Bette Davis for the Defense

Via Pinterest (from “The Case of Constant Doyle”)

As a long-time Perry Mason fan, I know that Raymond Burr had taken time off from playing the eponymous defense attorney for various health reasons. However, until recently, I had no idea that Bette Davis (of all people) had played substitute lawyer in any of those episodes.

But, in fact, she did. In Season Six, Episode 16, “The Case of Constant Doyle”. An odd title considering that Constant Doyle is the attorney, not the subject of criminal prosecution.

In any case, here’s the low-down on this one: a young man, Cal Leonard, gets mixed up in bad business and ends up in the clink. He tries to reach a lawyer who’s not Perry Mason—imagine!—but is Joseph Doyle. Unfortunately for Mr. Doyle, he’s kicked the bucket passed away, but in his place is his (former) wife and law partner, Constant Doyle, who is played with typical eye-rolling panache by Bette Davis.


Now, this is interesting for a couple of reasons. Cal’s initial reaction to having Bette Ms. Doyle show up to spring him from jail is downright hostile. Is it because he was expecting Joseph or because she is a … she?

The other interesting part of what ends up being their attorney-client relationship is Constant’s almost motherly attitude toward Cal. Despite his initial hostility, she coughs up his bail—almost on a lark.

And because this is Perry Mason, their meeting ends up being fateful. The transgression that led to his brief time in jail segues into a scenario in which he is accused of murder. And, of course, who ends up representing him? It can’t be Perry, because he’s in the hospital. (The episode includes a few scenes of Raymond Burr in a hospital bed on the phone. An assurance for the viewers or a refusal to be upstaged by the Grand Mistress of the Eye Roll? 🙂 )

Via MeTV.

The details of the mystery are less important than the relationships that develop between the various characters. Despite every attitude that Cal displays before the trial takes place, Constant takes it in stride with the air of one abiding a recalcitrant teen. Davis portrays the attorney as a woman of intelligence, patience, and enough attitude to show she’s no pushover. I loved that the writers had her interact with not only Paul Drake, but Perry’s faithful secretary, Della Street.

All together now! 🙂

Of course, when it comes to the courtroom, one waits with bated breath to see how this particular attorney stands up in that arena. Constant usually practices transactional law, not litigation.

There is one very believable moment when she stumbles briefly. Hamilton Burger (the prosecutor we either love to hate or feel sorry for) doesn’t hesitate to point out her gaffe, but does so with a politeness that’s either benevolent or condescending. But when all is said and done, Constant rises to the occasion and even engages in a bit of Mason-style courtroom theatrics to clear her client.

In a sense, this episode is not only remarkable for having a talent like Bette Davis play an attorney, but for the way it shows how a female lawyer can use her people skills to work with the client and win the day. So perhaps the episode’s title isn’t all that odd?

The ending is a foregone conclusion. We know Constant will win—it wouldn’t be a proper Perry Mason episode if she didn’t. Maybe the real winner here is Bette Davis, who does such a masterful job of eye-rolling her way into our hearts. Particularly at the end, when she’s says good night to her husband as she closes her office door.

I couldn’t find that on YouTube, but I did find this! 🙂

“Good night, Tuffy.” 🙂

Submitted as part of the Reel Infatuation Blogathon of 2018 co-hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock.

PS: The Saturday Matinee will return next week! Natch! 😉

This entry was posted in Actors, Blogathan, Mystery and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Bette Davis for the Defense

  1. realthog says:

    A splendid account, Debbi, that has brought the memories flooding back: many thanks!

    I can vaguely recall seeing this as a kid and being a total pain in the ass because the episode had NO PERRY but instead SOME EYE-ROLLING BIMBO (at the age of maybe 10 I had yet to undergo reconstruction) of whom I’d never heard. My mom, who had heard of Ms. Davis, was somewhat more impressed.

    All of that said, in a way my spoilt-brat youthful self was right. Burr was such a great screen actor that really there could be no acceptable substitute.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      That’s so funny about your initial reaction as a child! An eye-rolling bimbo! LOL!

      But you are right about Burr. He was essentially irreplaceable as the great attorney. Which, to my mind, makes Bette Davis’ performance all the more impressive. It took guts to do it, that’s for sure. 🙂


  2. Wonderful story. Who knew Davis took over for Burr on the tube? Fifties and sixties TV series are dotted with surprise names and faces. I read that Raymond Chandler wrote one episode of “77 Sunset Strip” in the late fifties, but I’ve never seen it. William Shatner and many other now-familiar faces appeared on Twilight Zone, but that’s not likely a surprise as the Zone series is almost constantly airing on some cable station. Thanks for this gem, Debbi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      My pleasure, Mark! I was pleasantly surprised to see Davis in this role. When I think of the end of Davis’ career, I picture movies like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Not exactly films that flatter the Mistress of the Eye Roll. 🙂


  3. The clip you posted proves, once again, that there’s nobody like Bette Davis. As I was watching her with that kid in the jail cell, I wished there was a whole series starring Bette as a lawyer.

    I’m so glad you chose this episode, because I didn’t realize Bette D had appeared on this show, and she is formidable. She takes charge the minute she enters the scene.

    Thank you for joining the blogathon with this fab Perry Mason episode!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      I agree that Bette Davis would’ve made a totally bad-ass lawyer on TV! If only, huh? 🙂

      Well, at least we had Anne Francis as Honey West. I’ll have to reserve her for the next Reel Infatuation blogathon! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: #ReelInfatuation 2018 – Day 2 – Silver Screenings

  5. I may be wrong, but I seem to recall that this episode acted as a pilot for a possible spinoff. I think it is a shame that it didn’t work out. Bette every week? Wow!

    Michael Park (Cal) passed away a year ago. It is sad losing these well-remembered faces.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      Oh, my! I didn’t know about either of these things. Sorry to hear about Park.

      And Bette Davis in a TV series … that would’ve rocked! 🙂


  6. maedez says:

    I watch Perry Mason almost every day (thanks, MeTv)! I wrote about Hamilton Burger for last year’s blogathon, so I was really excited to see this post. Great choice, and great piece! Thanks so much for participating in our blogathon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      Omigosh! We watch Perry Mason so much at our house, my husband may threaten divorce if I keep insisting on seeing it! 🙂 Not really. He’s totally cool about it, actually.

      And it’s great to know Hamilton Burger got his due through your blog. William Talman was awesome in the show, and in The Hitch-Hiker, a movie I’ve reviewed somewhere on this blog. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • maedez says:

        We watch it a lot, too, since it’s on MeTv twice a day. And it never gets boring or old.

        Yes, I could not resist writing about the misunderstood Hamilton Burger, who I think is a fantastic character. It’s because of characters like him that I conceived of the idea for the blogathon. William Talman was a terrific actor, and The Hitch-Hiker is is so amazing. I’ll check out your review of it soon (once the RI blogathon is behind me).

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved this post! How marvelous to see Bette as a lawyer. Love this: “Grand Mistress of the Eye Roll.” Indeed. Who could upstage her, unless (on those rare occasions) she chose to be upstaged?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great find. You’ve unearthed a gem there! Talking of Bette Davis – you should try and catch FEUD with Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. It’s a great TV series about their ongoing rivalry, produced by uber-producer Ryan Murphy.

    Liked by 1 person

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