Erle Stanley Gardner Bibliography

Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner in 1966

Born(1889-07-17)July 17, 1889
Malden, Massachusetts, U.S.[1]
DiedMarch 11, 1970(1970-03-11) (aged 80)
Temecula, California, U.S.
Pen nameKyle Corning, A.A. Fair, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Robert Parr, Les Tillray
OccupationLawyer, writer
GenreDetective fiction, true crime, travel writing
Notable works
Notable awards
  • Natalie Frances Talbert
    (married 1912–1968)
  • Agnes Jean Bethell
    (married 1968–1970)


Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889 – March 11, 1970) was an American lawyer and author. He is best known for the Perry Mason series of detective stories, but he wrote numerous other novels and shorter pieces and also a series of nonfiction books, mostly narrations of his travels through Baja California and other regions in Mexico.

The best-selling American author of the 20th century at the time of his death, Gardner also published under numerous pseudonyms, including A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr.

Life and work[edit]

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, Erle Stanley Gardner graduated from Palo Alto High School in California in 1909 and enrolled at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana. He was suspended after approximately one month when his interest in boxing became a distraction. He returned to California, pursued his legal education on his own, and passed the state bar exam in 1911.

In 1912, Gardner wed Natalie Frances Talbert; they had a daughter, Grace.[2] He opened his first law office in Merced in 1917, but closed it after accepting a position at a sales agency. In 1921, he returned to law as a member of the Ventura firm Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau, and Gardner,[3] where he remained until 1933.[4]

Gardner enjoyed litigation and the development of trial strategy but was otherwise bored by legal practice. In his spare time, he began writing for pulp magazines; his first story was published in 1923. He created many series characters for the pulps, including the ingenious Lester Leith, a parody of the "gentleman thief" in the tradition of A. J. Raffles; and Ken Corning, crusading lawyer, crime sleuth, and archetype for his most successful creation, Perry Mason. While the Perry Mason novels did not delve into their characters lives very much, the novels were rich in plot detail which was reality-based and drawn from his own experience. [5] In his early years writing for the pulp magazine market, Gardner set himself a quota of 1,200,000 words a year.[6]:13 When asked why his heroes always defeated villains with the last bullet in their guns, Gardner answered, "At three cents a word, every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has fifteen cents worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts".[7] Early on, he typed his stories himself, using two fingers, but later he dictated them to a team of secretaries.

Under the pen name A. A. Fair, Gardner wrote a series of novels about the private detective firm of Cool and Lam. In another series, District Attorney Doug Selby litigated against attorney Alphonse Baker Carr in an inversion of the Perry Mason scenario. Prosecutor Selby is portrayed as a courageous and imaginative crime solver; his antagonist A. B. Carr is a wily shyster whose clients are invariably "as guilty as hell".

Gardner remained with Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau, and Gardner until 1933, when The Case of the Velvet Claws was published. Much of that story is set at the historic Pierpont Inn, just down the road from his law office.[4] In 1937, Gardner moved to Temecula, California, where he lived for the rest of his life.

With the success of the Mason series, which eventually ran to over 80 novels, Gardner gradually reduced his contributions to the pulp magazines until the medium itself died in the 1950s. Thereafter, he published a few short stories in the "glossies", such as Collier's, Sports Afield, and Look,[8] but most of his postwar magazine contributions were nonfiction articles on travel, Western history, and forensic science. Gardner's readership was a broad and international one, including the English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who in 1949 called Gardner the best living American writer.[9][10]

Gardner also created characters for various radio programs, including Christopher London (1950), starring Glenn Ford, and A Life in Your Hands (1949–1952).[11]:10, 157 He created Perry Mason as a recurring character in a series of Hollywood films of the 1930s, and then for the radio program Perry Mason, which ran from 1943 to 1955. In 1954, CBS proposed transforming Perry Mason into a television soap opera. When Gardner opposed the idea, CBS created The Edge of Night, featuring John Larkin—who voiced Mason on the radio show—as a thinly veiled imitation of the Mason character.[11]:199–201

In 1957, Perry Mason became a long-running CBS-TV series, starring Raymond Burr in the title role. Burr had auditioned for the role of the district attorney Hamilton Burger, but Gardner reportedly declared he was the embodiment of Perry Mason.[12] Gardner made an uncredited appearance as a judge in "The Case of the Final Fade-Out" (1966), the last episode of the series.[13][14]:24

Gardner and his first wife had separated in the early 1930s, and after her death in 1968, Gardner married Agnes Jean Bethell[15] (1902–2002), his secretary since 1930. The character of Della Street was a composite of Jean and her two sisters, Peggy and Ruth, who also worked as secretaries for Gardner.

He held a lifelong fascination with Baja California and wrote a series of nonfiction travel accounts describing his extensive explorations of the peninsula by boat, truck, airplane, and helicopter.

Gardner devoted thousands of hours to "The Court of Last Resort", in collaboration with his many friends in the forensic, legal, and investigative communities. The project sought to review, and when appropriate, reverse miscarriages of justice against criminal defendants who had been convicted because of poor legal representation, abuse, misinterpretation of forensic evidence, or careless or malicious actions of police or prosecutors. The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category,[16] and was later made into a TV series, The Court of Last Resort.

Death and legacy[edit]

Gardner died on March 11, 1970, at his ranch in Temecula[2][17]—the best-selling American writer of the 20th century at the time of his death.[2] He was cremated and his ashes scattered over his beloved Baja California peninsula.[6]:305 The ranch, known as Rancho del Paisano at the time, was sold after his death, then resold in 2001 to the Pechanga Indians, renamed Great Oak Ranch, and eventually absorbed into the Pechanga reservation.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds Gardner's manuscripts, art collection, and personal effects. From 1972 to 2010, the Ransom Center featured a full-scale reproduction of Gardner's study that displayed original furnishings, personal memorabilia, and artifacts.[18] The space and a companion exhibition were dismantled, but a panoramic view of the study is available online.[19]

In 2003, a new school in the Temecula Valley Unified School District was named Erle Stanley Gardner Middle School.[20][21]

In December 2016, Hard Case Crime published The Knife Slipped, a Bertha Cool–Donald Lam mystery, which had been lost for 75 years. Written in 1939 as the second entry in the Cool and Lam series, the book was rejected at the time by Gardner's publisher.[22] Published for the first time in 2016, as a trade paperback and ebook, the work garnered respectful reviews.[23][24] Hard Case Crime followed publication of The Knife Slipped with a reissued edition of Turn On the Heat, the book Gardner wrote to replace The Knife Slipped, in 2017 and has announced a new edition of The Count of 9 to appear in October 2018.[25]


Main article: Erle Stanley Gardner bibliography

Cultural references[edit]

An unspecified article Gardner wrote for True magazine is referenced by William S. Burroughs in his 1959 novel, Naked Lunch.[26]

Gardner's name is well-known among avid crossword puzzle solvers, because his first name contains an unusual series of common letters, and because few other famous people have that name. As of January 2012, he is noted for having the highest ratio (5.31) of mentions in the New York Times crossword puzzle to mentions in the rest of the newspaper among all other people since 1993.[27]

In 2001, Huell Howser Productions, in association with KCET, Los Angeles, featured Gardner's Temecula Rancho del Paisano in California's Gold. The 30-minute program is available as a VHS videorecording.[28]


  1. ^"Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841–1910". New England Historic Genealogical Society. Archived from the original on 1 August 2010. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  2. ^ abcKrebs, Albin (March 12, 1970). "'The Fiction Factory': Erle Stanley Gardner, Author of the Perry Mason Mystery Novels, Is Dead at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-28.  
  3. ^Senate, Richard. "Erle Stanley Gardner". Benton, Orr, Duval, & Buckingham. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  4. ^ abCurrent Biography 1944, pp. 224–226
  5. ^Pierce, J. Kingston (March 31, 2015). "'I Rest My Case: Perry Mason Still Rules in the Courtroom'". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved February 18, 2018. 
  6. ^ abHughes, Dorothy B. (1978). Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-688-03282-6. 
  7. ^Maher, Jimmy (2014-06-05). "Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  8. ^"Erle Stanley Gardner Bibliography". Archived from the original on 2012-10-28. Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  9. ^Stannard, Martin (1992). Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939–1966. W. W. Norton. p. 240. ISBN 0-393-03412-7
  10. ^Borello, A. (1970). “Evelyn Waugh and Earl Stanley Gardner”. Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 3. Archived 2013-10-20 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  11. ^ abCox, Jim (2002). Radio Crime Fighters. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1390-5. 
  12. ^Podolsky, JD; Bacon, D. “The Defense Rests”. People Magazine archive. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  13. ^"Perry Mason, Season 9 (CBS) (1965–66)". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  14. ^Kelleher, Brian; Merrill, Diana (1987). "The History of the Show". The Perry Mason TV Show Book. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 8–27. ISBN 9780312006693. Retrieved 2015-05-02. 
  15. ^"Erle Stanley Gardner Weds". New York Times. August 9, 1968. Retrieved 2013-12-19.  
  16. ^"Interesting Facts About Erle Stanley Gardner". Phantom Bookshop. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  17. ^"Erle Stanley Gardner, Author of Perry Mason Stories, Dies". Los Angeles Times. March 12, 1970.  
  18. ^"Erle Stanley Gardner Study". Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2016-06-26. 
  19. ^"Panoramic View, Erle Stanley Gardner Study". Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 2016-06-26. 
  20. ^"Gardner Middle School". Temecula Valley Unified School District. Retrieved 2015-07-28. 
  21. ^Kasindorf, Martin (March 20, 2003). "Congestion Replaces Citrus in L.A. Fringe". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-07-28. 
  22. ^"Our Books". Retrieved February 17, 2017. 
  23. ^"The Knife Slipped". Publishers Weekly. October 3, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017. 
  24. ^"The Knife Slipped". Kirkus Reviews. October 1, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017. 
  25. ^"About The Count of 9". Retrieved January 15, 2018. 
  26. ^MacFadyen, Ian (2009). "Dossier Four". In Harris, Oliver; MacFayden, Ian. Naked Lunch at 50: Anniversary Essays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8093-2916-8. 
  27. ^Gaffney, Matt (2012-01-27). "The Shortz List of Crossword Celebrities". Slate. Archived from the original on 2015-08-31. Retrieved 2012-02-27. 
  28. ^OCLC 53175485

Further reading[edit]

  • Fugate, Francis L. and Roberta B. (1980). Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer: The Story Telling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03701-1.
  • Hughes, Dorothy B. (1978). Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-03282-6.
  • Johnston, Alva (1947). The Case of Erle Stanley Gardner. New York: William Morrow.
  • Mundell, E. H. (1968). Erle Stanley Gardner: A Checklist. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 0873380347.
  • Senate, Richard L. Erle Stanley Gardner's Ventura: Birthplace of Perry Mason. Ventura, California: Citation Press. ISBN 0-9640065-5-3.

External links[edit]

  • Erle Stanley Gardner Study at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin
  • Erle Stanley Gardner at Thrilling Detective
  • Essay on Erle Stanley Gardner
  • Erle Stanley Gardner pages with extensive bibliographic and other information, including pulp publications
  • Works by or about Erle Stanley Gardner in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Erle Stanley Gardner searching for lost mines in Popular Science magazine
  • Episodes of A Life in Your Hands, a radio program created by Gardner, in the public domain
  • Episodes of Christopher London, a radio program created by Gardner, in the public domain
  • I Love Lucy, "The Black Eye", Lucy's book is The D.A. Takes a Chance
  • Howser, Huell (January 8, 2002). "Erle Stanley Gardner (4005)". California's Gold. Chapman University Huell Howser Archive. 
  • Erle Stanley Gardner at Find a Grave
The First National Bank Building in Ventura, where Gardner wrote drafts for first Perry Mason novels
Perry Mason executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson and Erle Stanley Gardner speak with Hollywood columnist Norma Lee Browning during filming of the last episode, "The Case of the Final Fade-Out" (1966)
The Court of Last Resort (1952) earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category.

Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) is a prolific American author best known for his works centered on the lawyer-detective Perry Mason. At the time of his death in March of 1970, in Ventura, California, Gardner was "the most widely read of all American writers" and "the most widely translated author in the world," according to social historian Russell Nye. The first Perry Mason novel, The Case of The Velvet Claws, published in 1933, had sold twenty-eight million copies in its first fifteen years. In the mid-1950s, the Perry Mason novels were selling at the rate of twenty thousand copies a day. There have been six motion pictures based on his work and the hugely popular Perry Mason television series starring Raymond Burr, which aired for nine years and 271 episodes.

As author William F. Nolan notes, "Gardner, more than any other writer, popularized the law profession for a mass-market audience, melding fact and fiction to achieve a unique blend; no one ever handled courtroom drama better than he did."

Richard Senate further sums up the significance of Gardner?s contribution: "Although the character of Perry Mason is not unique as a 'lawyer-sleuth,' he is the first to come to anyone's mind when it comes to sheer brilliance in solving courtroom-detective cases by rather unconventional means. Besides 'Tarzan,' 'Sherlock Holmes,' 'Superman' ? 'Perry Mason' qualifies as an American icon of popular culture in the twentieth century."

Gardner's writing has touched a lot of people including a number of high profile figures. Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill say in their 1987 book, The Perry Mason TV Show Book that Harry S. Truman was a fan and that it is rumored that when Einstein died, a Perry Mason book was at his bedside. They further describe that when Raymond Burr met Pope John XXIII, the actor reported that the pontiff "seemed to know all about Perry Mason." Federal judge Sonya Sotomayor frequently mentions how Perry Mason was one of her earliest influences.

Starting with his first book, Gardner had a very definite vision of the shape the Perry Mason character would take:

"I want to make my hero a fighter," he wrote to his publisher, "not by having him be ruthless to women and underlings, but by creating a character who, with infinite patience jockeys his enemies into a position where he can deliver one good knockout punch."

Author Photo: Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

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