Sunday, December 9, 2018

Erle Stanley Gardner

After the wedding I wrote about last week we went to Temecula, California to spend Thanksgiving with our new in-laws.  What a great family holiday that was, we got to meet a slew of new relatives and had a delicious meal.  After dinner we played celebrity!


Needless to say, we had to check out the local museum which was naturally about the growth of the town that was only incorporated in 1989.  Every small town touts their Native Sons and Temecula did as well.  It turned out to be one of my favorite authors from my youth, Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970).



In a corner upstairs at the museum was the recreated study in Gardner’s ranch house in Temecula where he lived from 1937 until his death.  Should the name not ring a bell, he wrote all the Perry Mason mysteries which were eventually turned into radio shows and then appeared on television.  Gardner was a self-taught lawyer who started as a typist in a law firm and then passed the Bar without ever having any formal training.  After passing the Bar he joined a well-known law firm where he was a litigator, often in criminal trials.


After a while the law began to bore him, and he also wanted to make some more money, so he started writing stories for pulp magazines producing 600 in all.  In this way he honed his writing skills.  When he was teased that his good guys always being killed off the heavies with their last bullet, so they must have been very bad shots, he is said to have responded “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.”  What adds credence to that story is that in 1932, his last year of writing exclusively for the pulps, he earned $20,000, the equivalent of over $300,000 today.

Although he is now best remembered for the TV show that ran from 1957-1966, I became interested in Perry Mason on the radio.  It ran as a 15-minute continuing series from 1943 to 1955 on CBS Radio.  I must have caught on in the late 40’s.  I began reading the novels around 1953-54.  How, you might ask, can you remember that? It is actually very simple:  In 5th grade I had a French, French teacher, Monsieur Turgeon. I know he was French since aside from his accent he said to me one day…”Tomorrow is parents day and I must try not to touch all the mothers!”  Can you imagine the reaction today to what was then the way many Europeans spoke using their hands and touching.  Monsieur Turgeon was also planning his return to France and had to give up some of his home clutter.  Knowing I was interested in Perry Mason since I was already planning to grow up and become a great criminal defense lawyer (Yeh! Right!). Monsieur Turgeon gave me all his Perry Mason mysteries.  There must have been at least a dozen.  I wonder if he read them to learn the American vernacular?

Gardner wrote other mysteries as well, but it was the Mason publications that brought him fame and fortune.  In all 119 were published. For the most part dictated by Gardner and typed up by his seven secretaries.   Perry Mason went from book to radio to a long running TV series starring Raymond Burr, here portrayed on the museum’s television together with his nemesis, the homicide detective on the show, Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.  His other memorable characters were Della Street who was a compilation of three sisters among his secretaries (one of whom he married); Paul Drake, his detective whom Mason depended on for the evidence to find his clients innocent; and Hamilton Burger the inveterate prosecutor who lost almost every case to Mason.  There was not much to learn about any of Gardner’s characters background from the novels themselves and that is probably why I remember the TV characters best.


Still today the Perry Mason series ranks third in the top ten best-selling book series.  For that reason in 2015, the American Bar Association's publishing imprint, Ankerwycke, began reissuing Gardner's Perry Mason books, which had been out of print in the United States.  Or maybe they just want to inspire more young people to become lawyers after all the bad press they get!

If you wish to delve further into this subject I found, but have not yet read, “Erle Stanley Gardner : The Case of the Real Perry Mason” by Dorothy B. Hughes.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Wedding in La La Land

Not many occasions to get the whole family together particularly when your kids live coast to coast, Philadelphia area, Traverse City, Michigan and La La land (aka Los Angeles) naturally enough for the actor, Hunter, the Groom.  He managed to get his siblings and his parents for a destination wedding … a destination for us all.

We decided if we wanted to be together an Airbnb would be the best bet, so we booked a McMansion!  Yes, it was still cheaper for 11 to 13 of us than a hotel since 3 out of 4 grandchildren made it as well and the bride and groom joined us a day after the wedding.  Everything in the place was the latest in electronics without instructions! … Even to the controls on the window shades in our bedroom, where the secret was ‘open’ meant ‘closed’ and vice versa… except when it didn’t.   Here’s a wide angle shot of the property as well as the white grand piano in one of the downstairs living rooms where grandchildren Aidan and Lucy reprised their early childhood duets.


Mallory, the bride, found a place called “The Nature Friends” Los Angeles Branch.  It is actually in Sierra Madre, California, a suburb of Pasadena which has practically become a bedroom community for Los Angeles as well. “The Friends” were founded in Vienna in 1885 to afford families a place to enjoy and study nature.  Germans, Swiss and Austrians, in particular, find “walking” (hiking) a national sport   which my German parents introduced me to at a very early age.  I did not appreciate it as a small child but learned to love it later in life.  These clubs spread throughout Europe and then migrated to the U.S.  This branch of “The Friends” began in the 1920’s and originally included Germans and Hungarians.  They decided to add a dance hall to their club house which was perfect for the wedding.  Also, to accommodate families there is always a hostel attached with many bunks in the same room, but the bride and groom assured us that they had a more private space for their first night of marital bliss!

An actor and a therapist have a budget to work with and they made it work!  Didn’t hurt to have a slew of relatives from both sides of the family helping out.  Penelope’s and my first role       was to wrap the cutlery in napkins and tie them together for 120 plus guests.  Then we went on to drape the tables in different patterned oil cloth with a runner down the center and get the plates out and be ready for guests.  Other family members and friends were working on moving tables and chairs to set up outdoors and bringing in some of the drinks and decorations.


The rehearsal dinner was held in the garden of a friend of the Bride & Groom. Since many of the couple’s friends from high school and college had come from all over the country there were lots of reminiscences.  From a balcony in the house, Mallory and Hunter greeted all with profuse thanks for having gathered for the event.

The next morning there was more work for us at the wedding site, half way up a mountain side, definitely a venue for those in good shape.  The youngsters loved the challenges of the steps and hills.  The ages went down to 4 months but those had the luxury of being carried.

The wedding ceremony was enchanting, held in the open space under a tree.  The place was terraced so people could watch from different angles and heights. The Officiant, Rachel McBride, was a friend of Mallory’s from college at Berkley.  She and her husband gave the couple a Pendleton Blanket with the following explanation via her draft for the ceremony: 

“The pattern on the blanket moving through the guests is based on an embroidered manta, the garment worn by Hopi women in ceremonies to bring tranquility and harmony to the entire world. It is made of wool, a sacred material which keeps us warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The spiritual meaning of wool is one of warmth and protection, often associated with maternal tenderness. This blanket, imbued with positivity and well-wishes, signifies the warmth and support of family and friends that are needed to sustain a healthy relationship. It represents a bond between the bride and groom; a closeness that will continue to develop day after day. This blanket creates comfort and surrounds the couple with beauty, a keepsake that will remind Hunter and Mallory of the comfort and beauty they bring to each other and will continue to provide each other.  Will Hunter’s parents please bring the blanket? Hunter and Mallory are wrapped in blanket by Hunter’s parents.”

That is exactly what we did.  After they were wrapped in the blanket the ring bearer, Mallory’s nephew, Emmerson, 11 years old, stood by and they were formally wed.


As evening approached a taco dinner was cooked on the balcony of the Hostel by the caterers. Maybe a little something should go wrong at every happy event to keep it real.  Why else would it be tradition to say “break a leg “to an actor before they go on stage?  The taco supply ran out! Some unfortunate souls arrived too late at the food table and had to settle for cheese quesadillas which were also very tasty.


Then as darkness fell, family members and friends were asked to give toasts and stories about the newly married couple.  All gathered as the parents of the bride, Barb & Mike Gross, told their tales.



The festivities ended with dancing and Mallory and Hunter got on the stage of the dance hall to again say how happy they were that all had come to celebrate them.