A tribute to Perry Mason's overlooked receptionist, Gertie
The erstwhile Three Stooges star later owned a cat boarding house.
Della Street will forever be remembered as Perry Mason's trusty assistant, but she was not the only woman helping the defense lawyer fight the good fight. Let's not forget the woman at the front desk in his office, Gertie.
The character Gertrude "Gertie" Lade first appeared in the Erle Stanley Gardner novel The Case of the Rolling Bones, the 15th book in the Perry Mason series, originally published in 1939. In that book, Gertie was a switchboard operator, it being the late 1930s. The romantic Gertie enjoyed nibbling on boxed chocolates while reading romance novels at her desk.
The iconic 1957-66 Perry Mason television series starring Raymond Burr often mined content from Gardner's written works, and indeed Gertie made the leap from page to screen. She pops up in less than 20 episodes out of the total 271. But Gertie is hard to forget, largely due to the distinctive looks and personality of the actress who played her, Connie Cezon.
With her large eyes and arched eyebrows, Cezon had the look of Bette Davis and Betty Boop. The blonde primarily worked in Hollywood in the Fifties, and slapstick aficionados might recognize her from The Three Stooges. In the Shemp era, Cezon appeared in a few memorable Stooges shorts, getting a particularly juicy role in Corny Casanovas, in which she played a gold-digger engaged to all three Stooges. As each arrives at her pad, she proudly declares, "I knew you were coming so I baked a cake!" You can probably guess what happens to the cake. (Spoiler alert: It's all over her face.)
Cezan also owns a cat in that short, which would foreshadow her future career. But more on that in a bit.
Cezan made her first appearance on Perry Mason in the fifth episode, "The Case of the Sulky Girl." Her final appearance came in season seven, with "The Case of the Woeful Widower." She would not appear in the final two seasons. In fact, "Woeful Widower" would be her final screen appearance in total.
So what happened to Cezan? Her future was in felines.
Following her Hollywood career, the California native opened a cat boarding house cleverly called Connie's Kitty Kastle. She operated the pet-sitting business until 1994, after which she retired, sold her home, and moved into an apartment. The following year, she suffered a stroke, but lived in her apartment until 2004, when she died following surgery for breast cancer.
Her few other TV roles including small parts on The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Death Valley Days, but Perry Mason would be her longest, most widely seen role. And she never once had to take a cake in the face for Perry.
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On her phone messages she would always end them with, “…and do have a purrrrfect day…” .
I would talk with her at length when I picked up my cat, but she never mentioned her part on Perry Mason, so this is great news to me, I’ll be watching for her! She did talk about her work with The Three Stooges a little bit, but she seemed most proud of her part in “Dead Ringer” (1964). She expressed the utmost respect for Bette Davis, but was too modest to mention that they had been good friends. I’m happy to see this article about Connie and also MeTv’s dedication to the personalities, big and small, that contributed to the quality of the programs that they exhibit. Thanks!
seen every ep - 10x - and love them all
and thank you for Peter Gunn - the pre-Mannix
all great actors - cant believe Mr Burr lost his canuck accent
Connie Cezon was known for doing a near-flawless takeoff on Bette Davis - which in its turn led to Davis striking up a friendship with Connie.
In 1964, Bette Davis made a movie called Dead Ringer, in which she played twin sisters, one of whom murders the other.
Bette arranged for Connie to get the job of being her body double for the split-screen shots.
In one scene, Bette has to change clothes with the twin just after the killing;
watch closely and you can see Bette undressing Connie (with the latter's face just out of the camera's range).
Next time Dead Ringer turns up on TCM, see if you can spot it!