ERLE STANLEY GARDNER  by  William F. Nolan                                                  Page Number Five

Indeed, he was a one-man fiction factory, pounding out well over a million words a year, including a full novelette every three nights, and at the same time running a law firm by day and res in court. Gardner had an extremely pragmatic, down-to-earth view of his writing talent and often spoke of marketing his stories in much the same way cookies and cakes are sold by a grocer. Each year he tried to improve his product, nmking his material more salable.

By June of 1931 Gardner and his wife had embarked on a six-month tour of China at the invitation of a prominent mandarin family in Canton. This was a period of serious unrest for China, caught between aggression from Japan on one hand and the threat of a civil war on the other. Out of this seething intrigue, Gardner created a new pulp hero for Argosy: Major Copely Brane, "International Adventurer." The author's own adventures in China rivaled those of his new hero. He was accused of being an American spy and placed under arrest, he was pursued by river pirates, he was caught in a typhoon in Macao, and he came very close to being kidnapped when he walked the streets of Canton without an escort. Yet through it all, Gardner kept the "fiction factory" at full boil, completing eight novelettes each month he was in China and scribbling "a mountain of notes" for future stories.

The year 1932 proved to be a major turning point in Gardner's career. He found that replacing his typewriter with a Dictaphone not only increased his output but also eliminated the strain of typing each manuscript. Gardner began to dictate his stories on wax cylinders, turning them over to his secretary for transcription. He would then make hand corrections on the typed copy before sending it out to market. By this time Gardner was in his forties, and with a dozen years of short fiction behind him, he was determined to try a novel. Dictation made this longer form much easier, and in just five days he completed a seventy- thousand-word work, "Reasonable Doubt. Then he quickly dictated a second full-length novel titled "The Silent Verdict."  The protagonists in both, Ed Stark and Sam Keene, were lawyers- tough, wisecracking characters presented in the typical pulp tradition.

Both novels were rejected by several New York publishers before finding a home with Thayer Hobson, president of William Morrow and Company. Gardner's agent wrote to him quoting Hobson's editorial opinion: "The lawyers in your two books are quite different... he thinks you might combine their qualities to advantage [and] use the same character over and over again a la Sherlock Holmes (Fugate,p. 176). Hobson followed up with a personal letter to Gardner in which he expressed concern over some of the pulpish aspects contained in both works. "Make your lawyer... more subtle and a little less hard-boiled (Eu gate, p. 177)."  He also asked Gardner to come up with a name that would be more acceptable to a book audience. Stark and Keene were too much in the pulp mode. As a boy, Gardner had subscribed to a magazine called the Youth's Companion. The publisher's logo was printed in bold letters on the cover of each issue: "PERRY MASON AND COMPANY,"  Boston, Mass. The perfect name had been found-and one of the most famous characters in crime fiction was born.

 

Perry Mason

There was still the matter of titles.. Ideally, the title of one novel should provide a link to the next. Gardner harked back to a series of 1920s Speed Dash novelettes printed in Top Notch as The Case of the Misplaced Thumbs, "The Case of the Candied Diamonds," and "The Case of the Crushed Carnation". He decided to use this same title pattern for the new Perry Mason series. "Reasonable Doubt became The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), and "The Silent Verdict became The Case of the Sulky Girl (1933).


To Page Number 6