Inside the Archive: Perry Mason in the Post

The Post serialized over a dozen of Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels, and they’re all available in our archives.

Perry Mason interviews a woman

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For decades, the Post was considered the pinnacle of the magazine-fiction market. Authors knew if their story or serialized novel appeared in the magazine, they’d reached the big point in their career.

The Post had introduced G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown to America, as well as Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot. And in 1937, the Post brought millions of readers Perry Mason in Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Lame Canary.

Mason wasn’t a complete unknown. He’d first appeared in The Case of the Velvet Claws with the words, “Perry Mason sat at the big desk. There was about him the attitude of one who is waiting. His face in repose was the like the face of a chess player who is studying the board. That face seldom changed expression. Only the eyes changed expression.”

The Mason of this early work showed the pulp-fiction roots of his author, Erle Stanley Gardner. He has none of the smoothly polished manner of his TV persona. The character is a little rough around the edges, but so is the writing. At this point in his career — 1933 — Gardner was a long way from becoming the country’s most popular mystery narrator.

But the story has many redeeming qualities, particularly Mason’s ability to see motive behind lies, which enabled Gardner to sell his next Mason novel: The Case of the Sulky Girl.

By his tenth Perry Mason novel, Gardner’s work met with the approval from the Post’s fiction editors. And so The Case of the Lame Canary was serialized across eight issues beginning May 29, 1937.

Mason returned in 1942 in The Case of the Careless Kitten, which ran in the Post May 23̶July 11, 1952, a mystery that featured, according to one critic, “a well constructed mystery plot with an ingenious solution.”

The Post can’t take credit for establishing Gardner’s reputation, but we did help get Perry Mason ready for television. According to one source, Gardner dropped some of Mason’s pulp-fiction characteristics for the Post readership. He also added more love interest and made Mason less willing to bend the law to help clients.

Gardner’s Mason novels appeared frequently through the 1950s and early 1960s. Overall, the Post serialized 16 of his cases.

Perry Mason in the Post

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  • The Case of the Lame Canary
    • May 29, Jun 5, Jun 12, Jun 19, Jun 26, Jul 3, Jul 10, Jul 17 1937
  • The Case of the Careless Kitten
    • May 23, May 30, Jun 6, Jun 13, Jun 20, Jun 27, Jul 4, Jul 11 1942; The Mystery Deepens.
  • The Case of the Fugitive Nurse
    • Sep 19, Sep 26, Oct 3, Oct 10, Oct 17, Oct 24, Oct 31, Nov 7 1953
  • The Case of the Restless Redhead
    • Sep 11, Sep 18, Sep 25, Oct 2, Oct 9, Oct 16, Oct 23, Oct 30 1954
  • The Case of the Sun Bather’s Diary
    • Mar 12, Mar 19, Mar 26, Apr 2, Apr 9, Apr 16, Apr 23 1955
  • The Case of the Missing Poison
    • Dec 10, Dec 17, Dec 24, Dec 31 1955, Jan 7, Jan 14, Jan 21, Jan 28 1956
  • The Case of the Lucky Loser
    • Sep 1, Sep 8, Sep 15, Sep 22, Sep 29, Oct 6, Oct 13, Oct 20 1956
  • The Case of the Dead Man’s Daughter
    • Aug 10, Aug 17, Aug 24, Aug 31, Sep 7, Sep 14, Sep 21, Sep 28 1957
  • The Case of the Footloose Doll
    • Feb 1, Feb 8, Feb 15, Feb 22, Mar 1, Mar 8, Mar 15, Mar 22 1958
  • The Case of the Greedy Grandpa
    • Oct 25, Nov 1, Nov 8, Nov 15, Nov 22, Nov 29, Dec 6, Dec 13 1958
  • The Case of the Mythical Monkeys
    • May 2, May 9, May 16, May 23, May 30, Jun 6, Jun 13, Jun 20 1959
  • The Case of the Waylaid Wolf
    • Sep 5, Sep 12, Sep 19, Sep 26, Oct 3, Oct 10, Oct 17, Oct 24 1959
  • The Case of the Duplicate Daughter
    • Jun 4, Jun 11, Jun 18, Jun 25, Jul 2, Jul 9, Jul 16, Jul 23 1960
  • The Case of the Spurious Spinster
    • Jan 28, Feb 18, Feb 25, Mar 11, 1961
  • The Case of the Bigamous Spouse
    • Jul 15, Jul 22, Jul 29, Aug 5, Aug 12, Aug 19, Aug 26 1961
  • The Case of the Mischievous Doll
    • Dec 8 1962

Just as Gardner reshaped Perry Mason for the Post readership, the Post re-imaged Mason to reflect his more familiar incarnation: TV’s Raymond Burr. The Post’s story illustrations show a strong TV influence.

  • July 15, 1961, page 17
  • June 4, 1960 page 23
  • Sep 12, 1959 page 34
  • Sep 26, 1959 page 36
  • Oct 25, 1958 page 27

Perry Mason was far from Gardner’s only character. He wrote stories with a number of protagonists. One the less famous is Peter Quint, who stars in three stories about a salesman who is fast witted and imaginative (though he’s no Alexander Botts). All three Quint stories appeared in the Post.

Peter Quint in the Post

  • “The Last Bell on the Street”
    • May 3 1941
  • “That’s a Woman for You”
    • May 31 1941
  • “The Big Squeeze”
    • Nov 15 1941

Gardner also offered the view from the prosecution table with a character named Doug Selby. He’s a District Attorney elected on a reform platform. He solves mysteries in a rural California county while fighting political corruption. His nemesis is a ruthless, crooked defense attorney. Two Selby stories ran in the Post.

Doug Selby in the Post

  • “The D.A. Breaks a Seal”
    • Dec 1, Dec 8, Dec 15, Dec 22, Dec 29 1945, Jan 5, Jan 12 1946
  • “The D.A. Takes a Chance”
    • Jul 31, Aug 7, Aug 14, Aug 21, Aug 28, Sep 4, Sep 11, Sep 18 1948

Featured image: Illustration by James R. Bingham for “The Case of the Greedy Grandpa” by Earle Stanley Gardner, from the October 25, 1958, issue of the Post (© SEPS).

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  1. My father was Perry Peterson. He was an artist who illustrated many of the Saturday Evening Posts’ fictional stories and serials.

  2. Thanks for this Jeff. As a big fan of the show it’s always great to come across a Perry Mason story when surfing through the archives.

  3. This is a helpful guide as to the Perry Mason serialized stories in the Post. As soon as I saw the beautiful illustration at the top (and was guessing the year) I figured late ’57-’59 after the Raymond Burr show was on. The artist did a great job! Love the mid-century lights and look otherwise, not to mention the dame.

    Do you know, Jeff, if the ’57-’66 series ever used the Post (say) in shots of people reading a magazine in the office or at home? Just something natural or casual; maybe laying visibly on a table? I haven’t seen an episode in a long time. Just wondered. Sometimes on ABC shows (now) they’ll show a child with a Disney stuffed animal from ‘Frozen’ or ‘Toy Story’ nonchalantly. I know on the ’60s series ‘Hazel’ they had ‘based on the character (or cartoon?) from The Saturday Evening Post in the closing credits.

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