CROOKED MOUTHPIECES date back to the era of 1930s porto-noir gangster movies (reaching their apogee with Louis Calhern’s turn in The Asphalt Jungle), but crusading defense attorneys who trod the line between cleverness and corruption proved to be scarce onscreen.
And then came Perry Mason.
His creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, was a self-taught trial attorney who began submitting mystery stories to the pulps in 1923. Over the next decade, under a number of pseudonyms, he turned out an average for 3,200 words per day (1.2 million words per year) describing the adventures of protagonists such as Lester Leith, Speed Dash, and Ken Cornin. “By the time I’d learned my craft—and that took about ten years—I was ready to use my law background for my stories,” Gardner recalled in a 1965 interview.