Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Erle Stanley Gardner, as both a practicing and non-practicing attorney, had a strong sense of justice.  He gained some notariety for his efforts in the case of William Marvin Lindley, a man convicted of murder.  On his own, Gardner reviewed the case in detail and concluded that it was impossible for Lindley to be guilty.  Gardner's championing of the case resulted in a reprieve of execution (given on the scheduled day of execution!), and in then a commutation to a life sentence to allow for a reinvestigation of the case, and finally in a innocent verdict and release. 

     In 1948 Gardner lent his name and talents to a project called The Court of Last Resort.  Created with his good friend Harry Steeger, the editor of Argosy, The Court of Last Resort consisted of professionals who would review criminal cases where appeals had been exhausted.  This, of course, led to a large amount of requests for review which, in turn, proved over time to be unwieldy, eventually leading to the slow demise of the Court.  At least 8,000 cases were reviewed in some type of manner by the court.  Gardner would write up the results for articles in Argosy.  I believe there were over 75 articles.  Gardner also transformed some of the cases in his second non-fiction book, titled (quel surprise!) The Court of Last Resort.

    Somewhere along the line, somebody (probably Gardner and Steeger  -- Gardner's Paisano Production co-produced the series) realized that this would make great television.  Okay, so maybe it was not-so-great.  The television show ran for 26 episodes in 1957.  every episode was allegedly based on a true-life case.  Usually, the show would begin with the crime, and then would focus in on the investigation.  Sometimes the evidence pointed to innocence, sometimes to guilt -- this was unique in television crime drama of the time:  the viewer did not know if the suspect was guilty or not.

     The Court of Last Resort (at least on television) was made up of eight men, each of whom was portrayed on television.  Often one of the real-life characters would do a brief recap or comment at the end of an episode.  Those portrayed on the television show were Erle Stanley Gardner (played by Paul Birch), Harry Steeger (Carleton Young), Dr. LeMoyne Snyder, a medical doctor, lawyer, and author of textbooks on homicide investigation (Charles Meredith), Raymond Schindler, a respected private investigator (Robert B. Harris), Marshall Houts, former FBI agent, lawyer, and author [one of his books formed the basis of the Quincy, M. E. television show (S. John Launer), Alex Gregory, former president of the American Academy of Scientific Investigation (John Maxwell)[in real life, Gregory replaced polygraph expert Dr. Leonorde Keeler on the court after the fomer's death], Park Street, Jr. [really] (Robert Anderson), and Sam Larson (Lyke Bettger).
      (Later real-life members of the Court were hand-writing expert Clark Sellers, former warden of Walla Walla Penitentiary Tom Smith, Smith's former assistant Bob Rhay, and Gene Lowell of The Denver Post.  Lowell was the person who replaced Gardner after the latter retired from the Court in 1960.)

     The episode linked below was first aired on December 6, 1957.  John Bliefer plays the accused Clarence Redding.

Not obsolete is Todd Mason, who has this week's roundup at Sweet Freedom.

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