Original ‘Perry Mason’ First Aired on CBS on This Day in 1957

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Television’s fascination with attorneys hit its stride when “Perry Mason” and Raymond Burr first appeared on CBS on this day back in 1957.

Burr portrays the criminal defense attorney, made famous in the stories authored by Erle Stanley Gardner. He leans on secretary Della Street, played by Barbara Hale, and private investigator Paul Drake, played by William Hopper, for help. Ray Collins, who plays Los Angeles Police Department Lieutenant Arthur Tragg, was always showing up at some inopportune times.

“Perry Mason” made its presence felt on CBS as Burr would play the lead role for all of the show’s nine seasons. Fans may remember those courtroom scenes. Mason is grilling someone in the witness box. Either that person cracks and admits they commit the crime. Of course, there were times people sitting in the seats rose up and admitted their guilt.

Lest we forget, Mason would face quite a threat to his case-winning streak. His foe in the courtroom on many occasions was Los Angeles District Attorney Hamilton Burger, played by William Talman.

If you have never seen “Perry Mason,” Outsiders, then let us give you a quick minute or two of the opening theme. Also, you get a bonus with the show’s closing credits.

‘Perry Mason’ Was A Smash Hit On Saturday Nights, Beating ‘Bonanza’ In Ratings

What is interesting about the hour-long drama, too, is that it gained a powerful prime-time spot on Saturday nights.

CBS’s schedule opened with “Perry Mason” and it beat other network shows, including NBC firebrand Western “Bonanza.” When you can KO the Cartwrights from the Nielsen ratings winning wars, then you’ve done something.

The legal drama would run from 1957 through 1966.

Many episodes show Mason winning cases. He did, though, reportedly lost three cases during the show’s run

What “Perry Mason” did, though, is provide a lot of legal shows in the future with a template. A crime would be shown at the beginning, followed by involvement from an attorney. Evidence would come together and the attorney would go into the courtroom and fight for his client. The outlier was “Matlock” with Andy Griffith.

A number of years after the original show ended, Burr and Street would appear in a number of “Perry Mason” TV movies. They were the only ones still alive from the original cast. The TV movies were quite popular, giving Burr more time to flesh out the Gardner short stories.

Burr’s career wasn’t just about the attorney. He had a memorable turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” next to Jimmy Stewart. On TV, Burr went over to the police side by playing Detective Robert Ironside in the NBC hit “Ironside.” That series lasted for eight seasons between 1967-75.

Burr died on Sept. 12, 1993, at 73 years old.