Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Case of the Captivating Cast

David White: not just Darrin's boss.
Around my house, we've been watching the classic Perry Mason series on DVD lately. Aside from the main selling point -- this is one of TV's all-time best mystery shows -- it's fun to check out the guest players each week and say to yourself, "Hey, isn't that...?" I enjoy seeing some of my favorite sitcom actors playing roles quite different from the one(s) for which I know them. Unlike the later Murder, She Wrote, the producers of Perry Mason weren't really engaged in stunt casting; many of these actors were little-known at the time. It was just a question of using some of Hollywood's best character actors to make the show the strongest it could be. Little wonder that Mason's real-life creator, author Erle Stanley Gardner, wrote the show's producer after seeing an early episode, saying, "I kept wondering how on earth you ever chose every single actor so they were perfectly cast."

In The Case of the Witless Witness, for example, a highly respected judge faces an embarrassing scandal just as he's nominated to run for Lieutenant Governor. He finds himself on the wrong end of a warrant when the key witness in his corruption case turns up conveniently dead before having a chance to testify. Who could have done the dastardly deed? Could it be the judge's chief rival for the party nomination, played by David White ("Larry Tate" from Bewitched)? Maybe it was the sleazy lobbyist, played by Jackie Coogan (The Addams Family's "Uncle Fester"). Surely no one suspects the judge's loyal, longtime secretary, played by Florida Friebus ("Winnie Gillis" from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis).

I'd like to recommend a book to read about this marvelous series, but unfortunately the best one I know is out of print. However, the authors maintain a website at that's chock full of information about the show and its cast. If you haven't experienced this classic series from TV's golden age, by all means give it a trial (so to speak). I think your verdict will be favorable.

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