If the new trailer for HBO's upcoming Perry Mason didn't strike you as familiar, you're not alone. Though the character is widely considered pop culture's most revered lawyer, with a penchant for getting his clients off the hook while still managing to get the real criminal to confess in the process, his character wasn't always defined by his courtroom victories.
Even Matthew Rhys, who stars in the Depression-era reboot, revealed at an eventful panel Friday at the ATX Television Festival that he thought he was pretty familiar with the character at first. Only later did he realize that he "had no real memory" of anything specific, beyond Raymond Burr's TV portrayal that spanned four decades. However, he knew that HBO wouldn't be offering up a Perry Mason that audiences "know and love."
"They pitched this very dark Mason that came with a lot of baggage," Rhys explained. "[He's] very much an outsider, which I found very interesting. So much of the backstory is presented and is given, from his time as a WWI veteran, his family problems, his inherited land problems, the new Los Angeles emerging, he's got a lot on his shoulders."
While that might sound like a new approach to the legal stalwart, it's actually closer to the character's origins than some might realize. Here's a look at Perry Mason's 87-year legacy in books, films, radio and TV.
The 'Perry Mason' Novels
Perry Mason was created by author and lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the character into more than 80 novels and short stories from 1933 all the way through 1973. They were initially published in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Toronto Star Weekly before being collected into novels.
With roughly 300 million total copies sold, the Perry Mason books remain the third-highest-selling book series of all time, behind R.L. Stine's Goosebumps and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. It's worth noting that while courtroom scenes would later become synonymous with the character, the first novel, 1933's The Case of the Velvet Claws, didn't have any at all.prevnext
The 'Perry Mason' Film Series
The first six Perry Mason books, published between 1933 and 1935, were adapted by Warner Bros. into a half-dozen films released between 1934 and 1937. Actor Warren William plays Perry Mason in the first four films before Ricardo Cortez took over the role in 1936, then Donald Woods in the final film the following year.
There was also 1940's Granny Get Your Gun, which was very loosely based on the 1937 Perry Mason novel The Case of the Dangerous Dowager, although Perry Mason, nor any of the novels' regular characters, appear onscreen.prevnext
The 'Perry Mason' Radio Show
Perry Mason made his way to the radio in a 15-minute daily serial that aired on CBS Radio from 1943 through 1955. However, Gardner wasn't happy with the portrayal of the character, which differed from both his novels and the Warner Bros. film series.prevnext
The 'Perry Mason' TV Series
The version of Perry Mason most fans seem to know and love debuted on CBS back in 1957, which starred Raymond Burr as the eponymous attorney. Several episodes of Perry Mason took inspiration from Gardner's massive body of work, and it ran on the network until 1966. It also cemented the character's place in the courtroom, and in 1960 it received the inaugural Silver Gavel Award presented for television drama by the American Bar Association.
The series was also delayed a full year due to Gardner's previous issue with CBS over the radio serial, so the network ended up putting together The Edge of Night, which took the tone from his Perry Mason novels without any of the characters. While the issue with Gardner was eventually resolved, The Edge of Night debuted in 1956 and logged an impressive 7,250 episodes (most of which were broadcast live) before eventually going off the air in 1984.prevnext
'The New Perry Mason' TV Series
The shortest and least-successful iteration of Perry Mason came in 1973 when CBS launched The New Perry Mason. Monte Markham played the character, which featured much of the original show's stories but none of the original cast. 15 episodes were produced and aired before CBS pulled the plug halfway through its lone season in 1974.prevnext
The 'Perry Mason' TV Movies
Further cementing his legacy, Burr returned to the character for 26 TV specials that aired on NBC between 1985 and 1995. The specials served as de facto sequels to the series, which picks up in Perry Mason Returns, and sees him retiring from his position as a judge to become a defense attorney once more.
Following Burr's death in 1993, four more Perry Mason specials were produced, retitled A Perry Mason Mystery. Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook each stepped into starring roles, playing Anthony Caruso and "Wild Bill" McKenzie, respectively.prevnext
The 'Perry Mason' HBO Series0comments
While the name Perry Mason has become a shorthand for a lawyer with an impeccable knack for finding the truth, the upcoming HBO series is going back to the character's roots. Drawing inspiration from the earliest Perry Mason novels, where there's nary a courtroom scene to be found, the show will find the character involved with the case of the decade, which slowly pulls him back to the law.
Perry Mason will premiere on HBO Sunday, June 21 at 9 p.m. EST. Episodes will also be available to stream on HBO Max, HBO Go and HBO Now.prev