Legendary fictional lawyer Perry Mason’s romantic life seems to have returned to the spotlight ever since the HBO revival came out this year with its own take on his love life and the question of him getting married.
Perry Mason is not the most eligible bachelor of Los Angeles, at least not so much in the HBO revival. He is a workaholic man of law, the savior of the weak, and the destroyer of the cheats.
But does the stoic truth-teller have a softer side? Does he ever fall head over heels in love? Let me share some of my findings with y’all.
In the HBO reimagination, Perry is separated from his wife, has a no-strings-attached thing going with a Spanish entrepreneur eyeing his ancestral property, and a surreal, spiritual almost-romantic connection with evangelist Sister Alice.
By the end of the show, however, none of them materialize into a potential marriage-worthy relationship. But it seems like the 2020 show was staying true to the spirit of the character’s original creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, who wanted his Perry Mason to be above and beyond the worldly pleasures of married life.
1. Is Perry Mason Married?
In the nearly nine-decade-long career of the fictional defense attorney Perry Mason, the character has been adapted in books, comics, TV films, movies, and TV shows. Each adaptation imagined his personal life differently because creator Erle never let out anything more about the prodigious lawyer than his zodiac sign.
(Which is Leo btw. If you’re interested. Otherwise, I totally understand if you are anti-zodiac-BS-superstition. I am completely balanced. I am a Libra…you see. Libras and Leos go well together you see. I wonder if Della Street was a Libra…)
So while Perry Mason doggedly pursued the truth and minted confessions on the witness box, his marital status mostly remained single. He might as well have lived in his office since he was there all day long anyway and a woman was almost always a thing of investigation for a case.
Gardner did manage to maintain a palpable tension between Perry and his assistant Della but he always said that getting Della and Perry married would reduce Perry’s hotness! Also, he did not want that for Della’s sassy and self-dependent character either.
Gardner was hell-bent on not seeing Della and Perry married. In fact, before the influential series was launched, Gardner turned down an offer from CBS to produce the show after it laid down the condition that Perry and Della must marry.
I think those old folks believed Americans would not accept a man-woman team doing great work, without getting married. That’s just sad. But our man Gardner went ahead with launching his own successful series a year after rejecting CBS. You lose, CBS!
2. Why Did Perry and Della Never Marry?
Actually, they did, in at least one of the gazillion Perry Mason productions. But mostly they were just exceedingly great work-partners. The Warner Brothers’ version of The Case of the Velvet Claws, which came out in 1936, saw Della and Perry married.
When Perry Mason was adapted for TV in the 1950s, Della was portrayed as a much more conventional character and all the flirting was out the window. But thanks to their on-screen chemistry, the seething romance between Della and Perry continued in the hearts of fans.
It was not until 1993 that they kiss in The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host, finally confirming their relationship. However, Gardner always distanced himself from this particular interpretation.
Even in the Gardner novels, this much was always made clear from the start that Della had quite an influence on Perry, that their relationship ran a little deeper than that of an employer and his secretary. Several instances of a possible romance were seen in Gardner’s stories, from multiple glances, kisses, and even proposals of marriage from Perry.
However, all the proposals were turned down by Della because, at the time, wives of professional men did not work. Thus, she could not have continued as his secretary (and effective partner). Brilliant, eh? Well, that is Della Street for you.
3. The Real Inspiration Behind Della’s Character
It is widely believed that Della Street took inspiration from Gardner’s own secretaries. In fact, three of them. Lawyer-turned-writer Gardner had employed three sisters to work for him as his secretaries.
He eventually married one of them after his first wife died, of course. Like Perry Mason in the 2020 HBO revival, Gardner, too, was separated from his first wife for over 30 years.
The secretary he married finally was Jean Gardner, born Agnes Helene Walter. People who knew her believed she was the inspiration for Della Street, though neither she nor Gardner himself admitted it. It seems doubtful, though, because Della would never have changed her name or surname after marriage. But then, she doesn’t even get married so we won’t know, would we?
The 2020 revival reimagined Della’s character with a closeted lesbian romance in a world still coming to terms with women earning their own living.
4. Sister Alice and a Spiritual Romance
In the HBO revival, the introduction of Sister Alice’s character was a welcome one. But she was not there just as a sub-plot to the murder case Perry was solving. The eccentric evangelist was portrayed as a strong woman who did not shy away from challenging Perry while also keeping him going in trying times. If she is the believer of the show, he is the cynic.
One particularly interesting story arc involves a piece of thread that was a piece of evidence in the murder case. It was used to stitch open the eyes of a dead baby. As disturbing as the context was, Perry takes on the task of finding where that little piece of thread had come from, in order to tie the suspect to the murder.
The second episode begins with Perry visiting a thread maker’s factory who says, “You wanted thread?” and opens up a seemingly never-ending hallway of bundles of thread. The thread is never mentioned in the whole season again until the very end after Emily has been saved and Perry meets runaway Sister Alice in a restaurant by the beach somewhere.
She mocks him for always trying to find all the answers but never finding happiness in those answers. They part ways and Perry immediately throws away the thread he had kept with him since he cut it off of the baby’s eyes. One cannot help but imagine what he must be thinking at the time. Letting go of a painful question to which there is no answer possible.
Now that is some influence Alice McKeegan had on our boy-o Perry. It is deeper than your regular romance and purer than your regular spirituality. If there is a second season to this “limited” series, I want Sister Alice back! If only!
5. About Perry Mason (2020)
Long before Perry Mason became the legendary lawyer that he was, he was a PTSD-ridden war vet struggling to find his place in the world. His first test as a lawyer was the gruesome killing of a child who was kidnapped and returned with his eyes sewn open. The mother, Emily Dodson (Gayle Rankin), is charged with the crime, in part because had an affair with an accused and in part due to the good old nasty Depression-era sexism.
Perry Mason is an American period drama television series based on the character of the same name created by Erle Stanley Gardner. It focuses on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason. The series was developed and written by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and stars Matthew Rhys in the title role. In July 2020, HBO renewed the series for a second season.