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Interesting Facts About Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner's Baby Cup

The World's Most Famous Lawyer - "Faceless Hero"


The following are courtesy of Valerie Zwirn, collector of all things unique about Erle Stanley Gardner...

1. Erle Stanley Gardner had one daughter, Grace, now Mrs. Alan R. McKittrick, born to his first wife between 1912 and 1930.

2. For part of his career, he operated out of a large office suite at Seventh Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.

3. Perry Mason provided the final evidence that tied up the loose ends of  The President' s Mystery Story, a novel suggested by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and written by six popular mystery novelists (Rupert Hughes, Samuel Hopkins Adams, Anthony Abbot, Rita Weiman, S. S. Van Dyne, and John Erskine). First serialized in Liberty magazine (beginning on November 16, 1935), it was published in book form in 1936. Gardner s concluding chapter did not appear until the book was reprinted in 1967, when the book was retitled The President's Mystery Plot.

This is taken from the book flap and back cover:

On Sunday evening, May 12, 1935, the President of the United States was entertaining a few friends at an informal supper in the White House.. .In the course of the evening, the talk turned to mystery thrillers.. .Fulton Oursler asked whether the President had ever thought of writing a mystery himself.

Roosevelt chuckled and said "To tell you the truth, I have often thought about it. In fact, I have carried the plot for a mystery in my mind for years. But I can t find the solution to my own plot! And I ve never found anyone else who could either."

"How can a man disappear with five million dollars in any negotiable form and not be traced?"

"For years I have tried to answer that problem. In every method suggested, I have been able to find a flaw. The more you consider the question, the more difficult it becomes. Now--can you tell me how it can be done?"

Thus said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to his good friend Fulton Oursler, then editor of Liberty Magazine. "Suppose," replied Oursler, "that we were to ask the leading writers of the United States to solve this problem. Why could they not all collaborate on a mystery story in which your problem is dramatized in the person of a man faced with this predicament?"

The President s famous, joyous laugh responded, "That would be fun! Go ahead. See what you can all do with it."

And that is just what Oursler did, going to the outstanding mystery writers of the day and challenging them to take "the President s mystery plot" and see what they could "do with it." Each contributed a chapter to the mystery embroiling the central character, Jim Blake, in a series of seemingly insoluble situations, and then leaving him for the next author in line.

Out of this conversation came a unique event in publishing history--a "chain" mystery novel in which each chapter is written by a different major author of the day. But like Roosevelt, none of them was able to solve "the President s mystery plot" and so it remained unsolved until P---- M---- entered the case.

Jim Blake was left hanging for thirty years, until Erle Stanley Gardner--in the person of P---- M---- came to his rescue, and the result is the volume you now hold in your hand. Wild adventure, zany humor, a truly absorbing mystery plot--plus Arnold Roth s wild illustrations--all make this unique book highly entertaining, and, as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. says in his introduction, "a natural for the camp generation."

The President s Mystery Plot is "high camp" entertainment at its best. If you like wild adventure, zany humor and a truly absorbing mystery plot--plus the pop-art illustrations of Arnold Roth--then The President's Mystery Plot is for you.

"A literary curiosity that s plain fun."

The front jacket photograph is of the famous sphinx from the Gridiron Club Dinner of 1939. Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.

4. He had a 1,000 acre ranch near Temecula, California called Rancho del Paisano.

5. Stung by Hollywood s early treatment of his material, he became a producer, founding Paisano Productions, to guard his properties. Gardner worked without credit as script supervisor for the long-running Perry  Mason television series (1957-66), starring Raymond Burr, and within a few years, television's restrictive influence had infiltrated the new Mason novels.

6. He was founder and member of the Court of Last Resort (now the Case Review Committee) from 1948 to 1960, a real life association of crime experts and investigators who reopened cases wherein a person might have been falsely convicted. His nonfiction account of this organization's cases won him the 1952 Fact Crime Edgar Alan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America, another organization he helped found.

7. He was an honorary life member of the American Polygraph Association.

8. He won the Grand Master Award in 1961 from the Mystery Writers of America.

9. The Erle Stanley Gardner Papers and Manuscript Collection are in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. His works are also included in the Warner Brothers Archives at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California.

10. The Erle Stanley Gardner Estate apparently still exists in Fallbrook, California.

11. Gardner had developed a number of series characters, some of which were quite popular, that were printed in the pulp magazine Black Mask in the 1920s and early 1930s. P----  M---- was his first novel-length character, the one he wrote the most about, and the one who has most often appeared in television, motion pictures, radio, and other popular media.

12. By the time Gardner died in 1970, he had written a total of 71 stories featuring Ed Jenkins and 67 stories with Lester Leith.

13. Perry  Mason is an example of a "highly formulaic" television series that has few equals of comparable success. It was developed by a production company, Paisano Productions, which was owned by Gardner. The name ‘Paisano is a direct reference to his ranch outside of  Temecula, California: The ‘Rancho del Paisano, which was, in turn, named for a character used by Gardner in a number of short stories in Argosy in the 1930s featuring a character named ‘El Paisano (a name that means ‘friend ). In fact, the struggle that Gardner continually waged against various individuals and organizations who would want to control his work matched the struggle during the same period (1937 - 1951) in the beautiful southern California ranch land near Temecula to build an isolated sanctuary for writing--from the first purchase of the property in 1937 to the establishment of the first phone line into the ranch in 1951.

 14. Certainly one can consider the never-consummated sexual relationship of Mason and Street. The television version features the continual, though mostly platonic and affectionate, sparring that goes on between Mason and Street. In the novels, including those written after the television series began, Gardner keeps the pair affectionate, though not sexual. This could be explained in two ways. One way is biographical: Gardner based the relationship on his own situation in which he remained married to his wife while separated from her. Then, within months of his first wife s death, he married his longtime secretary, Jean Bethel Walter. The thirty-year friendship between actual author and secretary paralleled the friendship between fictional lawyer and secretary. This explanation further implies that Gardner kept Street and Mason apart as a demonstration of his own ethical relation to both wife and secretary. (Looking at how he used his own life at the bar for insertion into those character traits that are Perry Mason, there is room to see this as a possibility.) Another likely reason is primarily generic and is compositionally motivated. The relationship between Mason and Street occurs for narrative necessity. To continue as a series, the formula should not make drastic changes in what and how narrative devices are used. One of those devices initiated in the first novel is the sexual tension between Mason and Street. To continue with the change made in the film, leaving Mason married to Street, would have sent the plot construction in a new direction. From all indications the Mason-Street pairing is an imitation of the Nick-Nora pairing in The Thin Man. The implications for the rest of the series are enormous. For one thing, the film's dialogue between Street and Mason suggests that there would have to be a new secretary for Mason. This would indicate that Street, as Mrs. Mason, would be at home while her husband was off conducting his lawyer-detective duties. Another development derived from the film's story line suggests that Mason could cease handling criminal cases altogether. This would create a standard mystery story situation wherein Mason would have to be dragged back into action by report of a friend or loved one in peril. This would also be identical to MGM's The Thin Man series--with retired police detective Nick Charles, married to the wealthy Nora, summoned out each detective plot when all the time he would rather be drinking. Such would complete the transformation. This was not to be, as evidenced in the two films that followed: The Case of the Black Cat and The Case of the Stuttering Bishop. In these films the sexual tension is back and the marriage certificate is gone. There is no further mention of it in those later films, as if it had never happened.

15. On September 12, 1993, Burr died at the age of 76 after a long battle with kidney cancer. As the legitimate and tabloid press reported the details of his death throughout the country, the ensuing discourse blended what was known with what was suspected about his personal life. Suspicions about his homosexuality and his two failed marriages were mixed with discussion of Burr's role as Mason. People magazine noted that Burr and Mason "had become not only America s Lawyer but the world's." (J. D. Podolsky and Doris Bacon, "The Defense Rests," People, September 27, 1993, page 40)

16. Gardner is the most translated American author: his books have been published in71 languages.

17. From the very earliest stages of his writing career, Gardner considered himself to be both a salesman and a craftsman. A clue in to how much of a salesman he was is seen in 1926 when he remarked that audiences were "the ultimate consumers" and that his purpose as a writer was to serve those consumers.

18. Gardner decided on the 66,000 words a week figure after reading the work of a fiction writer whose writing he admired and who preceded Gardner by several decades. William Wallace Cook was a prolific writer of pulp fiction who wrote between 1889 and his death in 1933. He managed to regularly turn out 66,000 words a week. If anyone could have been considered Gardner s mentor during his early pulp-writing days, it was Cook. Cook maintained in his book The Fiction Factory (1912) that "if the product is good, it passes at face value and becomes a medium of exchange."



Recipe for Podunk Candy by Erle Stanley Gardner

We tried this. Not bad. Actually quite tasty. You may have to experiment with the timing on this, though.

4 ozs. Chocolate
1-2/3 bottles Dark Caro Syrup
1 lb. Dark Brown Sugar
2-1/2 Tbs. Butter (reserve 1 Tbs.)
Lots of Vanilla extract

Cook in a fair size pan over good heat until it bubbles like a volcano. Add 1 Tbs. butter at the end to soften.
Pour on greased (?) cookie sheet or candy plate. Cool and crack with a hammer. 

                                                                                    - From Valerie J. Naso, Gardner's grand daughter