Perry Mason has never lost a case in his life; his fictional life, but a life nonetheless.
Whether you have grown with a grandfather obsessing over the nuanced arguments of a stoic Perry Mason or were blown away by HBO’s remarkable revival of the ’70s TV soap character, you must have heard at least once that Perry Mason has never lost a case in his life!
So is it true? Not one case? Even though he always picked up the most impossible-looking cases where the whole government and legal institution is hell-bent on pronouncing the innocent as guilty? How is that even possible, you may ask. Well, it is not.
Perry Mason is known to have almost lost three cases in his career—The Case of the Terrified Typist, The Case of the Witless Witness, and The Case of the Deadly Verdict. Mason also lost a case being framed for witness tampering in The Case of the Dead Ringer.
Perry Mason has definitely walked out of a hearing disappointed and more than once. Even though fans will tell you he never technically “lost” any case, here’s the nitty-gritty.
1. Did Perry Mason Ever Lose a Case?
Perry Mason has not lost a single case in his entire career. However, there are three distinct cases that he ALMOST lost but recovered back using his wits and instincts.
Created by lawyer-turned-author Erle Stanley Gardner, the character of Perry Mason has been the single most popular lawyer to capture the American imagination for nearly seven decades.
Starting from 1933, when Gardner penned his first Perry Mason short story, to HBO’s re-imagination of the character in an 8-part revival series in 2020—the character has sure come a long way.
In between, there were 80 novels and short stories, three TV series, and at least 30 films based on trysts of Perry Mason and the laws of man.
But there were at least three incidents when Perry’s vivid imagination and meticulous search for the truth failed him and he lost the ruling.
2. What Is Perry’s Secret for Success?
Some say Perry was touched by God and since he was doing the work of God by fighting for the innocent, he could never lose. Others say he was too smart for the American legal system.
Yet others, especially those who have seen (experienced) the HBO revival, feel that Perry has already bent the morals of his life a lot more than most without breaking them, that he is not easily overwhelmed.
But there were instances when he too struggled with certain moral dilemmas before the court of law. There are three famous instances.
3. The Case of the Deadly Verdict
Perry’s most famous “loss” has to be from “The Case of the Deadly Verdict”. Unlike the rest of the show, this particular episode opens in the courtroom.
At the very start of the show, Perry’s client Janice Barton is convicted of murdering her aunt and subsequently sentenced to the gallows.
However, even after the verdict is pronounced, Perry continues his investigation in order to try and find the real killer among the woman’s heirs.
Even the name of the episode spoke for itself what the writers had in mind. To pump up the hoohaa around this episode, producer Gail Jackson released teasers to the press that year.
Jackson teased the possibility of Perry’s client being found guilty. Mocking the publicity stunt was The New York Times, that wrote:
“Presumably this is the first time in six years that . . . Burr has been called upon to register surprise.”Gail Jackson
However, the surprise did not last long as Perry and his client managed to reverse the circumstances just before the final commercial.
4. The Case of the Terrified Typist
A terrified woman walks into Perry Mason’s office following his call for a temporary typist in the papers.
But the woman soon goes AWOL, leaving behind two diamonds at Mason’s office in a hurry.
Soon after, a gem importer who has been charged with smuggling and murder comes to Mason for help. The key to solving the tangled case lies with the missing typist.
By the end of this case, the jury returns a guilty verdict against Perry’s client, giving his nemesis Hamilton Burger goosebumps thinking he had finally beaten Mason. But alas, Perry still manages to clear the gem importer of all charges.
5. The Case of the Witless Witness
The last of the three most popular rulings that went against him was “The Case of the Witless Witness”.
Revered Judge Daniel Redmond has been nominated to run for Lt. Governor. However, he soon finds himself being forced to turn it down due to an accusation of fraud following by the murder of the whistleblower.
While Judge Redmond is looking for a lawyer to defend his case, he is ruling over a civil lawsuit where Perry Mason is one of the representatives. Perry loses the said civil lawsuit but is hired by Judge Redmond for his own case.
Judge Redmond also consoles Perry that he could always go to the appeals court with a plea and Perry also successfully defends him against the influence-peddling and murder charge. A victory was hidden in the loss.
6. Verdict: So What Is the Secret?
The secret of Perry Mason’s unblemished record? Just two words actually: good writing. Even after the franchise moved beyond its original creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, and into the hands of show writers of ’50s Hollywood, Perry Mason only grew in popularity. Gardner had set a rhythm and it was not a simple one.
A murder was committed, and the innocent yet highly suspected party hired Perry. Clues were chased, and red herrings revealed. Plots, subplots, and sub-sub plots rose to the surface.
One of the secrets of the Mason show was that, unlike other television mysteries of the time, the scripts concentrated less on the actual murder and more on hunting down the clues.
Even in the revival, we can see Perry confirming for his own satisfaction that his client is truly innocent.
The whole process then becomes a two-way process, his investigations inform his battle and his battle empowers his hunt for truth against all odds.
The execution of the murder itself is never the most important thing on the show. Thorough knowledge of the law had to be mandatory, in addition to excellent writing skills, to avoid thrill for the sake of it, for creating such a consistent show.
Not surprisingly, many of Hollywood’s best storymen would pass up opportunities to write for the show, although the money was as good as any in town.
One writer, Gene Wang, is widely credited for getting most of the outstanding scripts on the show.
Wang was also a lawyer, which must have seemed like a prerequisite for the job because some of the stories, especially in the later seasons, were so complicated, even Clarence Darrow would have had a hard time figuring them out.
This was a streak that continued with the HBO revival where the writers went a notch up.
This time around, in addition to the legal system, Perry was also up against the moral codes of the times, especially those for women (with a hint of witchcraft as well).
So, a good amount of labor of love went into ensuring that Perry Mason could come out as the winner every single time he came up against the unjust legal system.
Did you watch the Perry Mason series?
The HBO Original is currently streaming on Disney+ and has eight parts, one hour each.
7. About Perry Mason (2020)
Perry Mason is an American period drama television series based on the character of the same name created by Erle Stanley Gardner. It focuses on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason. The series was developed and written by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and stars Matthew Rhys in the title role.
Long before Perry Mason became the legendary lawyer that he was, he was a PTSD-ridden war vet struggling to find his place in the world. His first test as a lawyer was the gruesome killing of a child who was kidnapped and returned with his eyes sewn open. His next case is to reveal the true killer of Brooks McCutcheon.