TRAVEL TALES : VENTURA'S REAL-LIFE PERRY MASON.Byline: Carol Bidwell Daily News Staff Writer
If Erle Stanley Gardner's life had been a Perry Mason Noun 1. Perry Mason - fictional detective in novels by Erle Stanley Gardner mystery, it might have been called ``The Case of the Country Lawyer.''
The mystery writer began his career with legal knowledge gained defending clients in the old Ventura County Courthouse The Ventura County Courthouse, located in Ventura, California, was designed in 1910 by one of the early pioneers of architecture in Southern California: Albert C. Martin, Sr. , where he first stood before a judge in 1915.
Gardner's career - both before the bar and behind the typewriter typewriter, instrument for producing by manual operation characters similar to those of printing. Corresponding to each key on the instrument's keyboard is a steel type. - fascinates Richard Senate, who heads the city of Ventura's cultural affairs office and recently completed a biography of the famed writer, who churned out an average of 1.2 million words a year in a flood of mystery novels until his death in 1970.
Senate also takes mystery fans on periodic downtown walking tours to the places important in Gardner's life - the courthouse (now Ventura City Hall), two of his former offices, the hotel he used as a setting for some of his mysteries and a cafe where he sometimes penned his novels while ensconced en·sconce
tr.v. en·sconced, en·sconc·ing, en·sconc·es
1. To settle (oneself) securely or comfortably: She ensconced herself in an armchair.
2. in a back booth. The walk ends at the Phantom Bookshop, 451 E. Main St., which specializes in mysteries, including Gardner's books.
On a recent tour, Senate stood in the middle of one of the former courtrooms, surrounded by dark wood paneling and gold Victorian gingerbread gingerbread
In architecture and design, elaborately detailed embellishment, either lavish or superfluous. Though the term is occasionally applied to such highly detailed and decorative styles as the Rococo, it usually refers to the hand-carved and -sawn wood ornamentation of ceiling moldings.
``Here,'' he told some 50 members of a Saturday afternoon tour group, ``is where Perry Mason was born.''
This ornate or·nate
1. Elaborately, heavily, and often excessively ornamented.
2. Flashy, showy, or florid in style or manner; flowery. room and other former courtrooms in the 1913 marble building, supplanted in 1978 by a modern court complex in the east end of town, are now used as conference and meeting rooms. But they still have the same dignified air as when judges in black robes robe
1. A long loose flowing outer garment, especially:
a. An official garment worn on formal occasions to show office or rank, as by a judge or high church official.
b. An academic gown.
c. used to glower at Gardner's flamboyant way with the law.
The lawyer-cum-writer relied on loopholes and tricks to win cases, but - unlike Perry Mason - lost a lot of them, Senate said. Gardner only had six months of law school education.
``He got a bad grade, so he stood up and socked the professor in the jaw,'' Senate said. So Gardner ``read law'' in the offices of established attorneys, passing the bar exam Noun 1. bar exam - an examination conducted at regular intervals to determine whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction; "applicants may qualify to take the New York bar examination by graduating from an approved law school"; "he passed at the age of 21.
Gardner first practiced law in Oxnard, quickly becoming the champion of the Chinese businessmen who were often targeted for minor violations by city officials, who saw fines as a way to bolster city coffers.
In the early 1920s, when the city had run up a $2,000 debt, city officials decided Chinese businessmen who sold illegal lottery tickets should be arrested, Senate said. Fining 20 business owners $100 each would pay off the debt. The businessmen got wind of the imminent arrests and turned to Gardner; he devised a plan.
The arrests went off as planned - sort of.
``Gardner moved the butcher into the baker's shop. He moved the hardware seller into the grocery store, moved all the businessmen around,'' Senate said. ``He knew that to the police, all the Chinese looked alike.''
When the cases came to trial, police officers testified that they had arrested the businessmen named in the warrants. But the judge dismissed all charges after asking the businessmen to identify themselves - and found that officers had arrested the wrong men in the wrong shops.
The Chinese community never forgot its champion. When his family fell on hard times years later, the businessmen set up a bank account to pay Gardner's rent and other bills and added money to the account whenever the balance dipped, Senate said.
Moving to Ventura, Gardner first worked in an office - still occupied by a law firm - at 39 N. California St., another stop on the tour. He later moved to the third floor of the First National Bank Building at 494 E. Main St., just steps away at the corner of California and Main streets. Local merchants became used to the sight of Gardner, his coattails coat·tail
1. The loose back part of a coat that hangs below the waist.
2. coattails The skirts of a formal or dress coat.
on the coattails of
1. flying, dashing dash·ing
1. Audacious and gallant; spirited.
2. Marked by showy elegance; splendid: a dashing coat. See Synonyms at fashionable. up the hill, perpetually late for a court appearance.
Before a judge, Gardner had a flamboyant courtroom demeanor that often helped him win cases.
``He used to sit there with his thumbs in the armholes of his vest while defense witnesses were testifying and shake his head like it was all a pack of lies,'' Senate said. ``He was known for his ability to break people down on the stand. A reporter once wrote that he could see the lies swarming swarming
1. a phenomenon observed in cultures of Proteus spp. on solid media in which there is progressive surface spreading from the parent colony.
2. the periodic bee migration of the old queen and accompanying workers and drones from a full original hive which is around a witness's head like a giant beehive Beehive (star cluster): see Praesepe.
heraldic and verbal symbol. [Western Folklore: Jobes, 193]
See : Industriousness .''
It was in his Ventura office that Gardner wrote the first Perry Mason mysteries, modeling his legalistic le·gal·ism
1. Strict, literal adherence to the law or to a particular code, as of religion or morality.
2. A legal word, expression, or rule. hero after himself; Mason's secretary, Della Street, after his own secretary, who became his second wife; and his settings after the courtrooms, shops, hotels and cafes of his hometown.
The late Walter Fourt, who was Gardner's law partner for many year, said the writer often disrupted business in the office while plotting out a mystery - even frightening clients as he noisily acted out dialogue.
Even though Gardner would write 82 Perry Mason mysteries that would be translated into more than 90 languages, he did little independent research, instead modeling his books after his own life, his court cases and his surroundings, Senate said.
``Although all his books are set in Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. , they're really in Ventura,'' Senate said. ``Perry Mason's office was a mirror of his own office. Why try to invent something when it's all around you? He had Perry Mason's life right here.''
Follow path of novelist
Richard Senate will lead a walking tour of the old Ventura County Courthouse and other sites that figured in mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner's life from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 16. Tours begin at the front door of the old courthouse, now Ventura City Hall, at 501 Poli St., Ventura. Cost is $6 per person. Reservations: (805) 658-4726.
Photo: Fans of fictional attorney Perry Mason visit the courthouse - now Ventura City Hall - where the lawyer who created the character, Erle Stanley Gardner Noun 1. Erle Stanley Gardner - writer of detective novels featuring Perry Mason (1889-1970)
Gardner , exhibited his own flamboyant courtroom style. Tours of Gardner's haunts are led by Ventura's Richard Senate, who has written a biography about Gardner.
Carol Bidwell/Daily News
Box: Follow path of novelist (See Text)