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Is Perry Mason Based on a True Story?

June 20, 2020
4 min read

HBO’s ‘Perry Mason’ follows the story of a criminal defense lawyer who gets a chance for a breakthrough in his career when the case of a child’s kidnapping is brought to his desk. Mason is the kind of person who doesn’t hesitate from bending some rules and making a lot of exceptions when it comes to doing what’s best for his clients. He is sharp and dedicated, which is what makes him such a likable character. How did the show create him? Is he based on a real person? What inspired ‘Perry Mason’? Let’s find out.

Is Perry Mason a True Story?

No, ‘Perry Mason’ is not based on a true story. It is based on the book series of the same name by Erle Stanley Gardner. It is adapted for HBO by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald.

For creating the character, Gardner did not have to look very far. Having passed the bar exam at the age of 21, the author had spent a lot of time in law. He got a taste for helping disadvantaged people, especially Chinese and Mexican immigrants, in the early years of his career, which is something he passed on to his creation. To help defend the people who were wronged by the law, he set up an organization called The Court of Last Resort in the 1940s.

While his day job gave him a chance to do some good in the world, it also got pretty mundane for him soon enough. When he discovered his penchant for writing fiction, he started writing on the side for pulp fiction magazines. Some short stories and articles soon took him on the road to creating the world of Perry Mason.

Gardner used his intimate knowledge of the law to create a criminal defense lawyer who is never afraid of bending and breaking the rules if that’s what brings justice to his clients. He got the name of the character from a publication named the Perry Mason company, which used to publish Youth’s Companion, something Gardner read a lot as a child. In the books, Mason has a complicated relationship with his secretary Della Street. Her character is a composite of Agnes Jean Bethell and her sisters. Agnes had served as a secretary for Gardner and they later got married. Her sisters had worked for him as secretaries as well.

Once his career as a writer took off, Gardner became a voracious writer. He wrote more than 80 books of the Perry Mason series alone and was known to write more than 5000 words each day. When Jones and Fitzgerald got to adapt it for the screen, they dove deep into his work and dug out all sorts of characters that have appeared in the Mason series. They knew they’d have to compete with Mason’s popularity and wanted to add a new twist to his story. So, instead of simply picking up one of the novels from Gardner’s collection, they decided to work on an origin story for the character, in which they employ some of the most well-known characters of the series while creating a bunch of their own.

Because the books never go too deep into any character’s history, the show makers had to derive conclusions on their own. In an interview with Variety, Fitzgerald explained how they had to pick up on whatever details they could from the conversations in the books. “The character in the book will go on a little bit of a rant or offer little profound statements about how he feels about justice or the law — things that were little linchpin clues to the character. We started to use those as tentpoles as we asked, ‘OK, if this guy five years from now is going to say something like this across the desk to Hamilton Berger, how did he get there,” he said. The idea was to use the first season as the backstory that eventually leads to the works of Gardner. The first season ends on a note that marks the beginning of the first book in Gardner’s series.

Read More: Perry Mason Filming Locations

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