Thursday, March 8, 2018

Gail Patrick Jackson: Television Pioneer

When the average classic movie fan hears the name "Gail Patrick", they probably think of her many acting roles in such films as Death Takes a Holiday (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), Stage Door (1937), and My Favourite Wife (1940).  Gail Patrick was not simply a beautiful and gifted actress, however, as she had many other talents as well. In the late Forties, after marrying advertising executive Thomas Cornwell Jackson, she ran her own successful business designing clothing for children for eight years. It would be only a little later that she would make one of the biggest achievements in her life. Quite simply, Gail Patrick Jackson was one of the very first female producers of an American, prime time, network television programme. What is more, she produced one of the most successful and influential shows of all time.

The simple fact is that Mrs. Jackson was responsible for bringing possibly the most famous fictional attorney of all time to the small screen. Perry Mason had proven to be a success on radio,  but Erle Stanley Gardner was loathe to license the character to television after a series of movies produced by Warner Bros. in the late Thirties proved not to be to his liking. An earlier attempt to bring Perry Mason to television failed after negotiations between CBS and Mr. Gardner broke down (CBS had insisted on giving Perry a love interest, something to which Mr. Gardner strenuously objected). The work that had gone into this prospective Perry Mason series would ultimately be used to create the daytime serial The Edge of Night.

It would be due to Gail Patrick Jackson and her husband Cornwell Jackson that Perry Mason would finally make it to the air. Mr. Jackson had been Earl Stanley Gardner's literary agent for many years. Over the years, then, Gail Patrick Jackson would sometimes talk to Erle Stanley Gardner about what he would want a Perry Mason TV show to look like and how much creative control he would want. Eventually Erle Stanley Gardner, Gail Patrick Jackson, and Cornwell Jackson decided to go forward with a Perry Mason TV series and formed a production company, Paisano Productions, for that purpose. Gail Patrick Jackson was president of Paisano Productions and would serve as executive producer on Perry Mason. The show debuted on CBS on September 21 1957.

Of course, Perry Mason would prove to be an enormous success. The show ran for nine years. It spent two of those years in the top ten highest rated shows for the year and five of those years in the top twenty five shows for the year. When Perry Mason ended its network run in 1965 it went onto a highly successful run as a syndicated rerun. Today Perry Mason can still be seen on small screens across the country and is available on streaming.

As executive producer on Perry Mason Gail Patrick Jackson was responsible for the entire production of the show. She cast the regulars on the show and was even responsible for developing much of its format. It was Gail Patrick Jackson herself who drew up the contract between Paisano Productions and CBS. She was not only one of the first female television producers, but for the nine years that Perry Mason was on the air she was the one of the very few women producing an American network television show in prime time (former movie star Bonita Granville was an associate producer on Lassie at the time and producer and screenwriter Joan Harrison was a producer on Alfred Hitchcock Presents).

Gail Patrick Jackson also served as vice president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences from 1960 to 1962 and she was president of its Hollywood chapter as well. She was the first woman to ever hold a leadership position at the the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and would be the only woman to do so until 1983.

Since the Sixties there have been several female television producers, from Amy Sherman-Palladino to Shonda Rimes, but from the late Fifties into the mid-Sixties Gail Patrick Jackson was one of the very few. What is more, as the head of Paisano Productions and executive producer of Perry Mason, she wielded more power than either Bonita Granville on Lassie or Joan Harrison on Alfred Hitchcock Presents did. In the end, she paved the way for many female television producers to come.

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