Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889 – March 11, 1970) was an American lawyer and author. He is best known for the Perry Mason series of detective stories, but he wrote numerous other novels and shorter pieces and also a series of nonfiction books, mostly narrations of his travels through Baja California and other regions in Mexico.

Erle Stanley Gardner
Gardner in 1966
Gardner in 1966
Born(1889-07-17)July 17, 1889
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.[1]
DiedMarch 11, 1970(1970-03-11) (aged 80)
Temecula, California, U.S.
Pen nameKyle Corning, A.A. Fair, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Robert Parr, Les Tillray
OccupationLawyer, writer
GenreDetective fiction, true crime, travel writing
Notable works
Notable awards
Natalie Frances Talbert
(m. 1912; died 1968)
Agnes Jean Bethell
(m. 1968)

The best-selling American author of the 20th century at the time of his death, Gardner also published under numerous pseudonyms, including A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr.

Life and workEdit

The First National Bank Building in Ventura, where Gardner wrote drafts for first Perry Mason novels

Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Grace Adelma (Waugh) and Charles Walter Gardner.[2][3] Gardner graduated from Palo Alto High School in California in 1909 and enrolled at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana. He was suspended after approximately one month when his interest in boxing became a distraction. He returned to California, pursued his legal education on his own, and passed the state Bar exam in 1911. A law degree was not a prerequisite for bar candidates at that time; law students could sit for the examination as soon as they felt qualified.[4][nb 1]

He started his legal career by working as a typist in a law firm in California for 3 years. In 1911 he was admitted to the Bar and started as a trial lawyer by defending poor people, in particular Chinese and Mexican immigrants. His active interest in defending those who were wrongly implicated and those who didn't have anyone to support them, led to his founding The Court of Last Resort in the 1940s, which was an organization that was dedicated to helping people who were imprisoned unfairly or couldn't get a fair trial.[5]

In 1912, Gardner wed Natalie Frances Talbert. They had a daughter, Grace.[6] He opened his first law office in Merced in 1917, but closed it after accepting a position at a sales agency. In 1921, he returned to law as a member of the Ventura firm Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau, and Gardner,[4] where he remained until 1933.[7]

Gardner enjoyed litigation and the development of trial strategy but was otherwise bored by legal practice. In his spare time, he began writing for pulp magazines. His first story was published in 1923. He created many series characters for the pulps, including the ingenious Lester Leith, a parody of the "gentleman thief" in the tradition of A. J. Raffles; and Ken Corning, crusading lawyer, crime sleuth, and archetype for his most successful creation, Perry Mason. While the Perry Mason novels seldom delved deeply into characters' lives, the novels were rich in plot detail which was reality-based and drawn from his own experience.[8] In his early years writing for the pulp magazine market, Gardner set himself a quota of 1,200,000 words a year.[9]:13 Early on, he typed stories himself, using two fingers, but later dictated them to a team of secretaries.[citation needed]

Under the pen name A. A. Fair, Gardner wrote a series of novels about the private detective firm of Cool and Lam. In another series, district attorney Doug Selby litigated against attorney Alphonse Baker Carr in an inversion of the Perry Mason scenario. Prosecutor Selby is portrayed as a courageous and imaginative crime solver; his antagonist A. B. Carr is a wily shyster whose clients are invariably "as guilty as hell".

Gardner remained with Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau, and Gardner until 1933, when The Case of the Velvet Claws was published. Much of that story is set at the historic Pierpont Inn near his law office.[7] In 1937, Gardner moved to Temecula, California, where he lived for the rest of his life.

With the success of the Mason series, more than 80 novels, Gardner gradually reduced his contributions to the pulp magazines until the medium died in the 1950s. Thereafter, he published a few short stories in the "glossies", such as Collier's, Sports Afield, and Look,[10] but most of his postwar magazine contributions were nonfiction articles on travel, Western history, and forensic science. Gardner's readership was a broad and international one, and included the English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who in 1949 called Gardner the best living American writer.[11][12]

Perry Mason executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson (left) and Erle Stanley Gardner speak with Hollywood columnist Norma Lee Browning during filming of the last episode, "The Case of the Final Fade-Out" (1966)

Gardner also created characters for various radio programs, including Christopher London (1950), starring Glenn Ford, and A Life in Your Hands (1949–1952).[13]:10, 157 He created Perry Mason as a recurring character in a series of Hollywood films of the 1930s, and then for the radio program Perry Mason, which ran from 1943 to 1955. In 1954, CBS proposed transforming Perry Mason into a TV soap opera. When Gardner opposed the idea, CBS created The Edge of Night, featuring John Larkin—who voiced Mason on the radio show—as a thinly veiled imitation of the Mason character.[13]:199–201

In 1957, Perry Mason became a long-running CBS-TV series, starring Raymond Burr in the title role. Burr had auditioned for the role of the district attorney Hamilton Burger, but Gardner reportedly declared he was the embodiment of Perry Mason.[14] Gardner made an uncredited appearance as a judge in "The Case of the Final Fade-Out" (1966), the last episode of the series.[15][16]:24

He had a lifelong fascination with Baja California and wrote a series of nonfiction travel accounts describing his extensive explorations of the peninsula by boat, truck, airplane, and helicopter.

The Court of Last Resort (1952) earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category.

Gardner devoted thousands of hours to "The Court of Last Resort", in collaboration with his many friends in the forensic, legal, and investigative communities. The project sought to review, and when appropriate, reverse miscarriages of justice against criminal defendants who had been convicted because of poor legal representation, abuse, misinterpretation of forensic evidence, or careless or malicious actions of police or prosecutors. The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category,[17] and was later made into a TV series, The Court of Last Resort.

Personal lifeEdit

In 1912, Gardner wed Natalie Frances Talbert (16 July 1885 – 26 February 1968). Their only child, Natalie Grace Gardner,[6] was born in Ventura, California, on January 25, 1913. Gardner and his wife separated in the early 1930s, but did not divorce, and in fact their marriage lasted 56 years, until Natalie's death in 1968. After that, Gardner married his secretary Agnes "Jean" Bethell[18] (née Walter; 19 May 1902 – 5 December 2002), the daughter of Ida Mary Elizabeth Walter (née Itrich; 24 December 1880 – 3 March 1961).

Gardner's daughter, Natalie, was married twice. Firstly, Alan Robert McKittrick (23 January 1900 – 23 November 1962), with whom she had two children, Valerie Joan Naso (née McKittrick; 19 August 1941 – 12 November 2007) and Alan G. McKittrick. Secondly, two years after McKittrick's death, in 1964, Natalie remarried to Anthony Toby Naso (20 March 1916 – 7 October 1996). After her death on 29 February 2004, aged 91, Mrs. Naso was buried next to her second husband in the West Line Street Cemetery.

Gardner's widow died in 2002, aged 100, in San Diego. She was a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. She is survived by her brother, Norman Walter. A scattering of ashes was planned.

Death and legacyEdit

Gardner died of cancer diagnosed in the late 1960s[19] on March 11, 1970, at his ranch in Temecula[6][20]—the best-selling American writer of the 20th century at the time of his death.[6] His death followed by five days that of William Hopper, who played private detective Paul Drake in the Perry Mason TV series. Gardner was cremated and his ashes scattered over his beloved Baja California peninsula.[9]:305 The ranch, known as Rancho del Paisano at the time, was sold after his death, then resold in 2001 to the Pechanga Indians, renamed Great Oak Ranch, and eventually absorbed into the Pechanga reservation.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds Gardner's manuscripts, art collection, and personal effects. From 1972 to 2010, the Ransom Center featured a full-scale reproduction of Gardner's study that displayed original furnishings, personal memorabilia, and artifacts.[21] The space and a companion exhibition were dismantled, but a panoramic view of the study is available online.[22]

In 2003, a new school in the Temecula Valley Unified School District was named Erle Stanley Gardner Middle School.[23][24]

In December 2016, Hard Case Crime published The Knife Slipped, a Bertha Cool–Donald Lam mystery, which had been lost for 75 years. Written in 1939 as the second entry in the Cool and Lam series, the book was rejected at the time by Gardner's publisher.[25] Published for the first time in 2016, as a trade paperback and ebook, the work garnered respectful reviews.[26][27] Hard Case Crime followed publication of The Knife Slipped with a reissued edition of Turn On the Heat, the book Gardner wrote to replace The Knife Slipped, in 2017 and has announced a new edition of The Count of Nine to appear in October 2018.[28]


Cultural referencesEdit

An unspecified article Gardner wrote for True magazine is referenced by William S. Burroughs in his 1959 novel, Naked Lunch.[29]

Gardner's name is well known among avid crossword puzzle solvers, because his first name contains an unusual series of common letters, starting and ending with the most common letter of the English alphabet, and because few other famous people have that name. As of January 2012, he is noted for having the highest ratio (5.31) of mentions in the New York Times crossword puzzle to mentions in the rest of the newspaper among all other people since 1993.[30]

In 2001, Huell Howser Productions, in association with KCET, Los Angeles, featured Gardner's Temecula Rancho del Paisano in California's Gold. The 30-minute program is available as a VHS videorecording.[31]


  1. ^ "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841–1910". New England Historic Genealogical Society. Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ a b Senate, Richard. "Erle Stanley Gardner". Benton, Orr, Duval, & Buckingham. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner | American author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-08-28.
  6. ^ a b c d Krebs, Albin (March 12, 1970). "'The Fiction Factory': Erle Stanley Gardner, Author of the Perry Mason Mystery Novels, Is Dead at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-28. As the best-selling American author of the century, Erle Stanley Gardner often insisted that he was 'not really a writer at all,' and to be sure, there were many critics who enthusiastically agreed with him. But millions of readers who have bought more than 170 million copies of his books in American editions alone, looked upon Mr. Gardner, creator of the redoubtable defense lawyer Perry Mason, as a master storyteller.
  7. ^ a b Current Biography 1944, pp. 224–226
  8. ^ Pierce, J. Kingston (March 31, 2015). "'I Rest My Case: Perry Mason Still Rules in the Courtroom'". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Hughes, Dorothy B. (1978). Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-688-03282-6.
  10. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner Bibliography". Archived from the original on 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2013-06-20.
  11. ^ Stannard, Martin (1992). Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939–1966. W. W. Norton. p. 240. ISBN 0-393-03412-7
  12. ^ Borello, A. (1970). “Evelyn Waugh and Earl Stanley Gardner”. Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 3. Archived 2013-10-20 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  13. ^ a b Cox, Jim (2002). Radio Crime Fighters. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1390-5.
  14. ^ Podolsky, JD; Bacon, D. “The Defense Rests”. People Magazine archive. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  15. ^ "Perry Mason, Season 9 (CBS) (1965–66)". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-02.
  16. ^ Kelleher, Brian; Merrill, Diana (1987). "The History of the Show". The Perry Mason TV Show Book. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 8–27. ISBN 9780312006693. Retrieved 2015-05-02.
  17. ^ "Interesting Facts About Erle Stanley Gardner". Phantom Bookshop. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  18. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner Weds". New York Times. August 9, 1968. Retrieved 2013-12-19. Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of fictional Perry Mason, married Agnes Jean Bethell, his secretary of 40 years, last night at the home of a former Nevada State Prison warden.
  19. ^'s%2C%20he,his%20much-loved%20Baja%20Peninsula.
  20. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner, Author of Perry Mason Stories, Dies". Los Angeles Times. March 12, 1970. Erle Stanley Gardner, whose Perry Mason mysteries made him the world's best selling author, died Wednesday at his ranch home at Temecula in Riverside County.
  21. ^ "Erle Stanley Gardner Study". Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  22. ^ "Panoramic View, Erle Stanley Gardner Study". Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  23. ^ "Gardner Middle School". Temecula Valley Unified School District. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  24. ^ Kasindorf, Martin (March 20, 2003). "Congestion Replaces Citrus in L.A. Fringe". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-07-28.
  25. ^ "Our Books". Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  26. ^ "The Knife Slipped". Publishers Weekly. October 3, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  27. ^ "The Knife Slipped". Kirkus Reviews. October 1, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  28. ^ "About The Count of 9". Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  29. ^ MacFadyen, Ian (2009). "Dossier Four". In Harris, Oliver; MacFayden, Ian (eds.). Naked Lunch at 50: Anniversary Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8093-2916-8.
  30. ^ Gaffney, Matt (2012-01-27). "The Shortz List of Crossword Celebrities". Slate. Archived from the original on 2015-08-31. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  31. ^ OCLC 53175485

Further readingEdit

  • Fugate, Francis L. and Roberta B. (1980). Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer: The Story Telling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03701-1.
  • Hughes, Dorothy B. (1978). Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03282-6.
  • Johnston, Alva (1947). The Case of Erle Stanley Gardner. New York: William Morrow.
  • Mundell, E. H. (1968). Erle Stanley Gardner: A Checklist. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 0873380347.
  • Senate, Richard L. Erle Stanley Gardner's Ventura: Birthplace of Perry Mason. Ventura, California: Citation Press. ISBN 0-9640065-5-3.

External linksEdit

  1. ^ It is still possible in California to take the bar exam without a degree from a law school. -