Wesley Lau was the unheralded supporting star of Perry Mason

…but he was not a big fan of wearing a hat.

Read to Me

Perry Mason had its quartet of characters at its core. There was Perry, of course, with his trusty aide Della Street. Private eye Paul Drake gathered the evidence that helped Perry keep his winning streak — a winning streak against District Attorney Hamilton Burger.

Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale and William Hopper were in all 271 episodes as the good guys. William Talman appeared in more than 200 as the adversarial D.A. (He was briefly fired.) But they were not the only recurring regulars. Between the stars and hundreds of guests who played victims, suspects, witnesses and judges were a few crucial characters — the cops. Ray Collins as Lt. Arthur Tragg is likely the most familiar. But by the fourth season, the veteran actor, then in his 70s, saw his health fading. He would film his last episode in 1963 (though the show would keep his name in the credits to honor his contribution).

So, the producers found themselves in need of a supporting police lieutenant. Enter Wesley Lau as Lt. Andy Anderson.

Wisconsin native Lau was a hero to his hometown of Sheboygan. The local paper constantly covered his career for decades. He may have been a celebrity in the Dairy State, but elsewhere he was, well, "overlooked."

In 1965, a syndicated newspaper piece titled "Challenge to Mason and Cast" covered the crime series' move to a new time slot. CBS dubbed its new schedule position as "the graveyard," as it was the time that NBC aired its juggernaut Bonanza, a Western that slew the competition. But the article focused, rarely, on Wesley Lau.

"Lau has been on the series for a number of seasons and his face is familiar," the writer noted with faint praise. "Otherwise he is overlooked, which is right and reasonable." 

Lau's motto was "be patient." He may not have been a star, but he knew that acclaim would eventually come. He had just one complaint — he wanted to "stretch his acting muscles more." He hoped to "inject humor" into the role. Alas, the scripts typically called for him to give "suspicious looks."

He also had to wear a hat. He was playing a detective in the midcentury, after all. However, the actor, and more importantly his wife, were not fans of the hat.

"My wife, Mary Louise, objects to the fact that I wear a hat as Lieutenant Anderson," Lau admitted. "And I don't look very good in a hat so I try to slip it off as much as possible." Keep a lookout for Lau removing his hat when you watch Perry Mason. Know that it wasn't due to heat, but rather vanity.

The public may have overlooked Lau, but the producers appreciated the actor. In fact, producer Gail Patrick Jackson "expressed interest in Lau as a possible lead for a future Erle Stanley Gardner series." Yep, Lau almost got his own crime series. Alas, it never came to be.

Ironically, Lt. Anderson was not a character created by Gardner for his Perry Mason novels. Lau believed that, at least initially, his lines were simply leftovers intended for Lt. Tragg. But the character slowly developed his own persona. He made his final appearance in "The Case of the Mischievous Doll," the eighth-season finale, as seen above.

Following Perry Mason, Lau grew a mustache and landed another recurring supporting role in The Time Tunnel, playing Master Sergeant Jiggs. Yep, his character often had to wear a hat.

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harlow1313 21 days ago
Sadly, Columbo-scat, your brain may be failing you. Keep wearing your mask. Try to practice kindness. Calling people "libtards" makes you sound unkind and dumb.
Sevengirlie21 15 days ago
YOU ARE A CLASS ACT.
Thank You.
Wiseguy 1 month ago
Oh, come on. Just about everyone who knows anything about Perry Mason knows that NONE of the actors/characters appeared on all 271 episodes, even Raymond Burr.
Sevengirlie21 Wiseguy 15 days ago
Or his partner in real life !
F5Twitster 1 month ago
"Following Perry Mason, Lau grew a mustache and landed another recurring supporting role in 'The Time Tunnel,' playing Master Sergeant Jiggs. Yep, his character often had to wear a hat."

No, Lau as Sgt. Jiggs never wore a hat, but always wore a military helmet (and a mustache). I don't think the actor ever found a convincing pretext for removing either.
CaptainDunsel 1 month ago
One of the things that I think made Lau so successful as Lt. Anderson is that they didn't "introduce" the character. They wrote him, and he and the rest of the cast acted as if he had always been there. Mason and company accepted him as a familiar part of the landscape, and so the audience did as well.

For some reason, writers and producers these days are obsessed with "origin stories". But the best way to fill in the backstory of a new character is actually to do it the way it happens in the real world - bit by bit over time (if it happens at all). Every time they introduce a new Superman or Spiderman, they think they have to retell (or worse yet "improve") the origin story. No! Just tell us interesting stories about the characters. We don't need an hour of biography.

[End Rant Mode]

Back to Wesley Lau... I wish they had continued Lt. Anderson into the 9th season as well. I suspect that one reason they didn't is that Tragg and then Anderson had become too chummy with Mason over time. Lt. Drumm was a return to the more adversarial relationship.
GregV 1 month ago
I was surprised, some time ago, to see Wesley Lau in The Alamo. He played a sinister supporter of Santa Ana who got in a fight with John Wayne !
Jon 1 month ago
I also saw Wesley Lau in last night's MeTV TWILIGHT ZONE rerun, "The Fugitive", where he played 1 or 2 ailens assigned to bring their leader back to their planet.
F5Twitster Jon 1 month ago
Thqat fugitive being the unlikely person of actor J. Pat O'Malley.
Brian 1 month ago
I know jack-squat about acting, so my gauge for judging an actor's ability is to ask this: does the actor make acting look easy? Wesley Lau made acting look easy, to me at least. He delivered his lines slowly & surely, with neither rush nor hesitation. Nuff said.
RobertM 1 month ago
I might also mention, for what it's worth, that "Perry Mason" was on in an era when men's hats fell out of fashion--due largely to the fact that, in 1961, when he was inaugurated as President of the United States, John F. Kennedy didn't wear a hat for the event.
Kennedy not using cover, like his bulletproof shield, is what made Dallas such a memorable event.
Wiseguy RobertM 1 month ago
Even before that Raymond Burr didn't like wearing a hat, so he stopped after a couple of early episodes.
DethBiz 1 month ago
I always saw a resemblance between Wesley Lau and Martin Milner. He was in my favorite Perry Mason episode of all time and he wasn't even playing Andy. The Case of the Impatient Partner had imo the most over the top confession of all the Perry Mason episodes.
DeborahRoberts 1 month ago
Loved Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg. Lau seamlessly stepped from supporting Collins to taking lead when Collins could no longer manage full-time acting duties. Thought it was a shame they didn't let him continue into the ninth season, though Richard Anderson did a fine job as Steve Drumm. It just seemed Lau had put in the work in previous seasons and didn't get the reward when the time came for a new actor to completely take over from Collins. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it also seemed the Drumm character got more screen time than Lau's Andy Anderson and was more of a presence in the show.
Loved Ray Collins also! Every time he would first enter a scene I would say "My man!" Could see his deteriorating health when comparing the early episodes to the later ones, when he might make an entrance or two for just a short time. He was much more energetic in the earlier days. Sorely missed. Somehow his grandfatherly persona worked for me.
Loved the way that Tragg would butter his bread by working both sides with relationships with Mason and Burger. Not a rubberstamp character at all. Good character.
Pacificsun 1 month ago
I think he had an unusual last name for a mid-westerner, I wish the article had mentioned whether he changed it for show business, or if it was for some other reason.

IMO he played the role perfectly. Such a character didn't need to be in focus too much. The plots were complicated enough and populated by a revolving door of guest actors. The hat also added an air of maturity and perhaps that's what the producers had in mind in terms of replacing Lt. Tragg.

Good story though!
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In this case, Lau is German.
Troy Randall. As a kid that movie bothered me. Didn’t like it.
Yeah. It's not really a "kids" movie.
That is Tony Randall. I really must start proof-reading before I post.
Mike 1 month ago
According to a '60s issue of TV GUIDE, Erle Stanley Gardner had tapped Wesley Lau to play one of his other detective characters, "Doug Selby, the D.A.".
That plan went by the boards when Ray Collins's health took a turn for the worse, and Lau was bucked up to full time as Anderson.

Sequel:
Circa 1969, when ESG was in his last days, his company, Paisano Productions, made a deal with NBC for a full-fledged "Doug Selby" pilot film.
NBC aired this pilot, titled They Call It Murder, not long after Uncle Erle passed on in 1970.
Jim Hutton (five years before he became Ellery Queen) was cast as Doug Selby, with Jo Ann Pflug as a reporter pal and Lloyd Bochner as "Alphonse Baker Carr", a sleazy defense lawyer.
And also in the cast, as "Police Chief Otto Larkin" - Edward Asner, who, had the Selby series sold, would have been unavailable to play Lou Grant.
Funny how things work out sometimes ...

By the bye, They Call It Murder can be found as a dollar-store DVD; you might like to check it out.
MrsPhilHarris Mike 1 month ago
I’d like to see that.
TMJ MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
https://www.amazon.com/They-Murder-Chest-Restored-Version/dp/B00WFTU824/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=they+call+it+murder&qid=1618630068&sr=8-2 There is a remastered version for sale on Amazon. It's much better than the worn out copy that occasionally shows up in the dollar store.
MrsPhilHarris TMJ 1 month ago
Thanks TMJ.
cperrynaples 1 month ago
Ironic that he was profiled in an article for the ninth season and wasn't in it! Of course, fans know Lau was replaced by Richard Anderson, whose character also wasn't in the books!
I thought Richard Anderson was a D.A.
TMJ MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Richard Anderson was the police lieutenant. He did play the D.A. in a different series several years earlier, Bus Stop in 1961-1962.
Jon MrsPhilHarris 1 month ago
Richard Anderson also played a pivotal role in the first Perry Mason reunion movie in 1985.
MrsPhilHarris Jon 1 month ago
Prior to METV taking over the channel it runs on here, the station used to run METV type shows as well as those Perry Mason movies. I can remember watching them at our cabin.
Wiseguy Jon 1 month ago
Instead of having him play a different character they should have had him play Drumm. It would have been another link to the original series. Another thing the movie series got wrong (along with not adapting any of the eleven Perry Mason novels that had never been filmed).
teire 1 month ago
Lt. Tragg is my favorite, but I am a big fan of Andy as well. I will miss him with the eighth season coming to the end of its run in the morning episodes onMeTV.
TMJ teire 1 month ago
Richard Anderson was good as Lt. Drumm, but I never warmed up to him. I missed Wesley Lau as Andy, and wished he had been on the last season. Of course, neither could compare to Ray Collins as Lt Tragg.
Andybandit 1 month ago
Cool story. Even though I never heard of him.
TMJ Andybandit 1 month ago
Then you don't know Perry Mason.
Adanor 1 month ago
I happened to notice that in TCOT Glamorous Ghost, that Ray Collins (Lt. Tragg) appeared briefly and sadly did not seem up to par. Wesley Lau did an admirable job of taking the reins. As a note, in TCOT Poison Pen-Pal, partially set in San Francisco, the police officer is addressed as Inspector. Really, since when is there an Inspector in the US?
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Also see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inspector#United_States
As in Inspector Dirty Harry Callahan.
Adanor Adanor 1 month ago
Mea culpa
MarkSpeck Pacificsun 1 month ago
In Streets of San Francisco, the rank of Inspector is equal to what most cities call 'Detective'. Steve Keller certainly didn't outrank Mike Stone. In other cities, however, Inspector is a pretty high rank. For instance, when Kojak was brought back for the ABC Mystery Movie in the late '80's/early '90's, he was promoted from Lieutenant to Inspector. It seems that Inspector has a higher rank in New York City than in S.F.
Barry22 1 month ago
I never knew he played Jiggs in Time Tunnel. I remember one episode he went back in time and started machine-gunning Greek soldiers. So much for tampering with history. And when they brought him back he had aged. Tick-Tock!
Yep, took me YEARS to make the connection of Lau playing Jiggs. Too much mustache and helmet. Good when an actor can lose himself in a role so that the audience isn't seeing John Wayne playing John Wayne.
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