I’ve taken to watching the Perry Mason show each morning. It’s all about nostalgia; for as long as I can remember I have loved Della   Street. When I was a child I saw her as the model intelligent, hard-working, eminently capable professional woman. Smartly dressed in her pencil skirts, cardigans or vests, and impenetrable makeup, she was the perfect colleague for Perry. To my mind, Paul Drake did nothing more than run from place to place collecting observations. Perry simply wrote opening and closing statements and lists of questions that he posed to witnesses (albeit with impeccable timing and an uncanny knack for revealing the real killer). Della, though, was the brains of the operation. Without her, Perry and Paul were lost.

In episode after episode Della did the research, took the notes, saw beneath the dishonest exteriors of clients and witnesses, and fed Perry necessary insights for solving the case. She knew when a witness or client could be trusted—and when they could not. She knew where to find all the information Perry needed to build his case, and even more important than that, she knew how to glide into the office, her arms overloaded with books, and drop them ever so elegantly onto Perry’s stylish desk. In one episode, Della worked late into the night with Perry by her side. The evening it aired I watched as Della slept ever so beautifully on the couch in Perry’s office. When Perry nudged her awake it was with extraordinary grace that she lifted her head – hair perfectly coiffed – from the pillow. At that moment I did not know whether I wanted more to be Della or to love her. Even now as I watch the show more than four decades after it ended and as the actress who played Della (Barbara Hale) enters her 90th year, I sometimes imagine myself working with Della, a starry eyed ingénue mentored by the graceful and brilliant working woman.

My great-grandmother shared my love for Perry Mason. I remember my grandmother pulling me to the corner of the kitchen and whispering in my ear, “Don’t you want to watch Perry Mason with Great Gram?” She always handed me two drinks – a Fresca for me and some kind of mixed drink for my great-grandmother – and a bowl of peanuts. Even as a very young child I played my role perfectly, seducing my great-grandmother into the TV room and out of my grandmother’s kitchen. Though I remember the frantic look on my grandmother’s face whenever she coerced me into performing this task, it did not dawn on me until recently that my work at those moments was to intercede, to save my grandmother from her mother’s interference and nagging. At the time I could imagine no other reason to watch Perry Mason than to see the lovely and brilliant Della Street in action.

I came back to Perry Mason by accident. As my own professional life wound down and my own days as a busy professional ended I began to look for new rituals, simple repetitions to punctuate and organize my life. By 10:00 each weekday morning I have read my daily newspapers, checked my e-mail, and am trying to figure out what I will do with my day. As fate would have it, I was struck one day by the desire to channel surf while I drank my coffee. That was the day Della came back into my life. That was the day I fell in love all over again. To borrow a worn-out cliché, that was the first day of the rest of my life.

11 thoughts on “What I do in Retirement, or Ode to Della Street
  1. There can be such comfort in old friends from our youth. Mine was always Michael Landon.

  2. Wasn’t he Pa on Little House on the Prairie?

  3. Always with Perry Mason… the “bad” guys got theres… and the good were let off the hook. How I wish that’s the way it worked. I too loved watching the series and enjoyed your comments.

    • Yes, you could always count on the fact that gory details would be kept off screen and that in the end everyone–prosecution and defense alike–was interested in finding the truth. How reassuring!

  4. You gotta write a Della poem!

    • Rhonda–A Della poem! I wonder whether I can find Della in the poetry “room” in my brain. I will certainly be looking for her there now that you have planted the seed.

  5. Love Della! I used to stay up late to watch Perry Mason on my days off longer ago than I like to think.

  6. Lamar, you’re saying we have a common love? Who could not love Della, right? After I wrote this post I was watching PM one day and I noticed that as Perry held Della’s arm while they stood in the courthouse hallway, he covertly caressed her arm with his thumb. He loved her too.

  7. “At that moment I did not know whether I wanted more to be Della or to love her.” That’s EXACTLY how I always feel when I watch this show. And I’m ever so happy to find other Della fans these days. I already love the character in the books and on the radio show, but in the original TV show, gee, give me one of those typical Della moments and I’ll be happy for the rest of the day. 🙂 Like you said: a great role model and who couldn’t love Della Street?!

    “He loved her too.” Perry really did, didn’t he?! And how sweet that was. My number one reason to watch the TV movies, too, and enjoy them. Okay, number two reason, because I have such big love for Barbara Hale and her work in general.
    Her and Della have quite an influence on my writing, too, (blog and otherwise) and so did my grandma – so we may have something in common, you and me. 🙂

    • Another Della fan! Excellent! I actually remember a specific moment in one of the early PM shows when Della is sleeping on the sofa in the office and Perry covers her with his coat. I think that my heart stopped for a moment when I saw that!

      • Goodness, I know. That’s also one of my favorite scenes – and it comes so unexpected the first time you see it. 🙂
        I’ve been on the lookout for Perry fondling the crook of Della’s arm now btw. That sounded too cute, I needed proof. And I haven’t come across that courthouse hallway moment just yet, but I caught him red-handed in the second episode of season 3, TCOT Watery Witness. They are standing in front of that movie star’s mansion and his thumb is caressing Della while she speaks. How adorable is that?! Thanks so much for pointing that out to me!

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