9 details you likely missed in the first Perry Mason episode
Changing hair color, oddly familiar horses and an Oscar record holder can be found.
Perry Mason premiered on September 21, 1957. Though it remains the pioneering pinnacle of legal dramas, the show was a risky proposition at the time. We'll get into that in a bit.
The characters would have certainly been familiar to mystery lovers, however. Erle Stanley Gardner published his first Perry Mason novel back in 1933. A series of Hollywood films quickly followed. The Case of the Restless Redhead was one of the more recent books at the time, published in 1954, which is perhaps why CBS opted to lead with it as the premiere tale in the television series.
The episode might stand out as different in some ways. Notably, Perry wears plaid for much of the episode.
Here are some other little things you might not have noticed!
1. This woman appeared in more Best Picture Oscar nominees than any other actor.
When Perry visits Magnum Studio midway through the mystery, pay close attention to the actors flooding out of the door. An elegant woman is the first to exit the building. She is Bess Flowers, dubbed "The Queen of the Hollywood Extras." Over her four-decade career, Flower appeared in 23 films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. That's a record. Frequently, she was uncredited. You can even find her in Rear Window, the Hitchcock classic with Raymond Burr!
2. Lee Miller pops up three times.
Lee Miller is best known to Perry Mason fans as Sgt. Brice. The police officer appears in more than 100 episode, beginning late in the first season. However, before he became Brice, Miller can be found in several roles in the series premiere! Right off the bat, spot him sitting next to the window in the opening credits. Later, he's the plainclothes cop holding in the Villa España pillowcase by the roadside late at night. Finally, he plays a courtroom spectator in the climatic scenes! He's sitting in the second row on the aisle behind the defense.
3. "Pencil Mustache Man" makes his first of many appearances.
Perry fanatics have nicknamed several of the extras who appear throughout the series in courtroom scenes. It's a pretty steady batch of extras filling the benches. Sitting in the back row by the door, behind Lee Miller, is an extra commonly referred to as "Pencil Mustache Man." He can be seen in more than 90 episodes of the show! Sometimes, he's even in restaurants, too. Alas, the man's real name is not known. Perhaps he's friends with Mr. Schwamp of Mayberry?
4. The "Restless Redhead" was the "Black-eyed Blonde" later that same season.
The casting director must have taken a shine to Whitney Blake, who plays Perry's client Evelyn Bagby in the premiere. Just 36 episodes later, late in season one, she returned to play another titular Perry client, the "Black-Eyed Blonde," Diana Reynolds. Yes, they changed her hair color. Fun fact: Blake went on to become the creator and writer of the hit Seventies sitcom One Day at a Time.
5. Perry drove a convertible.
Perry has no shortage of sweet rides. In the first episode, he drives a black 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner. It was a brand-spanking-new model at the time, first produced by Ford in 1957. It is hard to tell, but the car had a retractable hardtop. Perry leaves the top up in this episode. It was only the second car in history to be mass-produced with a retractable hardtop. Perry was cutting edge. The model only sold for two years.
6. Perry's office decor came from a hit Hepburn movie earlier that year.
The furniture in Perry's office is quite distinctive. He appears to truly appreciate horses, both in sculpture and painting. Look for a two-headed horse bas-relief hanging on the wall of the interior office in the suite. Believe it or not, the same piece is hanging in a luxury office in the 1957 film Desk Set. The Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn computer comedy (yes, it is about computing in the 1950s) features an executive character named Mr. Azae who presides in a stunning office. Not only are Perry's horses on his wall, but the light fixture above Mr. Azae's desk also dangles over the table in Perry's office! Would it surprise you to learn that the same man, Lyle R. Wheeler, served as art director on both Desk Set and Perrry Mason?
7. This character was much bigger in the books.
Sgt. Holcomb (Dick Rich) is a cop with a key role in the premiere. Oddly, he never shows up again, as Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins) primarily fills that role (though both are in "The Restless Redhead"). Holcomb has a much bigger role in the Erle Stanley Gardner novels, appearing in numerous mysteries. Perhaps the show producers felt he was one character too many?
8. You can thank the Purex company for Perry Mason.
A bevy of cleaning products appears throughout the closing credits — SweetHeart soap, Blue Dutch Cleanser, Trend Liquid Detergent and Beads-o'-Bleach. All of them were products of the Purex corporation — some recently acquired. Purex had only purchased the SweetHeart brand in 1956. Yes, indeed, Purex was a key sponsor of Perry Mason. (Does that make it a soap opera?) And we are thankful for their patronage! As hard as it is to believe, Perry Mason struggled to find financial support. Why? It was the first hourlong television show in primetime with continuing character. Yes, ever. Everything on TV up to the point had been anthology series along the lines of The Alcoa Hour. Finally, Purex agreed to sponsor some of Perry Mason — oddly, only the odd-numbered episodes from 1 to 25.
9. Oops! They left Barbara Hale's mark in the shot.
When Tragg enters Perry's office, you can see a black "T" taped to the floor. This is an actor's mark for Barbara Hale, noting where Della should stand in the frame after preparing drinks. It is a mistake.