In the HBO Revival, viewers meet E.B. Jonathan for the first time — played by the inimitable John Lithgow. Who is E.B. Jonathan, though? He’s nowhere in the novels or the show. The show’s creators decided that the new Perry Mason needed an origin story and a mentor. Creators Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones dove deep into the novels, sleuthing for clues.
To arrive at Perry Mason, the man, they seemingly had to be him. Enter E.B. Jonathan – a lawyer mentioned nowhere in the novels but in a short story written by Gardner. Expectedly, Lithgow, as Mason’s father figure, is perfection.
Gardner Wrote Like a Literary Genius Possessed
Besides the novels that made him famous, Erle Gardner also produced a veritable avalanche of writing from 1920 onwards. He wrote everything – from travelogues and pulp fiction to novellas and science fiction! Among his fans were people like Albert Einstein, Pope John XXIII, and Harry S. Truman.
No other writer besides JK Rowling has seen such enormous success in book sales. The Perry Mason novels were a cultural sensation, with over 300 million copies sold to date.
Why William Talman Won in the End
In 1968, millions of Americans watched a commercial that would haunt them — at least, that’s what the creators hoped. It featured an emaciated William Talman – whose character (prosecutor Hamilton Burger) audiences had long pegged as a “loser.”
The short film by the American Cancer Society was an anti-smoking commercial. A message about smoking and losing from someone with an intimate experience of both. While filming it, Talman knew he was dying from lung cancer. Not one to go quietly into the light but laughing all the way, Talman ended with a wink saying, “Don’t be a loser.”
The Format of the Novels
Many have written about the "Perry Mason" format. But what of the format in the novels where the Perry Mason universe originated? The books contain comforting tropes. Storylines begin with a person in distress (usually a woman) who comes looking to Mason for help. She shares a tragic, often improbable story, and Mason agrees to help her.
Perry Mason can’t say no to a challenge – whether that’s defending a woman falsely accused of a crime or locating a missing person. A murder follows soon after, and Mason steps in to investigate, litigate, and save the day.
The Dizzying Narrative Pace in the Novels
Erle Stanley Gardner described his writing style best by calling it a “sprint.” Some authors build up the storyline gradually, almost pacing it as you would when running a marathon. Not Gardner. He wasn’t particular about the stylistics.
His emphasis was on fast-paced storylines. He wanted to establish a swift narrative where characters would sprint from start to finish. The Perry Mason novels move quickly, where characters (mostly judges or prosecutors) find it difficult to keep pace – a meta-narrative giving Perry Mason the ultimate edge.