A famous fiction
Perry Mason is best known through the TV series of the same name, but the character was a household word long before the show began its ten year run.
He began his career in the 1930's as the protagonist in a series of books by Erle Stanley Gardner. The books were very successful, and were soon snapped up by Hollywood. There were a half-dozen Perry Mason movies made by Warner Brothers in the thirties. The movies were not very good. Warner took increasingly ample liberties with the books, culminating at last with a rewrite of The Case of the Dangerous Dowager that became a western with no Perry Mason character at all. Gardner cut his ties with Hollywood, not without bitterness.
Mason's next incarnation was on radio. Gardner sold the production rights to Procter and Gamble, who sponsored Perry as a daytime soap opera that began in 1943 and ran for twelve years - over 3000 episodes.
Gardner was never very happy with the radio show either, but it was very popular, and it propelled the sales of Gardner's books to a sufficient level that by the mid fifties, he was able to launch his own production company, Paisano Productions. When he pulled out of radio, Procter & Gamble metamorphosed the stranded Perry Mason cast and crew into a new soap, The Edge of Night, which went on to become a TV classic in its own right.
CBS bought Gardner's product, and in 1957, the Raymond Burr Perry Mason debuted.
The early TV episodes were adaptations of Gardner's books, and the Mason they portrayed was, as Perry Mason always was, Good, and Strong in Honesty, but his legal ethics were rough. He was not above breaking and entering, concealing evidence, or even hiding his clients from the police. As the series wore on over its 217 episodes (all but one in black and white), the character mellowed into the straight arrow most of us remember.
The show was dominated by Burr, but its long success was truly an ensemble effort. Though the characters in Erle Stanley Gardner's books were not strongly drawn, it would be the rare individual who could read one without picturing Barbara Hale as Della Street, William Hopper as Paul Drake, William Talman as Hamilton Burger, and Ray Collins as Lieutenant Tragg.
There have been other manifestations of the Perry Mason character, including a series of made-for-TV movies with some of the original TV cast, but for most people, the B&W TV show defines him. People of a certain age, (or anyone with cable TV), can nail the theme song of that show in under one second...