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Erle Stanley Gardner biography




Erle Stanley Gardner

(1889 - 1970)

Prolific American author and lawyer, whose best-known works center on the lawyer-detective Perry Mason, his helpmates the loyal and beautiful secretary Della Street, the private detective Paul Drake, and the opponent, District Attorney Hamilton Burger. Gardner worked as a professional attorney for twenty-two years. He was an ardent sportsman, an enthusiastic wildlife photographer, and a constant traveler, who spoke fluent Chinese.

Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts. His father, who was a mining engineer, took the family west to Portland, Oregon. Three years later his father found employment as a mining engineer in Klondike. Finally the family settled in the small mining town of Oroville. During these years Gardner also picked up knowledge of mining, which was reflected later in his novels. In 1909 he graduated from Palo Alto High School, in the San Francisco Bay Are.

In his youth Gardner led a wild life. He was kicked out of Valparaiso University in Indiana after some weeks - he was involved in a fistfigh. Later he boxed and arranged unlicenced wrestling matches. While working as a typist in an law office in California, he 'read law' without formal instructions and was admitted to the bar in 1911. At the age of twenty-one, Gardner opened his own law office in Merced, California. The business was bad.

From 1911 to 1918 Gardner worked as a lawyer in Oxnard, California, for I.W. Stewart, a corporate attorney. During this period he defended Chinese clients, and became known as "t'ai chong tze" (the big lawyer). In 1921 Gardner married Natalie Frances Talbert; they had one child. From Oxnard he moved to Ventura, where he had a law firm with Frank Orr. From 1918 to 1921 he was a salesman for Consolidated Sales Company, but returned then to Ventura, where he continued as a lawyer until 1933. In the courtroom Gardner radiated self-confidence like later Perry Mason, with whom he also shared appetite for thick steaks. In the early 1920s he began writing western and mystery stories for the pulp magazines. Gardner was of the most successful writers before he ever published a novel.

To earn additional income Gardner turned to pulp writing, using the pen name Charles M. Green. In the mid-1920s he contributed regularly Black Mask magazine and became one of its most popular contributors. Among his crowd of series characters were Lester Leith, the "Gentleman Rogue", Sidney Zoom, "Master of Disguise", and Soo Hoo Duck, "King of Chinatown." Oriental heroes or villains more often were at time popular, and Gardner wrote a story which was set China. Sax Rohmer (d. 1959) had his own super-criminal, Dr. Fu-Manchu, Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933) created the detective Charlie Chan. At the time of the Depression Gardner wrote westerns for a penny a word, selling to such publications as Western Roud-Up, West Weekly, and Western Tales. Of course he tried to stretch the final shoot-out as far as possible - each time he wrote 'Bang' he made another penny.

In 1931 Gardner and his wife made a six-month tour in China. The experience in the restless land inspired Gardner to create a new hero, Major Copely Brane, "International Adventurer." In 1932 Gardner began to dictate his stories on vax sylinders, turning them over to his secretary for transcriptions. An oddball pair of private investigators, the big and crude Bertha Cool and the tiny lawyer Donald Lam, were born in 1938 - Gardner wrote the books under the pseudonym of A.A. Fair

Gardner's first Perry Mason stories THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS and THE CASE OF THE SULKY GIRL appeared in 1933. "The character I am trying to create for him is that of a fighter who is possessed of infinite patience," he explained to his publisher. Readers were enthusiastic and he gave up law and wrote eighty more Masons. In this huge production Gardner had help from a staff of several secretaries, who typed his dictation. From the late 1930s to the late 1950s Saturday Evening Post serialized most of the Masons before book publication. In 1935 Gardner's marriage to Natalie ended; there was no divorce and Gardner send her money for the remainder of her life. After her death Gardner married in 1968 his private secretary Agnes Jean Bethell, who had worked for him from the 1930s.

From 1940s Gardner dedicated many of his books to penologists and specialists in forensic medicine. THE CASE OF HORRIFIED HEIRS (1964) was dedicated to the barrister and doctor of science and medicine, John Glaister, who after thoroughgoing research identified two bodies, which had been mutilated by removal of eyes, ears, nose, lips and skin - all teeth had been extracted. John Glaister also was the author of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology, one of the most comprehensive and authoritative books in the field. In THE CASE OF THE AMOROUS AUNT (1963) he wrote that "the arch-enemy of the murderer is the autopsy... In cold-blooded crimes committed by an intellectual and scheming murderer who has greed or revenge as his goal, the medical examiner, following clues which would never be apparent to a less thoroughly trained individual, can establish the truth."

Gardner was one of the founding members of the Court of Last Resort (The Case Review Committee), an association who reopened cases wherein a person might have been falsely convicted. In 1952 he won the Fact Crime Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. When the longrunning Perry Mason television series started in 1957, Gardner worked without credit as script supervisor. Gardner died on March 11, 1970, in his home at Rancho del Paisano. His cremated ashes were scattered over his beloved Baja Peninsula. He had found the place in the late 1930s and as an outdoor person, he loved nature and animals. THE CASE OF THE POSTPONED MURDER (1973) was Gardner's last Mason story. After the death of the author Thomas Chastain has continued the series, starting with The Case of Too Many Murders (1989).

Information source: wikipedia