Sunday TV News Week
March 16- March 22
Actor Burr's 'Authority' Perfect For Mason Role
| In 1932 a successful
attorney, with a determination to break into the field of fiction writing, dreamed up a
character, named him Perry Mason, and wrote a book about him.
Today, 25 years and some one hundred million books later, Erle Stanley Gardner is the undisputed king of the mystery novel. The fantastically successful Perry Mason books sell at the rate of two thousand an hour for an eight hour day, six days a week.
Like many famous authors, Gardner spent his early writing years in the wood-pulp training camp. He substituted action for verbosity and accuracy for style. But he gradually developed a style--and a following. Perry Mason became nationally known, and the author soon found himself in the circle of writers whose talents are perceptually in demand.
"Then," says Mr. Gardner, "I signed with the literary agent, Cornwall Jackson. Along with his wife, former movie star Gail Patrick, we formed a company with the idea that someday we would produce the Perry Mason stories as a television series.
Waited Ten Years
They waited ten years and turned down many offers that didn't meet their standards. Then along came CBS with the right deal. Gail Patrick Jackson was named executive producer on the show, and, with other network officials, began a hunt for "Perry Mason." Hundreds of actors were considered, and many tested, but when Mrs. Jackson and her entourage saw Raymond Burr, they stopped looking.
| "Burr had the authority,"
says Erle Gardner. "His other assets are obvious, but the thing I wanted most
in my Perry Mason was authority."
Before Burr won the role in the weekly series he was one of Hollywood's top free-lance actors. Between studio jobs he dabbled in writing, and several of his articles and a number of fiction stories were published by national magazines. If nothing else, Burr and Erle Gardner had this common ground upon which they could meet. The aura of authority which surrounded Burr had come from experience; and Erle Gardner had long ago learned to value experience.
Since Burr adopted the role of Mason he figures he's done enough research to become a defense attorney--if he could pass the bar examination. A thorough workman, Burr followed policemen around Los Angeles for several months. Beginning with the actual arrest he followed suspects through the complete booking process. He also frequented the Los Angeles Municipal courtroom, observing the trials form the selection of the jury to the actual sentencing of the convicted.
This studied attention to details was acquired by Burr from his mother, who was a concert pianist, and his father, a merchant. Burr was born in New Minister, British Columbia, Canada, and when a year old his parents moved to China. In the next five years they lived in Cheefoo, Shanghai, Peiping and Hong Kong.
Burr was twelve-years-old when he made his first professional appearance in a stock company in Vancouver, B.C., replacing another child who became ill. Later he attended the San Rafael Military School and was aiming for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis when his parents lost their fortune and he had to go to work.
Six Years of College
His first job was on a sheep and cattle ranch in New Mexico. In the following years he worked as a traveling salesman, acted on radio and in little theater groups, taught school, was an explorer, and still managed to put in six years of college at Stanford and the Universities of California and Columbia.
By this time Burr had decided on a career as an actor. Following a season of stock in Canada, he went to England where he played in "Night Must Fall." He toured Australia with this production and, after some more stage work in London, went to Hollywood in 1942.
Burr is quite enthusiastic about television and the "Perry Mason" series. The heavy concentration of work keeps him busy, and, oddly enough, refreshed. And the moral lesson "Perry Mason" teaches is not taken lightly by Burr.
"If ever I'd even remotely contemplated a life of crime," he says, "I've abandoned the idea now."