The Perry Mason TV Show Book
Barbara Hale as Della Street

Do They or Don't They?
TV Guide always like the Mason show, featuring the series and its individual characters almost two dozen times over the course of nine years. Here TV Guide's publisher James T. Quick, presents trophies to Gail Patrick Jackson, executive producer of the Mason series, and Barbara Hale at the second annual TV Guide awards in 1961. Copyright 1961 UPI

In many ways, the role of Della was a contradiction. Far from being a man-hater, she was alluring, sexy, and, given a chance, even sensual. In the Erle Stanley Gardner books, she was depicted as saucy, tough, independent, and forever "straightening the seams of her stockings." Yet where were the men in her life? On TV, she was never shown dating and rarely more than small-talking to another man. While Paul Drake, a sophisticated masher, was always showering her with terms like: "Hi, beautiful" and "Doll," he treated her more like the kid sister of his best friend. One telling scene appeared in "The Case of the Fatal Fortune." Perry, Paul, and Della were attending a wedding reception, and Della caught the bridal bouquet. Thus marked as the "next to marry," Della fixed her gaze on Paul, who was innocently lurking nearby. He interpreted her stare and immediately fled the scene after blurting out: "Well, don't look at me!"

Perry and Della were another story. The Perry-Della romance advocates have been around since the early Mason books. Bringing the characters to TV only intensified the debate. Do they or don't they? For the proponents of the "they do" theory, there are many tantalizing clues. Perry once said this: "Good morning, Della. Along with your lovely face and soothing voice, I could use a cup of steaming hot coffee." Sounds like early morning pillow talk, no? Or, during "The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece," a tired Perry was treated by Della, who massaged his shoulders. In "The Case of the Bartered Bikini," we saw Della asleep on the couch in the office late at night, waiting for Perry to return. Still another time, in "The Case of the Baited Hook," Perry was sacked out on his couch suffering from the flu. Della was there, lovingly nursing the sick young lawyer--who was, by the way, clad only in his pajamas. And, in "The Case of the Substitute Face," what further evidence did we need to lead us to believe that Della and Perry were an item than to see them returning from a vacation on a cruise ship together?

So, what's going here?

"Funny the ideas people get," Raymond Burr once said, commenting on the situation. "They want to know if Della and Perry are having a romance. Pretty silly question! They have a normal man-woman relationship. And that is many things to many people." Even Erle Stanley Gardner said early on: "If [Perry] married Della, he would lose his sex appeal."

So, did we ever find out what was really going on between these two? The answer is: no. Some clues didn't pan out, much to the dismay of the romantics. The "smiling face-coffee" statement was uttered not face-to-face in the early morning light but from Perry's office, via the intercom, to Della's desk outside. The back rub was followed by no more than a request from Perry for more work. Even before the cruise ship docked, there was a murder to be solved. And when Della visited a sick Perry, it would have been more exciting if she had just sent chicken soup.

But still, the romantics persist. "Those who want Della to sleep with Perry are the ones who are afraid she isn't," Erle Stanley Gardner once wrote his editor at Morrow. "[And] those who think she shouldn't are the ones who are certain she is."

But it's not as if Della hadn't dropped a few hints.

At the end of "The Case of the Tarnished Trademark," Della and Perry helped two newlyweds pack for their honeymoon in Copenhagen.

Della: "What is it that makes a man wait all those years to get married?"
Perry: "You've been my legal secretary long enough to know that's a leading question."

How true. Gardner had the final word on the matter. Said he: "If Perry and Della ever have a romance, I'd write about it."

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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.