William F. Nolan. Critic, historian, novelist, and
screenwriter. Nolan's books include The Black Mask Boys, Hammet: A Life at the Edge,
and The Marble Orchard, the latest in his Black Mask Mystery series. His
crime-based movies of the week include Melvin Purvis, C-Man, The Kansas City Massacre,
The Norliss Tapes, Sky Heist, and Terror at London Bridge. Nolan attended the
Kansas City Art Institute and San Diego State College and has lectured widely, taught a
creative writing seminar at Bowling Green State University, and contributed to over 240
magazines and newspapers worldwide. Twice winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar
Special Award, Nolan's output includes 65 books, 135 short stories, 600 nonfiction
magazine pieces, and 40 screenplays. His works have been selected for some 250 anthologies
and textbooks. He is recognized as a major authority in the genre of hard-boiled fiction.
ERLE STANLEY GARDNER
by WILLIAM F. NOLAN
CONSIDER THE STATISTICS: in a career that spanned five
decades, Erie Stanley Gardner sold more than seven hundred fictional works, including 127
novels (82 of them featuring his fighting lawyer, the global icon Perry Mason). Adding in
four hundred articles and more than a dozen travel tomes, his overall creative total
climbs past eleven hundred, embracing 155 published books in thirty- seven languages
around the world. Media totals for Perry Mason alone include six motion pictures, 3,221
radio episodes, 271 television episodes, and more than twenty made-for- television movies.
No updated figures are available, but it is estimated that some 325 million of Gardner's
books have been distributed globally, making him one of history's all- time best-selling
mystery writers. At the height of his popularity (in the mid- 1960s), his novels were
being sold at an average of twenty-six thousand copies per day! No other author came close
to this amazing sales record.
Yet writing was only one facet of Gardner's complex life. He spoke
fluent Chinese, worked as a professional attorney for twenty- two years, and was an ardent
sportsman (boxing, fishing, archery, tennis, and golf), a constant traveler (China, Baja
California, and the desert country of the American Southwest), a working rancher (raising
horses, dogs, and cattle), founder of and activist in the Court of Last Resort
(established to aid prisoners who maintained that they had been unjustly convicted), an
enthusiastic wildlife photographer (illustrating his own travel books), and an amateur
explorer and criminologist-with an in-depth knowledge of geology, archaeology,
engineering, astronomy, forensic medicine, natural history, and the breeding habits of the
California gray whale.
Erie Stanley Gardner was born to Charles W. Gardner and Grace Adelma
Waugh Gardner on 17 July 1889, the second of three sons, in Malden, Massachusetts, a
modest community boasting a strong New England heritage. Speaking of his ancestors (as
quoted in The Black Mask Boys), Gardner declared that his roots extended back to
the Mayflower on his mother's side and that he was "descended from hardy New
England stock. My forebears were the captains of windjammers, whalers...out of Nantucket
" (Nolan, p. 94).
At age ten, he had just completed the fourth grade when his father
moved the family west to Portland, Oregon, where the elder Gardner intended to pursue a
career in engineering. Three years later they were headed into the Klondike, where Charles
Gardner found employment as a mining engineer.
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