Randy Lewis of The Times has a nice obit on Fred Steiner (1923-2011), who composed the famous theme for the “Perry Mason” show:
Steiner said he wanted to create music for Mason, writer Erle Stanley Gardner’s legal-eagle lawyer, that projected two key facets of his personality: suave sophistication and the underlying toughness that allowed him to go head-to-head with the criminals with whom he often came into contact. The piece he came up with, titled “Park Avenue Beat,” pulsed with the power of the big city and the swagger of a beefy hero played to perfection by actor Raymond Burr.
“In those days, jazz — or in those days, rhythm and blues was the big thing — represented the seamier side of life,” Steiner told National Public Radio interviewer Nina Totenberg in 2002. “Don’t ask me why — that’s a sociological question.”
The theme was also as big as Raymond Burr’s formidable body. I can still hear it echoing down the legal hallways of my mind.
Netflix now has the original Perry Mason shows on DVD. The digital remastering is superb, making these a veritable museum of late 1950s-early 1960s Los Angeles. Everything is there in sharp focus: clothes, hairdos, furniture, cars, and street scenes. Plus great bits by some of the best character actors of the Golden Age.
Those not familiar with the show, I offer the Perry Mason Quiz Game. After the show settled down, the plots were as stylized as Japanese Noh drama, giving you the opportunity to guess the following:
1. Who gets killed? (Hint: somebody obnoxious)
2. Who gets falsely accused? (Hint: If the possibilities are female, pick the blonde.)
3. Who did it? (Hint: If the possibilities are female, pick the brunette.)
4. How did Perry know?
5. Is the perp’s confession a bang (“I could have killed him a hundred times”) or a whimper (“I had to do it. Don’t you see? I, I had to.”)?
Extra bonus questions:
Does Perry’s client lie to him?
Does Lt. Tragg put his mark on the murder weapon?
Does Paul Drake knock “shave and a haircut – two bits” on the back door of Perry’s office?
He also wrote the jazzy, uptempo theme of “The Bullwinkle Show,” and the charging march that began “The Adventures of Dudley Do-Right.”
Why title the theme for a show about a boundary-skirting Los Angeles lawyer “Park Avenue Beat”? I’ve always suspected that Steiner had already written it, never published it, and just dusted it off for Perry Mason. Perhaps it was a fragment of some opus that he never got around to finishing. Still, it is terrific. So many shows of that era.– even the failures,like Straightaway — had great themes.