The Perry Mason TV Show Book
The History of the Show

Perry Mason on the Radio

Since his film experience with Hollywood turned out to be so embarrassing it may come as a surprise that Gardner agreed to put his hero on radio. Although his compadres advised him to aim for a nighttime, prime time slot for Mason, Gardner sold the radio rights to Procter & Gamble, the kingpins of soap, who decided to put the series on during the day. (It was these daytime radio programs, usually funded by detergent companies, that gave rise to the name "soap opera.") The Perry Mason radio series premiered on a few stations in October 1943 and in three months was playing five days a week on stations all across the country.

In the early days of the show, it was blondes who had more fun. But it was a brunette who stayed with Perry to the end. Courtesy of TV Guide/Gene Trindl

Gardner considered the show a kind of continuing advertisement for his books, in the same way that the Ellery Queen radio show promoted the popular detective books of the same name. But when he sat down and tried to write scripts for the episodes, he failed miserably. "As a soaper, I stunk," he said at the time. He admitted his strengths were in narrative writing and not scripting.

When the sponsors brought in another writer to punch up the Mason character, Gardner felt his control of the show (he had "veto rights") slipping away. He came to dislike the show's writing, the plots, the production, even the ads. And he must have been qualified to judge. He monitored the program every day, taking notes--not many of which were complimentary.

The voice of Perry Mason on the radio, John Larkin, returned to star in "The Case of the Greek Goddess." Copyright 1944 Courtesy of the New York Public Library John Larkin as Perry Mason and Joan Alexander as Della Street played the famous duo on the CBS daytime radio program. Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Gardner didn't feel right about the show. This went on for the first three years. Then a writer named Irving Vendig appeared on the scene. He was responsible for giving Perry Mason more character, more color, a taste for gourmet foods, and even a few friends. Gradually, Perry became more concrete. Eventually, Gardner came around to like Vendig and the "new" Mason.

As time went on, the show became more popular and successful. Many different voices were used for Perry: Bartlett Robinson, Santos Ortega, Donald Briggs, and John Larkin among them. (At one time, actor Walter Pidgeon was close to signing on as the voice of Perry, but the deal never went through. Years later, he would do a cameo guest role on the TV show.) Jan Miner and Joan Alexander were two actresses who provided the voice for Della. Several actors played Paul Drake and police lieutenant Arthur Tragg, but Hamilton Burger had very few lines, the DA being relegated to a minor role on radio. In all, dozens of actors and more than 3,200 scripts were used during the radio show's twelve-year life.

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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.