Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Case of the Perry Mason Substitutes

With 271 cases over nine seasons, it’s safe to say that Perry Mason was television’s most successful attorney. I’m not even counting Perry’s court appearances in the “revival” made-for-TV movies nor the 1973-74  New Perry Mason TV series (with Monte Markham taking over for Raymond Burr). Yet, out of those 271 cases on the original series, six of them were won by lawyers other than Perry!

Raymond Burr did not appear in four consecutive episodes in the 1962-63 season and was missing in two more during the 1964-65 season. (Note that some of these episodes included brief scenes of Perry talking with other lawyers from his hospital bed—scenes that Burr filmed before his hiatus.) The reason given for his first absence was “minor surgery.” Some sources, such as Raymond Burr: A Film, Radio, and Television Biography, state that the surgery was to remove intestinal polyps. Other sources (e.g., Encyclopedia of Television Law Shows) maintain that this explanation has never been confirmed. Burr’s absences during the 1964-65 season were attributed to infected teeth (according to Associated Press columnist Cynthia Lowry) and an unspecified illness. Fatigue may have played a role as well, since Burr averaged almost 30 episodes during each of the show’s nine years. A full season order these days for a prime time series is 24 episodes.

Here are the six Perry Mason episodes without Raymond Burr:

Bette Davis visits a client.
The Case of Constant Doyle (Season 6 Episode 16)– Bette Davis plays Constant (not Constance) Doyle, a recently widowed attorney who defends a young man (Michael Parks) accused of breaking into a factory and assaulting a night watchman.

The Case of the Libelous Locket (S6 E17) – Law school professor Edward Lindley (Michael Rennie) takes on the case of student Janie Norland (Patricia Manning), who thinks she killed someone, gets blackmailed, and then is arrested for a real murder. Professor Lindley’s attitude toward trial attorneys must have amused Perry: “Someone once said, if you could cross a parrot with a jackass, you’d have the perfect trial lawyer.” This episode also guest-starred Patrice Wymore, Errol Flynn’s widow.

Hugh O'Brian knew about the law...
from his days as TV's Wyatt Earp.
The Case of the Two-Faced Turn-a-bout (S6 E18)- Hugh O'Brian stars as playboy lawyer Bruce Jason, who defends a political refugee in a homicide case brimming with international intrigue. Interestingly, O’Brien also plays another character in this episode (no spoilers here!).

The Case of the Surplus Suitor (S6 E19) – Corporate lawyer Sherman Hatfield (Walter Pidgeon) defends an indecisive young woman (Joyce Bulifant), who is accused of murdering her wealthy uncle. Alas, this subpar outing wastes Pidgeon’s talents.

Mike Connors a few years later as Mannix.
The Case of the Bullied Bowler (S8 E7)- Paul Drake takes a (well-earned) vacation and visits the town of Tesoro with attorney friend Joe Kelly (Mike Connors). A powerful woman tries to close the bowling alley owned by Paul’s friend Bill Jaris. When a health inspector is murdered, Bill becomes the prime suspect. The Perry Mason producers were impressed with Connors. When Raymond Burr hesitated on returning for season 9, Connors was allegedly considered as a replacement attorney. Of course, he later found TV fame in his own long-running private eye series Mannix (1967-75).

The Case of the Thermal Thief (S8 E16) -  Only recently returning to law practice, Ken Kramer (Barry Sullivan) gets involved in a complex case involving a stolen necklace and the death of a wealthy yachtsman four years earlier. Sullivan does a fine job in an above-average episode—he should have gotten his own lawyer show! It’s interesting to note that Kramer doesn't get a courtroom confession at the episode’s climax; it takes place offscreen.


  1. What an awesome post! I love "Perry Mason" and remember most of these Perry-less or -lite episodes. I recall being especially surprised to see Bette Davis. She spoke with Perry on the phone and would not accept any advice from him.
    I love that MeTV is rebroadcasting "Perry Mason" twice daily. I often revisit it in the morning.

    1. Actually more than twice, like 3 times. Trying to catch the ones where he lost.

    2. Oh yeah, can we bring back Ironside?

  2. I love Perry/Raymond, but these guest star lawyers make for a nice change of pace. Burr's absence was handled very well.

    My favourite is Barry Sullivan. He's so damned watchable.

  3. I can see Michael Rennie and Walter Pidgeon as Perry, but the others don't seem right. Of course, I don't think anyone can replace Raymond Burr. Warren Williams did pretty well in the 30's, but Raymond is #1. (I can see why a star would not want to admit to intestinal polyps -- not a very dignified illness. Today everybody admits every kind of illness -- no dignity anymore! LOL!)

  4. I too still enjoy watching Perry Mason beat Hamilton,I often find myself yelling at the t.v. sit down and pay attention so Perry can solve the case!😊

  5. You can't beat quality and "Perry Mason" stands the test of time. The chemistry between Raymond Burr's Perry and Barbara Hale's "Della" is a classic understated--leave 'em guessing love story.