Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1889. He went to Valparaiso University to study law, but he was kicked out after only a month for participating in an illegal boxing match.
So he studied law on his own, and he passed the California bar exam when he was 21. He went to his swearing-in ceremony after a boxing match, and said that he was probably the only attorney in the state to be sworn in with two black eyes.
Innovative and restless in nature, he was bored by the routine of legal practice, the only part of which he enjoyed was trial work and the development of trial strategy. So in his spare time, he began to write stories for pulp magazines.
He created many different characters for the pulps, including the ingenious Lester Leith, a “gentleman thief” in the tradition of Raffles, and Ken Corning, a crusading lawyer who was the basis of his most successful creation, the fictional lawyer and crime-solver Perry Mason.
In 1933, he published The Case of the Velvet Claws, his first novel featuring detective and defense attorney, Perry Mason.
Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels, and his books have sold more than 300 million copies.
With the success of Perry Mason, he gradually reduced his contributions to the pulp magazines, eventually withdrawing from the medium entirely, except for non-fiction articles on travel, Western history, and forensic science.
He said: “I still have vivid recollections of putting in day after day of trying a case in front of a jury, which is one of the most exhausting activities I know about, dashing up to the law library after court had adjourned to spend three or four hours looking up law points with which I could trap my adversary the next day, then going home, grabbing a glass of milk with an egg in it, dashing upstairs to my study, ripping the cover off my typewriter, noticing it was 11:30 p.m. and settling down with grim determination to get a plot for a story. Along about 3 in the morning I would have completed my daily stint of a 4,000-word minimum and would crawl into bed.”
After a few years of this, Gardner gave up the practice of law to devote himself to writing. In 1937 he moved to Temecula, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. On August 9, 1968 he married his long-time secretary Agnes Jean Bethell, the “real Della Street”.
Gardner also devoted thousands of hours to a project called “The Court of Last Resort”, which he undertook with his many friends in the forensic, legal and investigative communities.
The project sought to review and, if appropriate, to reverse, miscarriages of justice against possibly innocent criminal defendants who were originally convicted owing to poor legal representation; or to the inadequate, careless or malicious actions of police and prosecutors; or most especially, because of the abuse or misinterpretation of medical and other forensic evidence.
The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar award In the Best Fact Crime category.