 'read law' without formal instructions and was admitted to the bar in 1911. At the age of twenty-one, Gardner opened his own law office in Merced, California. The business was bad.
From 1911 to 1918 Gardner worked as a lawyer in Oxnard, California, for I.W. Stewart, a corporate attorney. During this period he defended Chinese clients, and became known as "t'ai chong tze" (the big lawyer). In 1921 Gardner married Natalie Frances Talbert; they had one child. From Oxnard he moved to Ventura, where he had a law firm with Frank Orr. From 1918 to 1921 he was a salesman for Consolidated Sales Company, but returned then to Ventura, where he continued as a lawyer until 1933. In the courtroom Gardner radiated self-confidence like later Perry Mason, with whom he also shared appetite for thick steaks. In the early 1920s he began writing western and mystery stories for the pulp magazines. Gardner was of the most successful writers before he ever published a novel.
To earn additional income Gardner turned to pulp writing, using the pen name Charles M. Green. He remarked that audiences were "the ultimate consumers" and his purpose was to serve those consumers. In the mid-1920s he contributed regularly Black Mask magazine and became one of its most popular contributors. Some of the stories from this period were published in 1990 in Dead Men's Letters. Among his crowd of series characters were Lester Leith, the "Gentleman Rogue", Sidney Zoom, "Master of Disguise", and Soo Hoo Duck, "King of Chinatown." Oriental heroes or villains more often were at time popular, and Gardner wrote a story which was set China. Sax Rohmer (d. 1959) had his own super-criminal, Dr. Fu-Manchu, Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933) created the detective Charlie Chan. At the time of the Depression Gardner wrote westerns for a penny a word, selling to such publications as Western Roud-Up, West Weekly, and Western Tales. By 144 Gardner had produced 144 short stories and 301 novellettes.
"Mason said, 'You never can tell about these conservative Easterners, Paul. They all of them have a streak in them of wanting to be Wild West. I'll bet if someone would give that fellow a twin-holstered rapid-draw gun belt with a couple of guns in it, he'd stand up in front of a mirror, practise a fast draw and take fiendish delight in the process.'" (from The Case of the Amorous Aunt, 1963)
1931 Gardner and his wife made a six-month tour in China.
The experience in the restless land inspired Gardner to create a new
hero, Major Copely Brane, "an adventurer in international politics." In
the first story Brane gets involved ib a scheme to prevent publication
of a forged treaty between the legendary Chinese nationalist general
Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese. On his trip Gardner bought a sleeve
gun as a souvenier. In 1932 Gardner
began to dictate his stories on vax sylinders, turning them over to his
secretary for transcriptions. During his career, Gardner dictated a
huge number of his books. Raymond Chandler
said that "years of yapping into a Dictaphone machine have destroyed
the quality of his voice, which now has all the delicate chiaroscuro of
a French taxi horn." (The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day, 2015, p. 30)
An oddball pair of private investigators,
the big and crude Bertha Cool and the tiny lawyer Donald Lam, were born
in 1938 – Gardner wrote the books under the pseudonym of A.A. Fair. Gardner's first Perry Mason stories were The Case Of The
Velvet Claws (1933) and The Case of the Sulky Girl (1933)
– the latter H.R.F. Keating included among the 100 best crime and
mystery books ever published (Crime
& Mystery: the 100 best books, 1987).
"The character I am trying to create for him is that of a fighter who
is possessed of infinite patience," he explained to his publisher. Readers
were enthusiastic and he gave up law and wrote eighty more Masons, although during the revision of The Case of the Lame Canary (1937) he thought that "Perry Mason has run through ten or twelve books, which is damn near enough."
Keating notes that Gardner was no stylist, but he made one demand: that the reader should outguess Perry Mason. Usually in the beginning of the story a client enters Mason's office: "A man came into the room who radiated restlessness. He was a thin man, with a very poiinted nose and large ears. He walked with nervous, jerky steps. He was in his late twenties or early thirties." (from The Case of the Sulky Girl) Mason of course gets more attention in the story – he "gave the impression of bigness; not the bigness of fat, but the bigness of strength. He was broad-shouldered and rugged-faced, and his eyes were steady and patient. Frequently those eyes changed expression, but the face never changed its expression of rugged patience."
In his huge production Gardner had help from a staff of several secretaries, who typed his dictation. Called "the Henry Ford of detective fiction" his sales were some 100 million copies during his lifetime. At the beginning of his career Gardner had typed 66,000 words a week for the pulp market. He saw that the essence of good writing was in craftsmanship, but he also considered writing rewarding: "If you started to write, you did it because you had an urge to express yourself. That urge is a part of you. It's still there..." To turn out the huge amount of stories he wanted to produce in his assembly line, Gardner created a writing formula for characters, their motivations, and plot structuring. From the late 1930s to the late 1950s Saturday Evening Post serialized most of the Masons before book publication.
In 1935 Gardner's marriage to Natalie ended; there was no divorce and Gardner send her money for the remainder of her life. After her death Gardner married in 1968 his private secretary Agnes Jean Bethell, who had worked for him from the 1930s.
From 1940s Gardner dedicated many of his books to penologists and specialists in forensic medicine. The Case of the Horrified Heirs (1964) was dedicated to the barrister and doctor of science and medicine, John Glaister, who after thoroughgoing research identified two bodies, which had been mutilated by removal of eyes, ears, nose, lips and skin – all teeth had been extracted. John Glaister also was the author of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology, one of the most comprehensive and authoritative books in the field. In The Case Of The Amorous Aunt (1963) he wrote that "the arch-enemy of the murderer is the autopsy... In cold-blooded crimes committed by an intellectual and scheming murderer who has greed or revenge as his goal, the medical examiner, following clues which would never be apparent to a less thoroughly trained individual, can establish the truth."
"Writing, to Gardner, remained an exacting business. Fat from the popular notion that he casually whipped out his novels, improvising each scene out of thin air at his Dictaphone, he actually spent many hours on each of them. Before beginning dictation, he worked out all of his plots in longhand with painstaking care in variety of notebooks over a period of days or weeks, He would never start to dictate until every plot problem had been solved, every character fully delineated – and with the final courtroom fireworks laid out in detail." (William F. Nolan in Mystery and Suspense Writers, vol. 1, ed. by Robin W. Winks, 1998)
Gardner was one of the founding members of the Court of Last Resort (The Case Review Committee), an association who reopened cases wherein a person might have been falsely convicted. In 1952 he won the Fact Crime Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the book about the foundation. When the longrunning Perry Mason television series started in 1957, Gardner worked without credit as script supervisor and set up Paisano Prodections to maintain control of the series. Starring Raymond Burr in the title role, this program contributed to the average television viewers comprehension of the legal procedures and professional ethics. Eventually the National Association of County and Prosecuting Attorneys complained that the series and its ilk were prejudicing real-life American jurors against prosecutors (Perry Mason by Thomas M. Leitch, 2005, p. 53).
Gardner died on March 11, 1970, in his home at Rancho del Paisano. By the time of his death, he had produced over eighty Perry Mason mysteries. His cremated ashes were scattered over his beloved Baja Peninsula. Gardner had found the place in the late 1930s and as an outdoor person, he loved nature and animals. The Case Of The Postponed Murder (1973) was Gardner's last Mason story. After the death of the author Thomas Chastain has continued the series, starting with The Case of Too Many Murders (1989).
For further reading: The Case of Erle Stanley Gardner by Alva Johnston (1947); Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason by Dorothy B. Hughes (1978); Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer by Francis L. Fugate and Roberta B. Fugate (1980); Murder in the Millions by J. Kenneth Van Dover (1984); The Marble Orchard: A Novel Featuring the Black Mask Boys: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner by William F. Nolan (1996); Erle Stanley Gardner's Ventura by Richard L. Senate (1996); Perry Mason: The Authorship and Reproduction of a Popular Hero by J. Dennis Bounds (1996); Mystery and Suspense Writers, Vol. 1, ed. by Robin W. Winks, (1998); Perry Mason by Thomas M. Leitch (2005); Perry Mason: The Defense Attorney,' in Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood by Ron Backer (2012); Secrets of the World's Bestselling Writer: The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner by Francis L. & Roberta B. Fugate (1980; 2015) - See other lawyer-authors: Cyril Hare
Films: The Case of the Howling Dog (1934), dir. Alan Crosland, starring Warren William as Perry Mason and Helen Trenholme as Della Street; The Case of the Curious Bride (1935), dir. Michael Curtiz, starring Warren William and Claire Dodd as Della Street; The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935), dir. Archie L. Mayo, starring Warren William and Genevieve Tobin as Della Street; The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936), dir. William Clemens, starring Warren William and Claire Dodd; The Case of the Black Cat (1936), dir. William Mc Gann, starring Ricardo Cortez as Perry Mason and as June Travis as Della Street; The Case of the Stuttering Bishop (1937), dir. William Clemens, starring Donald Woods as Perry Mason and Ann Dvorak as Della Street. - Television series Perry Mason from 1957-66, starring Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale and William Hopper, produced by Gardner's company Paisano Productions. The role of the judge was played by Gardner in the final first run episode, The Case of the Final Fadeout. Among the script writers were also Jonathan Latimer. The New Perry Mason in 1973, starring Monte Markham. - Two-hour TV movies, starring Raymond Burr: Perry Mason Returns (1985), Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun (1986), Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star (1986); Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987); Perry Mason and the Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987); Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987); Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundel (1987); Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988); Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988); Perry Mason: The Case of the Leathal Lesson (1989); Perry Mason. The Case of the Musical Murder (1989). Radio: CBS soap opera from 1943 to 1955, 15 minutes daily. Gardner in Finland. Erle Stanley Gardner has been very popular writer in Finland. Over forty Mason books have been translated into Finnish, and several works written under the pseudonym A.A. Fair. Among Gardner's well-known readers was the political cartoonist Kari Suomalainen, who did not like much description in books – a feature that was developed to its limits in Perry Mason mysteries. The television series Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr, draw large audiences in the 1960s. Gardner's influence is seen in the work of Mauri Sariola, especially in his mysteries about the lawyer Matti Viima. Sariola, a drop out law student, translated into Finnish the novel The Case of the Calendar Girl from 1958 under the title Vaaralliset valokuvat. (1959). Suomeksi Perry Mason -tarinoita on julkaistu yli neljäkymmentä. Teoksen Kleptomaanin jäljet (suom. 1944, original title The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe) käänsi runoilija Viljo Kajava (1909-1998). Pentti Saarikoski suomensi Gardnerin tarinan 'Äkäinen todistaja' kokoelmassa Salapoliisikertomuksia Sherlock Holmesista Perry Masoniin (1962).