January 04, 2012

Welcome to Jeffrey Marks, author of the upcoming Erle Stanley Gardner bio

Author Jeffrey Marks has made his "mark" by providing insight into the backgrounds of founding writers in the mystery world via his comprehensive biographies. These include: Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s; Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of the Screwball Mystery; and the 2009 Anthony Award-winning, Anthony Boucher: A Bibliography, plus the upcoming bio on Perry Mason author, Erle Stanley Gardner.

His next biography on Erle Stanley Gardner is now in progress, so today we're offering a preview. Erle Stanley Gardner is best known as the author of 80 Perry Mason novels; however, he wrote over 140 books, and 650 short stories and novellas, over his 50-year career. Gardner produced approximately 100,000 words every month, making him one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century. He was a champion of the underdog, and spent many years helping to free unjustly convicted criminals as part of his Court of Last Resort.

Perry Mason has been featured in movies, radio, and a very successful television show, produced by Gardner's production company. Currently, a new Perry Mason film is in the works from Warner Brothers and Robert Downey Jr.

Today, Marks gives us a preview, sharing a bit about the people, and the animals, in Gardner's life.

Erle Stanley Gardner was a champion of the underdog, both literally and metaphorically. He collected strays and treated them better than the humans around him at times. In his legal work, he took on cases of men who had given up hope, men that others would considered beyond legal remedies and created The Court of Last Resort which helped change the legal system in the United States.

Based on his sale to the Saturday Evening Post and the feeling that his growing cadre of secretaries was unhappy with the mountains in winter and the desert in summer, Gardner began to look for a place to settle down. Now that his relationship with Warner Brothers was kaput, he sold his Hollywood home in late 1936 and headed out on the road again. He now had four trailers in his caravan: one for him, one for Jean and Louise Weissberger, a friend from Hawaii, one for a cook and the fourth for another secretary. Honey was not travelling with them at this point, and Peggy had begun working outside the Fiction Factory.

Gardner often credited his dog for finding Temecula, a town of about 250 people at the time. He claimed that Rip, his German shepherd, began barking like never before as soon as they came to Temecula. Gardner stopped and approved of Rip’s decision. He rented a post office box that he provided to his editor, Thayer Hobson, just for their communications. As winter fell, Gardner headed off for his annual trip to New York City, followed by a stop in New Orleans. He left his trailers in Temecula and asked a local friend to look for property in the area. The land that would become his ranch became available during those winter months.

The City of Temecula is located about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean in southwest Riverside County, just north of the San Diego County line. The San Bernardino Mountains can be seen in the opposite direction. Gardner found it convenient to Los Angeles and his beloved Baja.

Gardner recognized, too, that in order to keep up the pace of two Mason novels a year plus his short stories for the pulps along with the Selby novels, he needed a headquarters to receive mail. Gardner only maintained regular correspondence with a handful of close friends, outside of the publishing world.

Beyond the growing need for a stationary place to receive mail, a bout of pneumonia in the spring of 1937 left Gardner weak and behind in his work. He was living out of the camp trailers and trying to catch up on correspondence and short stories. Something had to give soon. Despite his naturally healthy constitution, Gardner lived at a reckless pace with little sleep and large amounts of self-imposed pressure. The result was that at times, he would develop serious ailments that forced him to slow down. Unfortunately, upon healing, Gardner would again speed up the pace to make up any postponed writing.

To remedy some of those issues, Gardner bought 3,000 acres several miles from Temecula and immediately began converting the land into a home. He dubbed his new purchase, Rancho del Paisano, after one of his short story characters. Gardner wrote to his editor: Recently I’ve found a ranch property which suits me right down to the ground and I’m moving in, lock, stock and barrel with a regular office, plenty of elbow room and my various branches centralized under one roof, and I’m going to be able to turn out more work. I’m going to make headquarters here for the next six or eight months…

Gardner was wrong. He would spend the next 33 years in Temecula, as one of its most famous citizens. Today there are streets, schools, and a mystery weekend there in his honor, held the first weekend of November each year.

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