Monday, July 17, 2017

Gardner, Mason, lawyers, detectives, and questions

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

     It's the birthday of detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner (books by this author), born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He earned money through high school by participating in illegal boxing matches. He went on to Valparaiso University to study law, but after only a month, he got kicked out for boxing. So he studied law on his own, and he passed the California bar exam when he was 21. He went to his swearing-in ceremony after a boxing match, and said that he was probably the only attorney in the state to be sworn in with two black eyes.
     He liked working as a lawyer, but it wasn't enough to keep him busy, so he started writing detective fiction for pulp magazines. In 1933, he published The Case of the Velvet Claws, his first novel featuring detective and defense attorney Perry Mason, who always pulled through and won cases for the underdogs. Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels, and his books have sold more than 300 million copies.
     He said: "I still have vivid recollections of putting in day after day of trying a case in front of a jury, which is one of the most exhausting activities I know about, dashing up to the law library after court had adjourned to spend three or four hours looking up law points with which I could trap my adversary the next day, then going home, grabbing a glass of milk with an egg in it, dashing upstairs to my study, ripping the cover off my typewriter, noticing it was 11:30 p.m. and settling down with grim determination to get a plot for a story. Along about 3 in the morning I would have completed my daily stint of a 4,000-word minimum and would crawl into bed."


And in my personal postscript, because of Gardner's story, I have two observations and two questions?

(1) It's interesting that the article describes Perry Mason as both detective and defense attorney. The description leads me to stretch things a bit with my question. So, who are your favorite fictional detectives who had primary careers in something other than crime detection?

(2) It's also interesting that Gardner, at least for a while, worked as a lawyer while he wrote stories in his "spare time." See the linked Wikipedia article (click on the author's name at the beginning), and read details about Gardner's career trajectory and personal life. Well, Gardner's time as both lawyer and writer leads me to a question. Can you come up with names of other famous writers who had primary careers and worked as writers in their "spare time"?


  1. no... but my memory is bad so i'm handicapped... anyway, the Mrs. and i just love PM, both the Raymond Burr on TV and the books... i think we've read about forty of them and while there is some plot carryover, in general, they're remarkably interesting... just thought i'd say...

    1. "She Who Must Be Obeyed" and I have been watching Burr as Mason on TV lately. The experience is like being sent via a time-machine back to the less harrowing days of years past. I miss those days.