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#110: The Case of the
Fickle Fortune
Original Airdate: 01/21/61

Summary Edit

From The Perry Mason TV Show Book
Ralph Duncan is an underpaid civil servant whose job is to inventory the estates of wealthy decedents. One day, he returns home with $153,000 in archaic greenbacks he discovered while going over the old Boden house. Ralph just wanted to impress his wife and he was going to take them back the next day. Too bad cousin Charley saw the bundle and decided to lift it. When Ralph is accused of theft, a charge of murder goes along with it.

Ralph’s wife hires Perry Mason to get her husband out of one sticky jam.

Credits Edit

Random actor from episode. Click for page of all available.


Starring Raymond Burr
Based upon characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, Ray Collins


Directed by Laslo Benedek
Written by Sol Stein and Glenn P. Wolfe
Seeleg Lester | Producer
Gail Patrick Jackson | Executive Producer
Arthur Marks | Associate Producer
Produced by The CBS Television Network in association with Paisano Productions
Jackson Gillis | Story Consultant

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason
Barbara Hale as Della Street
William Hopper as Paul Drake
William Talman as Hamilton Burger
Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg


Cathy O’Donnell as Norma Brooks
Vaughn Taylor as Ralph Duncan
Philip Ober as Albert Keller
Robert Casper as Charley Nickels
Liam Sullivan as Lloyd Farrell
Helen Brown as Mrs. Hollister
Virginia Christine as Helen Duncan
Richard Gaines as Judge
Eve March as Nurse Hamilton
Connie Cezon as Gertie
Michael Fox as Autopsy Surgeon
Berkeley Harris as Patrolman
Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice
George E. Stone as Court Clerk
Hal Taggart as Clerk
Vincent Troy as Waiter

Uncredited Actors
Robert Wegner as Restaurant Patron spotted by gracep 11/1/2010


Art Seid, A.C.E. | Assistant to the Producer
Production Supervisor … Dewey Starkey
Director of Photography … Frank Redman, A.S.C.
Art Direction … Lewis Creber
Assistant Director … Robert G. Stone
Film Editor … Richard H. Cahoon, A.C.E.
Casting … Harvey Clermont
Makeup … Irving Pringle
Hair Stylist … Annabell
Wardrobe Supervision … William Zacha, Evelyn Carruth
Set Decoration … Charles Q. Vassar
Sound Effects Editor … Gene Eliot, M.P.S.E.
Music Editor … Gene Feldman
Properties … Ray Thompson
Production Sound Mixer … Herman Lewis
Script Supervision … M.E.M. Gibsone
Sound … Glen Glenn Sound Co.
Titles and Opticals … Pacific Title

Perry Mason \ A Film Presentation
A CBS Television Network Production

Trivia Edit

Talman returns! Hurrah, William Talman returns at District Attorney Hamilton Burger. He had been off the show since Episode #87, “The Case of the Singing Skirt,” 12 March 1960, a total of 22 19 episodes [see below]. His first witness back was Dr. Hoxie, and his first words were “and the time of death doctor?” Submitted by PaulDrake 33, 5/5/2009. Edited by gracep, 11/1/2010.
+ Correction: To be more precise, Talman did appear in #95-#97, but these were probably filmed before he left. After “Singing Skirt,” he was absent from #88-#94 and #98-#109 for a total of 19 absences. Submitted by gracep, 11/1/2010.
++ For more information about Talman’s woes and the story behind his departure, see related trivia items for episodes #87-89 and #95-97. Also read about the credits (link in the sidebar). Submitted by gracep, 11/1/2010.

Someone must have kept that money for quite a while. The 50-dollar bill pictured on this episode with Benjamin Franklin on the face was first issued in 1874. Submitted by PaulDrake 33, 7/29/2009.

Richard Gaines makes his 13th of 14 appearances as the judge on Perry. His 12th appearance was on 22 October 1960. In the ensuing 3 months something remarkable has happened to Judge Gaines. If you go to episode #46, “TCOT Married Moonlighter,“ there is posted a picture of Judge Gaines. You will notice that he is quite bald, as he has been in all the previous 12 episodes. However in this episode he has a full head of light colored hair, either silver or blond. Submitted by PaulDrake 33, 5 August 2009.
+ [Note: The actor picture at #46 is randomly chosen from those available. Click here for the available pictures from that episode.]
Cathy O'Donnell may be best remembered by her role in the 1946 classic "The Best Years of Our Lives" when she played the girlfriend of returning war veteran and double amputee Homer Parrish. That was her first credited role. Bill767, 1/3/16.

Goof: When Ralph Duncan drives up his driveway, pay attention to the background. Now, fast forward to when Duncan is stopped by the police or Perry arrives at the murder house. Observe the neighborhood. I think you will see that Ralph Duncan and Lloyd Farrell were neighbors! Kind of makes you wonder why Charley had to drive Ralph to Farrell’s when he could have just walked. Submitted by billp, 9 November 2009.

Actually, you can see Ralph Duncan’s two-tone Dodge across the street behind the policemen at Lloyd Farrell’s house. I also think if you compare Ralph’s clothes when he comes home with the groceries and when he’s at the murder house, you’ll find they’re the same. Clearly these two scenes were filmed at the same time. And it’s also really night-time! Not just daylight pretend night-time. We can probably forgive the Perry Mason folks for that. As I recall, those old black-and-white TVs did a pretty good job making day look like night all by themselves. Submitted by billp, 12 November 2009.

It seems no one back in the 60s expected people in the future to be able to improve the quality of the old shows and make daylight look more like daytime again instead of fake night time.
+ It still amazes me, however, how many people complain that it's obviously daytime, and criticize the directors for thinking we couldn't tell the difference. Obviously these people never watched PM back in the 50s & 60s on a new B&W TV. As you said, those sets made even daytime scenes look like night. Submitted by Arisia, 03/12/18
++ In all fairness, it should be stated:
1. Film and cameras in those days had a hard time getting quality images under true nighttime conditions, so it was common practice to shoot night scenes in daylight but underexpose them to a certain extent.
2. Filming at night certainly involved payment of overtime wages; an unnecessary expense in the budget, especially for a scene lasting a minute or two.
One more thing, there have been comments on other episodes about how the outdoor scene is obviously shot in daylight, but the scene from inside clearly shows it dark outside. ALL indoor shooting was done on sets on a sound stage; the "outdoors" could easily be underlit to make it look like nighttime. OLEF641 2/24/21

Objection!: The director more than made up for those slips at about 30 minutes on the DVD, when Perry, unseen at the defense table, pops up from behind a blathering Burger to object to a point. JohnK, 7 October 2015

Linguistic Lapse: At 31 minutes or so on the DVD, when the housekeeper is on the hot seat, Mason says "you inferred" -- when he surely means "you implied." One would think that with all the writers around, not to mention the urbane actors, they would sidestep such simple scripting slips. JohnK, 7 October 2015

Sightings: A trio of courtroom regulars appear in this episode. The Pencil Mustache Man sits in the first row behind the defense table. The Quiet Old Man (#1) can be seen during cutaways to Helen Duncan and the Little Old Lady in a Hat can be seen during cutaways of Charlie Nickles. Submitted by Kenmore, 9/21/2010.
+ Two more regulars appear. “Miss Carmody” has a gig as a waitress where Perry, Della, and Paul discuss the case. You can see her serving a table behind them. Later she shows up in the croutroom gallery, too, along with the “Thin Man”. Submitted by gracep, 11/1/2010.
++ The Thin Man works as the bartender as Miss Carmody serves. Bill767, 1/3/16.

"Distinguished Lady #4" sits in the back row on the prosecution side. We get some good glimpses of her in the CUs of the murderer during the confession scene! Submitted by JazzBaby, 9/4/2019.

Uncredited Actors: At one restaurant scene is a heavy-built man in a dark suit, visible between Della and Perry. He reappears in the background behind Paul Drake in a later restaurant scene, where we also see frequently uncredited actor Robert Wegner dining. “Miss Carmody” (see item above) is still working there. Submitted by gracep, 11/1/2010.
+Robert Wegner then changes into his police uniform and appears as a cop holding the defendant at the murder scene. Bill767, 1/3/16.

Character Names: Michael Fox is listed merely as “autopsy surgeon” instead of his usual name, Dr. Hoxie (though he is never addressed thus). Nurse Hamilton’s first name is Ann. Submitted by gracep, 11/1/2010 and updated 7/5/2011.
+ The name of Vaughn Taylor's character (Ralph Duncan) was also the name of Thomas Browne Henry's character in episode 2 TCOT Sleepwalker's Niece. I know it's not impossible for two people to have the same name. That fact was mentioned in episode 43 TCOT Sardonic Sergeant. At least fifty other people in the USA and I have the same name. Submitted by H. Mason 11/5/14

Mr. And Mrs. Duncan enjoy breakfast and the morning paper with a coffee set that looks remarkably like the same one Perry and Paul use in a restaurant. (It is not, however, the Curious Coffee Set that has appeared in loads of episodes, but it is rather similar. The difference is a white bottom half in the knock-off.) Submitted by gracenote, 7/5/2011.

CARS. (1) 1956 Dodge Coronet 4-Door Sedan, Lic GBE 475, 2-tone white/med, Ralph Duncan.

The "E-in-octagon" initial character on the Police plates is supported by the clear shot at 3:32 of ep#116, Car (6). "E-in-octagon" = a gov't vehicle exempt from Registration Fee. Later appearances of these cars also show that they are Fairlanes, not Galaxies. Added by Gary Woloski, 10/4/2012.

Recycled Newsprint. Below the "Death Reveals Fortune" newspaper article that Helen points out to Ralph at breakfast is another article which reads:

  • "Plane Lost a Year Ago In Andes Still Untraced - Special Cable - BUENOS AIRES - A year ago this week the airplane San José, carrying United States . . . "

This article actually did appear in The New York Times on July 20, 1933. It reported the continuing mystery of the July 16, 1932 disappearance of a Pan American Airlines flight from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eight months after the July 20 NYTimes article, the plane was found four miles south of Puente Del Inca, Argentina; see the March 22, 1934 issue of the Jefferson City Post Tribune, page 8. The plane, named San José, was a Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-C, registration number NC 403H. Other newspaper articles from 1933/34 have appeared in Episode Numbers 13, 67, etc. The doomed ship in the Ep#13 article was the Charles Jose. Added by Gary Woloski, 8/31/12.

Once again, we have the wildly inaccurate episode description in The Perry Mason TV Show Book by "two of his greatest fans" about an episode seen in syndication for 20 years before the book was published. No one said Ralph Duncan was "underpaid." That he didn't make so much so that stealing $153,000 wouldn't be tempting is not the same thing. And when did Ralph's wife hire Perry Mason? [To be fair, another Perry Mason book, The Perry Mason Casebook by David Martindale states that Ralph Duncan is accused of murdering the "woman" to whom the money "rightly" belongs. That woman wasn't murdered at all.] Submitted by Wiseguy70005, 7/20/14.

A police car radio message "Correction, Unit 3, come in" can be heard twice in this episode, once at 17:47 and repeated at 19:56. This same message can be heard in "The Case of the Gilded Lily" (#34) and "The Case of the Married Moonlighter" (#46). Submitted by Wiseguy70005, 7/20/14.

This is the first of three PM appearances for Liam Sullivan...MikeM. 9/1/2016

This is the first of three PM appearances for Virginia Christine, who was Mrs. Olson in commercials for Folgers coffee...MikeM. 12/8/2016

This is the only PM appearance for Eve March and, according to imdb, her final film or television acting role...MikeM. 9/7/2017

Perry lights up: One of the few times we see Perry light a cigarette, and one of the fewer times we see him actually take drag. jfh 28Dec2017.

Comments Edit

The final line in this episode belongs to Perry. He says, “We are all glad, Hamilton.“ Could Raymond Burr actually be referring obliquely to the fact that everyone is glad that William Talman is back? Submitted by PaulDrake 33, 7/24/2009.

I agree. Everything you read about Burr stresses his loyalty to his friends. He used his considerable influence to cast some of his pals from his radio days, many of whom had trouble finding work. There is a lovely quote from Ray Collins about how Burr was always the first to lend a hand when someone was in trouble. Must have been quite a guy. DOD 10/15/20

Gertie has a few lines in this episode. I always look forward to an episode where Gertie gets to speak. Submitted by PaulDrake 33, 7/29/2009.
+ Legal FIFO? Not only does she have a line, I believe it's a line we've never heard before (or will again): "Mr. Mason has gone home for the evening." I can imagine Della being the last one in the office, but Gertie ? Notcom 041124.

This is one of my favorite episodes. As usual the supporting cast is superlative. Helen Brown turns in a fantastic performance as Mrs. Hollister. Philip Ober and Robert Casper are especially good, too. Submitted by billp, 9 November 2009.
+ This is a good one, with the feel of a genuine Gardner story line (although it is not). Vaughn Taylor conveys the quiet but growing terror of having made an enormous mistake that has spun out of control. JohnK, 7 October 2015
++ This drama is not Vaughn Taylor's first dramatic turn with a large batch of missing currency: In Psycho, from a year earlier I think, he played the owner of the real estate company from which Janet Leigh nicked $40,000. JohnK, 1 November 2021

++ The cast is also fortified by the presence of Cathy O'Donnell, as spooky chick Norma Brooks in the thrall of dirtball Lloyd Farrell. She played supporting roles in some award-winning films of the 1940s and 1950s, and starred in a few classic films noirs as well. She is one of the few actresses in the PM harem that can cry her own tears. Like so many actresses of the day she died young, at just 46 in 1970, although from illness rather than some sort of excess. JohnK, 6 October 2015.

Why was Ralph Duncan working alone? With all of that perhaps-valuable property to inventory, why not have a second person to help? The job would get done in half the time, and there could also be less of an opportunity for someone to pocket any nice items. (With a second person, the episode could have ended after 4 minutes, but in real life does a government leave someone alone to do the inventory?) Submitted by (lowercase, with a comma and period) masonite, 02/04/19.

Those greenbacks: Don’t know how it was in the late 1950s, but today I’d guess those greenbacks would be worth more to a collector than their face value. Trading them in at par would probably cost you money. Submitted by billp, 9 November 2009.

Robert Casper looks a little bit like Sean Penn when he smiles, at times. Submitted by gracep, 11/01/2010.

Some of the direction in this episode really stands out. Notable: the discussion outside the murder house with Tragg, Mason and Duncan (really well done), the Mason/Drake restaurant scene where Mason places a comforting hand on Paul’s right arm and smiles, and when Tragg discovers the knife box. Submitted by cgraul, 10/4/2011.

When both Burger and Mason are handling the knife in court, we see that the blade--incredibly--is still streaked with blood! Could you imagine such cavalier handling of a bloody object today? Submitted by 65tosspowertrap, 9/22/2013.

+ This is similar to a scene in the 1949 novel The Case of the Lonely Heiress:
[Deputy D.A. Hanover] opened a small handbag, removed a box and approached the witness stand. From the box he removed a knife, stained and encrusted with dried blood.
"Lieutenant Tragg, I'll ask you if you ever saw this knife before."
"Yes, I have seen that knife before. I can identify it because it has my initials scratched on the handle...At the time I found it, it was in exactly the same condition as it now appears, except that some of the encrusted blood stains on the blade have been subjected to chemical tests in the police laboratory." Submitted by Wiseguy70005, 10/13/13.

I've always wondered what is the point of having a gavel if the judge is just going to tap his pen/pencil or his finger(!) to command the room's attention. Surely the gavel would do a better job. Submitted by Wiseguy70005, 7/20/14.

If you look closely you'll see that the judge didn't have a gavel. For some reason since early in season 3 after episode 73 TCOT Blushing Pearls none of the judges had a gavel. Submitted by H. Mason 11/5/14

The prolific Philip Ober is best known for his brief but key role as Lester Townsend in 'North by Northwest'. This episode has it all. Hamilton is back, Gertie makes a brief but welcome appearance, and we get some real courtroom drama, including a terrific confession. Another show that ends with several people facing charges - Brooks, Keller, Cousin Charley and, alas, our defendant Ralph Duncan. DODay 9/06/17

How did Tragg and Brice get to the Boden house (when Tragg found the knife case)? No police car was parked out front so they must have walked. Kilo 12/13/2019.

Spoiler Warning! Do Not Read Below If You Have Not Seen The Episode

What's her name?: Why wasn't Mrs. Hollister's first name mentioned? This was another story where one of the main 3 characters (defendant - victim - killer) wasn't given a complete name. Submitted by H. Mason 11/5/14

Questions: Did anything happen to Mr. Duncan for removing the money from the house? What happened to Norma Brooks for planting the money with Mr. Ames and getting him to write the will? What happened to Charley for his thefts? What happened to Mr. Keller for his part in the phony inheritance and withholding evidence about Duncan's innocence? As I have mentioned in the comment section of other episodes I find it a bit frustrating that the fate of some of the perpetrators of other crimes are not discussed in the final scene. Submitted by H. Mason 11/5/14

For the answer to these and other questions, tune in next week, same time, same channel. DOD 10/01/19
> Ha!Ha! of course one of the attributes of PM - and of most TV shows, really - is the total lack of continuity between episodes (The David Gideon shows being somewhat of an exception in that a minor plot element was repeated); there's no mystery as to why: the broadcast order would be rigidly set, and the frequent reappearance of actors playing different roles might have been even more obvious - or awkward - than it is already. But it also, IMHO, bolsters the perception that PM isn't a real person as much as someone's day dream...a second rate lawyer imagining his more successful alter-ego. Notcom 100119

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