The creator of Perry Mason with two of his team of secretaries

Erle Stanley Gardner 001When Erle Stanley Gardner( 1889 – 1970), the famous American crime novelist, began contributing stories to pulp magazines in the twenties, he used his own two fingers to type. However, realising that self-imposed targets of 1,200, 000 words a year were unlikely to be achieved in this primitive way, he took on what eventually became a ‘ team ‘ of secretary/typists. In this press photo of 1943 from the El Mundo archive we see two of them, Jean Bethel and Henriette Trilling, on either side of the ( ) year old novelist. The two women seem to be performing different tasks. Bethel is possibly taking notes on plots and characters for the novel that her partner is typing out from Gardner’s dictation, for future novels or for the travel books that the prolific writer also published. Gardner’s secretaries also acted as temporary corpses—assuming positions on the floor for added verisimilitude.

Over the years Gardner must have become very attached to Jean Bethel in particular. In 1968, following the death of his first wife, he took his ‘ faithful secretary’, then aged 66, as his second. At his death in 1970, aged 80, Jean became his literary executor and twenty years later, at 88, she was still administering his estate, which included a huge archive. [R.R.]

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One thought on “The creator of Perry Mason with two of his team of secretaries

  1. Roger Allen

    “he used his own two fingers to type. However, realising that self-imposed targets of 1,200, 000 words a year were unlikely to be achieved in this primitive way,”
    That’s not necessarily the case. Anthony Trollope reckoned on 1000 hand-written words per hour for three hours a day and stuck to it for years. At that rate Gardner’s target would take 1200 hours per year: a fairly leisurely thirty weeks of forty hours, which would give him plenty of travelling time. Even if Gardner didn’t get good enough at typing or didn’t bother to use a short-hand like Shaw or Dickens it would still be a practicable target. Balzac, Edgar Wallace and Simenon could write even more quickly at times, though they used stimulants and worked in bursts.

    In your previous post you say Charles Hamilton wrote 72 million words and was “the most prolific writer in the English language”. Hamilton typed the lot himself. Gardner might have rivalled him by the sound of it, though other sources say Hamilton hit 100 million words, which would probably establish his pre-eminemce,

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