The Real Thing

I grew up with the iconic television series, “Perry Mason.” starring Raymond Burr.  It came on an hour past our bedtime, but if we got into our pyjamas and stayed very quiet and unobtrusive, we could usually stay up and watch.  I really wanted to be Della.

So, when I saw a classic movie channel showing a 1930’s film of Perry Mason, I tuned in to watch.  I thought it would be fun to see another actor in the role.

I was astounded.  the Perry Mason in the movie was nothing like the one portrayed by Raymond Burr.  This Perry moonlighted as a chef in a fancy restaurant.  He spent his off hours attending swanky parties and was a bit of a womanizer.  Long-suffering Della wasn’t invited.


I set out to find the real Perry Mason

I confess, I’d never read one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books, but assumed they’d be easy to come by.  Wrong again.  My library didn’t have one.  My local second hand bookshop said they couldn’t keep them on the shelves and another dealer want $125.00 for a “rare” copy.

Finally, Amazon turned up an electronic copy at a reasonable price and I settled down to discover the character as written by the author. The result? The Raymond Burr version is much truer to the book. In the book version, Perry Mason worked all hours–nary a party or a socialite in view–and he certainly didn’t spend time in a commercial kitchen. He treated Della with great respect and affection, but no romance.  I am relieved.

The entire exercise taught me to not trust Hollywood for my research.

As a writer of historical fiction it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the tropes seen in the movies or on television are accurate portrayals of the era.

In my WIP, I decided it would make a good scene to remove a bullet from a wounded man.  A little research showed that instantly removing a bullet is not only unnecessary but may actually do more harm than good. Hollywood likes the drama of bullet removal from the flesh, usually without anaesthetic, because it makes good theatre. Not because it makes good medicine or is a true account of the practice of medicine at the time.

Lesson learned.  I’m still going to remove the bullet, but I’ll find good medical reasons to do it.

What about you? Have you ever seen favourite book characters mangled in a movie or television series. How did you feel? Shocked? Angry? Disappointed?

Views: 432


  1. Diana

    I’ve never been a fan of the old Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone. They always made Watson look like a bumbling idiot. IMHO the series with Jeremy Brett was the best, and most true to the original stories.

    • Alice Valdal

      You are so right, Diana. The movies did the same thing to Miss Marple when they cast Margaret Rutherford in the role. She was far too bombastic. I think the best version was the PBS series starring Joan Hickson. Nice to hear from you again. Hope all is well in your world.

  2. Carlene

    Hi Alice ….
    I always liked the real Perry Mason and Della. I was attracted them to their kindness to each other and to all in general. The story stuck to the topic. Now a days seeing a movie after reading the book is usually quite disappointing. Yes .. its all about Hollywood and making money.
    How times have changed.

    • Alice Valdal

      I know I’m avoiding “Anne with an E” on television. Montgomery’s character was cheerful and wholesome. I wish people who want to dramatize dark and gritty would write their own characters.

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