“Don’t Worry, You Don’t Need To Call the Police. I Let Myself in”—Paul Drake: The Hardest Working P.I. on TV

February 15, 2013


Left: Direct brush sketch (using a mix of red and blue gouache) of actor William Hopper who played Paul Drake on “Perry Mason.” (8.5 x 11 inches; Richeson Recycled Watercolor paper.)

Yes Paul Drake is the hardest working P.I. (private investigator) on TV.

Compared to Drake Thomas Magnum is a complete layabout. Chaotic and frenetic come to mind, when considering the approach Magnum takes (and the appropriations he makes of friends’ skills and resources—he must have saved a lot of lives in Vietnam because he’s called in a lot of chips). Even my beloved Jim Rockford who just wants to live in the present moment and stay out of prison so he can fish a little seems not hardworking so much as free falling through the violent antagonism of those around him (Jim’s one of those people always letting people call in a favor).

(And while we’re on the subject of “Rockford Files,” is there any better TV theme song except for “Parks and Recreation”?)

But really, how did I come to the conclusion that Paul Drake is the hardest working P.I. on TV?

For over 3 weeks in January and February my world shrank to the couch. I was too weak to move from it. The body-jerking spasmodic coughs which shook my frame, flashed through my eyes, and exploded out of the back of my head made it impossible to read or draw. I did what any sensible person would do I watched my own mini (major) marathon of “Perry Mason” episodes.

(MeTV and Hallmark both run shows from different seasons—I only watch the 1957 to 1966 episodes, not the reboot episodes from the 1980s and 1990s made without Hopper, who died at age 55 in 1970.)

No case was too small, no case was too involved (and believe me some cases are so convoluted that I should have kept a venn diagram on how all the characters were interrelated). I kept watching, sometimes falling in and out of consciousness. (I just had a garden variety cold which brought along a secondary bronchial infection.)

130210E_PDrakeLeft: A quick sketch of Paul Drake—Faber-Castell Pitt Artist’s Calligraphy pen and light washes of Schmincke gouache. (8.5 x 11 inches, Richeson Recycled watercolor paper.)

At first Drake irritated me—blonds tend to do that to me. There is a visual value contrast I find annoying. At times I couldn’t take my eyes off that platinum blond hair, expertly coifed. In some episodes the forelock is so tightly curled into a whirling spiral I thought it must have lodged in the subconscious of Bill Watterson and been the model of Calvin’s Crisco experimentation.

Still ill, I started thinking about Drake’s clothing—when I was a child watching reruns of the show in Australia I always thought of Drake as “that peacock”—too flashy for a p.i. Even at age eleven I already knew the best ways to disappear in a crowd and follow someone without being observed.  

Thanks to my sojourn in Australia where out-of-date U.S. TV shows from before my “age of reason” were run continually, as well as Samurai shows galore, I’m expert in trivia facts about a lot of age-inappropriate TV shows I never would have seen otherwise until the advent of DVD sets. Come to think of it, if I hadn’t lived in Australia I might not love TV as much as I do…TV and birds…but that’s another story.

I thought his Glen plaids and linen twill weaves were a bit much—and that hair, well enough said on that eddy of a ‘do. Surely his appearance screamed attention.

Then it occurred to me one day while I was polishing my father’s many pairs of shoes (it was one of my allowance tasks and he was always a snappy dresser—it was the one job I really loved, knowing I was contributing to the final effect) that Drake was a California boy and his clothes and hair were what made him blend in with the “California casual” of the day. It was Perry, dressed mostly in somber jackets sometimes enlivened by tone on tone stripes and usually scowling like a Jesuit at the Inquisition, who would stand out.

So on recent viewing what really stuck out for me was simply, that hair, that Dairy-Queen-Ice-Cream-Cone curl of blond. But then I did have a temperature. (OK, so I couldn’t leave it alone.) 

Yet he blends in, because that’s what one peacock does in a flock of peacocks (though two peacocks probably don’t want to be in a flock because of territorial issues but I’m not an expert on peacocks and I’m rather an expert on Drake by this time).

Here’s a guy who can smile at the ladies and cajole—ladies of all types if you get my drift—without a creep factor. He can flirt with Della (Perry’s secretary, who by the way can flirt right back) without a harassment angle. He can hold his own against a gang of punks. He can tackle a fleeing felon.

But wait for it: he can track down ANYONE with sometimes nothing more than a first name and no internet! And he can do it on a time crunch. He’s a clutch player.

Drake operated before people could “google” stuff, or check street addresses on Google Maps, or even look up movie titles for actors on IMDB to keep a lunchtime conversation going.

Of course we know he has minions, oops, they are called operatives in the private detection arena. Lots of operatives. So many in fact that he every once in awhile will refer to one as “my best man.” (By my math that means he has at least 5 operatives in L.A.: a couple trainees or unpaid interns, a good guy, a better guy, and his best man.)

He has satellite offices. Besides working in the same building as Perry, Drake has a San Diego office. The need for p.i.s in Southern California is great. (Don’t we learn this from Raymond Chandler?)

The fact that Drake has operatives tells us that business is good and that he can support them, his wardrobe, his hairstylist, and offices in the same pricey building as Perry’s offices. The fact that he has operatives also tells us he has people to tail other people and still other people to sort through stacks of old records.

Yet time and time again what we see, because Perry is his best client (and probably has the most interesting cases), is Drake doing things for Perry—staying up and reading those records, executing a skip trace, or flying across the country in search of some artifact.

He is a success because he is the least ADHD of any TV detective. He takes a direction and sticks.

Lying there on the couch as January melded into February it suddenly became crystal clear to me—

1. I really needed to get well,

2. Detection techiques have changed considerably since Drake’s day becoming both less labor intensive and impacting the way dramatic action forms,

3. Drake’s surface demeanor is calm, but his actual energy level is exhausting, and

4. Perry can sit in court having epiphanies and weaving narrative threads together, but it is Paul Drake, P.I. who is the real hero of “Perry Mason.” Drake’s efforts make manifest the machinations of Perry’s brain.

That’s worth paying a retainer for. 

  1. Reply

    Glad you are feeling better! Sounds like a bad bug. But I love that you “designed” the sickbed experience with Perry! Creativity at its best.Feel better!

  2. Reply

    Get some EmergenC… and switch to the 90’s and watch NCIS… Gibbs is much better looking and has jar head Marine Gunny hair.
    Get well soon.

  3. Reply

    Thanks Ellen, I’m just glad I didn’t have ebola!

  4. Reply

    Leslie, I don’t see Alec in there and I’m quite a fan of that Baldwin so his features do creep in to drawings, but I’m glad you enjoyed the sketch.

    And I love that there is wall signage that says do not feed the peafowl on the patio! Is that near the puffin action so I can see both in one trip? I should start a list!

  5. Reply

    CaptElaine, I tried NCIS quite a while back. I find Mark Harmon difficult to watch on TV because he seems very wooden to me. I do like most of the other characters though. Sadly the show is in color so I’ll keep with the Perry Mason for now. I think I read there were 271 episodes!!! I’m not even half way there.

    As to health, all sorts of changes are in the works going forward. Fingers crossed!

    • Gina
    • February 18, 2013

    Roz! Glad I stumbled on your blog. “Perry Mason” on ME-TV is appointment television for me! I certainly agree about Paul Drake being the hardest-working P.I. on television. I have been noting Della Street’s wardrobe and the change from the 50s to the 60s. I find myself saying I liked the Della’s earlier clothes better.

  6. Reply

    Gina, glad you found your way here too and are enjoying Drake on Perry Mason. I think what’s interesting with Della is how she was always dressed in the latest fashion and her hair was always perfection for what was popular then. I have seen episodes from seasons 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9 (don’t know why no season 8 episodes have been airing). Some season 1 episodes are coming up according to the listings. I’ve found clothing in each of the seasons I’ve enjoyed. What I like most about Della is her calm and lilting voice! (She does give a little scream in one episode where she finds a body in a bath.)

    The kids on Project Runway should watch Perry Mason for inspiration!

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