Raymond Burr didn't like when people called Perry Mason a ''whodunnit''
"Oh no — not that." Find out why Burr says you can't compare TV detectives to Perry Mason.
Perry Mason kicked off with a murder plot so complicated, even the most logical viewer got lost in the mystery. "The Case of the Restless Redhead" wasn't just the premiere episode of a new series, but the rollout of a brand-new kind of TV show. Perry Mason star Raymond Burr said that it borrowed the fascination of detective shows without the gimmicks.
In an interview with The St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1957 when Perry Mason premiered, Burr said he wasn't a fan of when folks called the plot-driven legal drama a "whodunnit."
"Oh no – not that," Burr said.
"Mason, foremost, is a trial lawyer and attorney," he explained. "Our stories are different because the final solution of all cases comes in the courtroom."
For Burr, the distinction was simple: His show was in a class of its own.
"I feel there is no show like it, and therefore no competition," Burr boasted. "You can't compare it with the detective shows on TV. We don't rely just on action or multiplicity of corpses. We have a little more plot in Perry Mason than the types of shows that when the action gets dull someone opens a closet door and another body falls out."
Burr said what made the show special were the riveting mystery books the episodes were based on, as well as the production quality — which was an aspect of the show he absolutely insisted upon should he agree to join on.
"CBS is going all-out in every phase of production," Burr bragged to The Globe-Democrat. "In fact, one of the reasons I agreed to do Perry Mason is because they convinced me from the start that there would be no letdown in the quality of production later in the season."
Even as early as 1957, Burr found himself using legal jargon — and a detective's eye — around the house he shared with his nephew in Malibu Beach, about an hour from the studio.
Often his niece came to visit, and Burr said both she and his nephew became suspects when his "Perry Mason ways" started coming home with him. His sudden eagle eye for items out of place at home caught his niece and nephew off-guard.
"Quite often when I go home, I ask my niece or nephew if anything had happened during the day," Burr told Detroit Free Press. "They'll say 'Nothing.' Then I come up with 'Then why is there a black streak in the drive as if a truck was parked there.' They are goggle-eyed."
Burr eventually decided to move into his trailer at the studio to cut out the commute, but in 1957 when the show had just begun, he already knew that would be his near future. He was already just too attached to the character to not give each performance his all.
"I'll be living in my dressing room before long," Burr said.