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A Year: Day to Day Men: 16th of July, Solar Year 2018

Two Birch Trees

July 17, 1889 was the birthdate of American detective writer Erle Stanley Gardner.

Erle Stanley Gardner, as a lawyer, enjoyed litigation and the development of trial strategy but was otherwise bored by legal practice. In his spare time, he began writing for pulp magazines; his first story was published in 1923. Gardner created many series characters for the pulps, including the ingenious Lester Leith, a parody of the “gentleman thief”; and Ken Corning, crusading lawyer, crime sleuth, and archetype for his most successful creation, Perry Mason.

While the Perry Mason novels did not delve into their characters lives very much, the novels were rich in plot detail which was reality-based and drawn from Gardner’s own experience. In his early years writing for the pulp magazine market, Gardner set himself a quota of 1,200,000 words a year. With the success of the Perry Mason book series, which eventually ran to over 80 novels, Gardner gradually reduced his contributions to the pulp magazines until the medium itself died in the 1950s.

Gardner created Perry Mason as a recurring character in a series of Hollywood films of the 1930s, and then for the radio program “Perry Mason”  which ran from 1943 to 1955. In 1954, CBS proposed transforming the radio program into a television soap opera; but Gardner opposed the idea. In 1957, “Perry Mason” became instead a long-running CBS-TV drama series, starring Raymond Burr in the title role. Burr had auditioned for the role of the district attorney Hamilton Burger; but Gardner reportedly declared he was the embodiment of Perry Mason. The series’ last episode was “The Case of the Final Fade-Out” in 1966 with a cameo appearance of Gardner as a judge.

Gardner devoted thousands of hours to “The Court of Last Resort”, in collaboration with his many friends in the forensic, legal, and investigative communities. The project sought to review, and when appropriate, reverse miscarriages of justice against criminal defendants who had been convicted because of poor legal representation, abuse, misinterpretation of forensic evidence, or careless or malicious actions of police or prosecutors. The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category, and was later made into a TV series.

Gardner died in March of 1970 at his ranch in Temecula- the best-selling American writer of the 20th century at the time of his death. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds Gardner’s manuscripts, art collection, and personal effects. From 1972 to 2010, the Ransom Center featured a full-scale reproduction of Gardner’s study that displayed original furnishings, personal memorabilia, and artifacts.