Perry Mason, Barbara Hale Set the Example

Barbara Hale, as Della Street, showed how career women could be respected in the office, in 1959

By Robin Rowe

Perry Mason, The Case of the Fraudulent Foto

Perry Mason, The Case of the Fraudulent Foto


BEVERLY HILLS, CA (Gosh!TV) 2018/12/4 – Barbara Hale, as Della Street, was the first career woman shown working together with men treated as an equal, in 1959. Her boss, Perry Mason, never hit on her. Why don’t more men show the integrity of Perry Mason?

According to Bloomberg, after interviewing more than 30 Wall Street executives, powerful men are now avoiding women at all costs in some sort of #metoo backlash. According to Vanity Fair, that’s going too far, that we shouldn’t find it that difficult to identify inappropriate behavior and act accordingly.

The reality is, it’s complicated. Any power can be abused.

Consider Perry Mason and The Case of the Fraudulent Foto.  Woman tricks district attorney into meeting alone in her room, removes her clothes, has accomplice take incriminating photos. Says in court they were lovers and furthermore that the DA is a crook. Perry Mason does some fancy footwork to win this one.

How do we know when an accusation is blackmail?

Entrapping powerful men using sex is a common plot line in TV shows and books, and documented as happening in real life as a strategy of spy agencies. Difficult to decide who to believe even when accusations sound suspicious. Was Les Moonves guilty of anything or were the allegations simply a smear to remove him in an ongoing power struggle at CBS? I don’t know, and I’ve met Les Moonves.

Is it sexual guilt? A change of heart? A scapegoat?

Whether someone is a victim is typically declared by the victim. How we feel about our actions can change. Someone may want to do something at the time, then decide later it was wrong. Friends or family may pressure a change in thinking that way.

Anyone who has been through a breakup may have experienced hearing a surprising parting accusation that was never mentioned during the relationship. Difficult to determine the truth later because the series of events that the offended has constructed into a case are so long ago that the accused may not remember it.

What should we think when the offended claims her or his silence was through intimidation, that there was fear of retaliation?  If the accused has never acted out of spite before, can we dismiss it as an unfounded fear? What if the anticipated retaliation would be career-ending? What would have happened had the offended person objected at the time? Hard to judge unless the accused has done something before.

George Washington had 317 slaves

George Washington had 317 slaves

Is it changing social values?

We hope for society to evolve into values that are more just. Some things that seemed ok to society in the past, for example, slavery, are not ok today. George Washington is still on the $1 bill despite having slaves. It can be tough to reconcile modern enlightenment with past practices.

Is it crazy?

In the news this week, London police have been investigating allegations of a child sex ring being operated by many famous people. The formerly anonymous person who made these charges, by news accounts, was simply crazy. Should not have been believed. However, the London police spent 2.5 million pounds investigating. Damaging allegations were made against many individuals who knew nothing.

So, are executives overreacting to #metoo? Yes, some.

Are they right to be a bit paranoid? Yes, some.

What can we learn from Perry Mason? More significantly, what may we learn from his female assistant Della?

Perry Mason would have dinner with his assistant Della Street. In the course of their work, they would meet in questionable locales, such as alone at hotels at night, and she would even pose as his wife to win a case. Della and Perry never seem the least uncomfortable around each other. They just like working together. That’s something we can all hope for.

Barbara Hale, who in real life had worked her way through college as a model, was typecast for film roles as the supportive wife. Her breakout role as Della was remarkable in television at that time. Working closely with Perry and his investigator Paul Drake, she was a single career woman. Great at her job and happy in it.

For her portrayal of Della, Barbara Hale won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in 1959. “When we started it was the beginning of women not working at home,” Hale said. ‘I liked it that she was not married.” Hale passed away in 2017.

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