The Popular Prosecutor: Mr. District Attorney and the Television Stars of American Law


What follows at pages 69-108 is the second installment of Mr. District Attorney on the Job (1941) – the only book of adventures of the fictional prosecutor who starred on radio from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. (He was known only as “Mr. District Attorney” until 1952, when he also became “Paul Garrett.”) He was tremendously popular with the listening public in those days, as leading modern scholars of law and popular culture have noted. Yet, unlike the heroes of some other golden-age radio dramas – Perry Mason, for example, or Joe Friday of Dragnet – Mr. District Attorney did not successfully transition to television. Moreover, in the years since television superseded radio, other fictional lawyers have come to the fore on-screen – Arnie Becker (of L.A. Law), Patty Hewes (of Damages), Charles Kingsfield (of The Paper Chase), Ben Matlock, Ally McBeal, Jack McCoy (of Law & Order), Horace Rumpole (of the Bailey), and the like. Thus, having survived and not thrived for only a few years on television, Mr. District Attorney has been largely forgotten and is today no more than a radio fossil. His place in the minds of lawyers has been taken over by the moderns. Or has it? Who are, really, the fictional television lawyers whose presence in our legal culture is so significant that it translates into appearances in the works of judges, practitioners, and legal scholars? The numbers presented on the following pages are not sufficient on their own to support unassailable answers to those questions, but they might be enough to prompt some preliminary thoughts.  [NOTE: For a copy of the story referred to in this article (pages 69-108), please contact the author.]