Perry Mason's creator had more important concerns than television

Erle Stanley Gardner had some strong opinions on the American criminal justice system.

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Erle Stanley Gardner is most closely associated with his famous character Perry Mason. Over the course of 82 novels, Gardner used his experience as a real-life attorney to create the literary world's winningest lawyer. At the time of his death in 1970, Gardner was the best-selling author of the 20th century. Currently, only Goosebumps and Harry Potter books have sold more copies than the Perry Mason series. 

Like his well-known character, Gardner put considerable thought and work into criminal justice. Throughout the 1950s, while most pundits took the opposite stance, Gardner tirelessly advocated for prison reform. He was the founder of the Court of Last Resort, a program that saved innocents from prison and death. 

In a series of three articles in the Wisconsin State Journal, beginning in October 1959, Gardner outlined his opinion regarding the controversial topic. Specifically, he spoke of the press' obligation to inform and report on what happens to prisoners.

"Statistics show that much more than ninety-five percent of all men confined in penal institutions will be released in their lifetime," Gardner wrote. "Society simply doesn't realize and doesn't want to realize that what the prisoner does to society after he is released depends, in large part, on what society has done to the prisoner during the time he has been confined."

While that statement may seem obvious to contemporary readers, at the time it was written, the notion was radical. Even more than it is today, jail was a taboo in Mid-Century America. It certainly wasn't something polite society was comfortable discussing, and so a lot of prison-related problems were ignored. 

Gardner used his platform to illuminate the psychological problems inherent to modern imprisonment. "When a kid is caught stealing cookies, he is given a spanking. That usually keeps him from stealing cookies. The spanking is administered against the security of the home and amidst a background of love and affection."

By comparison, then, prison is societal vindication, completely devoid of humanity. "After the kid grows up and starts stealing money he is put in a prison. That punishment is long, drawn out, it entirely overlooks the fact that the prisoner is a human being."

In visiting prisons throughout the country, Gardner joined the likes of Charles Dickens as a writer who used his fame to shed light on the inhospitality of the reform system. 

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12 Comments

obectionoverruled 7 months ago
Currently Wm. Shakespeare has sold nearly 4 billion volumes, and Agatha Christie, one of my all time favorites, has sold about 2 billion. They are followed by Barbara Cartland (?) 1 billion and Danielle Steele ( omg this may portend the end of humanity as we know it).
sbarfield05 8 months ago
Good new bit of knowledge regarding him.
Andybandit 10 months ago
Well, I am glad PM was made. It was a good show.
MrsPhilHarris 10 months ago
I thought Agatha Christie sold the most. 🤔
KJExpress MrsPhilHarris 10 months ago
That surprised me too. Gonna have to question that one.
cperrynaples KJExpress 10 months ago
Well, Gardner wrote more books than Christie, so it might be a cumalative number!
KJExpress cperrynaples 10 months ago
I just remember reading AC books and seeing something to the effect on the back that she was only outsold by the Bible. Whatever. I don't even know if you can actually prove these things. 🤷‍♀️
MrsPhilHarris KJExpress 10 months ago
I remember that too.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 10 months ago
Raymond burr became a household name when he did
Play perry mason
GOOSEYGOOSE9 10 months ago
William hopper turned down the lead as perry mason fred macmurray turned down the lead before raymond burr played. The lead made Raymond burr a household name
cperrynaples GOOSEYGOOSE9 10 months ago
William Hopper DIDN'T turn down Perry Mason! He auditioned for the role and lost to Burr! It is true that MacMurray was first choice and turned it down!
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