Monday, January 21st, 1991, Los Angeles
With trepidation, Della extracted the large manila envelope that said "Metropolitan Magazine" from the pile of mail on her desk. Just back from two weeks in Denver the postal task before her was Herculean but she had to take a moment for this, putting far more urgent mail on the back burner.
For the first time ever Della Street had agreed to a magazine profile about…Della Street. This ignoring of mail protocol was not ego on her part, rather it was worry.
Oh, Della had been interviewed about Perry hundreds of times, happily trilling about his wonderful qualities to any journalist who would listen. She had even posed for a couple of fashion layouts in the late 1950s and the 1960s, under the guise of the "modern business woman." But an actual profile on herself had never occurred to her. Della could not imagine what in the world she would have to contribute and when she was approached offered a quick "no thank you."
Lauren Jeffries, the Editor-in-Chief whom she had known peripherally for many years, hamstring'd her, however, going behind her back to Perry Mason whom Lauren assumed had killed the idea. On the contrary, he informed Ms. Jeffries, he had not even heard about the piece. Della Street, his admitted enormous bias aside, was the finest legal secretary of whom he had ever heard. Further, as far as he was concerned secretaries, Della Street in particular, never got their due and Perry Mason would, he said, be only too willing to help in any way that he could.
Double-teamed, Della finally, nervously agreed. It was going to require extensive interviews for secretary and boss. Lauren also wanted to speak with colleagues, family and friends like Paul Jr., Gertie, Ken and even Tony Domenico, in an effort to round out the piece.
Now the magazine was in her hand and Della was anxious about how much had been revealed about their business and, if she were being truthful, her relationship with her boss, confidante and partner of 42 years.
Perry had been talking to Della for a while when he noticed that all he was getting in return, even when it wasn't appropriate, was, "Yes, Perry."
"Miss Street, will you finally marry me?" Perry said, smirking, chin resting on his fist.
Perry laughed. "Good. Then will you please remove your clothes and lay on the couch so we can celebrate the happy occasion? I want to make love to you right here, right now."
"Yes, P…huh?" Della's eyes shot up from opening the envelope, a deep pink blush creeping up her cheeks. "Perry!"
"Alright, young lady, what is it?"
"Well, Lauren sent a copy of the magazine…"
"That's great! Come over here..." Perry pushed his chair away from his desk, as he did whenever he expected her to perch on his lap.
Della walked slowly to Perry, lines creasing her pretty forehead.
"What is it, Della?"
"I find the note she wrote a bit… disconcerting."
"That's because we've been in this business too long. You've always been too skeptical anyway. Go ahead, read it to me."
Attached is a copy of the magazine, which comes out next week, and the photographs are nothing short of stunning. But then, even in a town filled with movie stars, you always were one of the most photogenic women in Los Angeles!"
"She sure has that right," Perry said with pride as he settled her on his lap behind his desk. "What you ever saw in me I'll never know…"
"Well, you were so easy to get along with, Dear…" Della replied with a wry smile curling her lips, making Perry choke he laughed so hard.
"After spending so much time with you two, I see why you've guarded your privacy so closely all of these years. I hope you find that the return for a slight loss of said privacy is how wonderful a role model you make. You are a terrific spokesperson for two underrepresented generations of American women and for the proud career of secretary."
Perry nodded, grinning widely.
"Wait for it, Dear…"
"As for the bathroom scene…"
"What bathroom scene? Perry bellowed.
"When you stapled your finger to the brief and I gave you… first aid…" Della blushed again.
"But didn't we…" Perry stopped, watching Della nod in the affirmative with her eyes closed. "I thought we were alone."
"Mmm…well…apparently not. Shall I…?" Della turned her hand over gracefully to indicate the letter and Perry nodded somberly.
With a sharp intake of breath she continued.
"…I did commit a serious breach of etiquette and journalistic integrity since I should never have witnessed that. My compromise was to include the scene up to that intensely sexy kiss and its…well… aftermath. If you are tempted to think harshly of me, just consider what that whole scene would have done for our circulation, not to mention what it did do for mine! (Until I discreetly went back out to visit with Gertie, to whom I mentioned that you actually were there but were in…conference, so to speak.)"
"Gertrude," sighed Perry as Della slumped into his shoulder somewhat, though not entirely, relieved.
"Your Mr. Mason is as proud of you as you have always seemed of him and reveled in the opportunity to say so, I think. I hope that you both enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it—
Fondly, L J"
Della put her head against Perry's and gave him a kiss on the cheek as he patted her thigh.
"You could never, ever get enough credit for all that you've done over the decades. You've been an incredible partner, Della, in every possible way."
Della just shook her curls, watching her lap, "You…"
"Now, it would give me the greatest pleasure to read this to you. May I?" he whispered.
"What could be nicer?" Della smiled at her attorney and braced herself against his broad chest.
METROPOLITAN MAGAZINE, February, 1991...WOMAN BEHIND THE MAN: DELLA STREET, LOS ANGELES
This is the last, and perhaps the most important, in Metropolitan's, "Woman Behind the Man" series because it is about a career that has been the backbone of every industry in this country. And yet, the word "secretary" has gotten an old-fashioned, even derogatory, reputation over the last decade.
My job as Editor-in-Chief of "Metro" is to oversee the tone, look and content of the magazine, a very full-time job, not write for it. So, for five years my literary pursuits have extended no further than penning my monthly "Letters to the Editor" column.
Then the most famous secretary ever, Della Street the confidential, legal secretary to legendary defense attorney Perry Mason, finally agreed to be profiled for this series!
Well, I can tell you that I trampled over several eager beavers on my staff to nab this story! This is my contemporary; a woman whose career I have watched with admiration for more than 25 years. When I saw Ms. Street the first time, I was living in Los Angeles clawing my way up in a movie industry totally disinterested in accommodating women as anything other than starlets and script girls.
Della Street and her eminent attorney, by then legendary for their epic success, made a devastating pair around L. A. attending premieres, dancing in nightclubs and working tirelessly on the benefit circuit—between them they have quietly raised several million dollars for various legal aid and children' charities—all after long days in court.
Tall, dark and handsome Mr. Mason always had a phalanx of ladies following him, their attention misdirected to his lack of wedding ring instead of the beautiful woman always on his arm. But that coterie paled next to the attention Miss Street got from every man in whatever room she entered. Even now it is hard to describe her beauty, which is at once supremely elegant and thoroughly natural. Tall and lithe with a sweet, sassy smile, unerring grace and an open friendly manner she was irresistible; the woman women wanted for a best friend and the woman men just wanted.
Mr. Mason, huge, azure eyes shimmering with pride says now, "When we danced I used to have to take her off to a corner or out onto a terrace just so other gentlemen wouldn't cut in all night; not that that stopped them. In fact it still doesn't stop them."
Sitting comfortably next to him Miss Street rolls her eyes. "We have a pact, always have. We let no one cut in, ever."
Watching the two of them as they laugh over this now, those unanswered and almost ancient questions about their relationship linger.
The first time I met Ms. Street, I am shocked to learn, she was already 42 years old, although she barely looked 30. This was 1964, the spring gala for The Los Angeles Children's Hospital Fund for which she and Mr. Mason were co-chairs.
Known for a dizzying array of ball gowns from Dior and Balciaga to Balmain, Givenchy, and Jacques Fath, she wore next season's Madame Grés couture that night. Made of white, silk jersey, the simple Grecian column had billowing folds, like some magnificent toga, across her breasts. With her hair up, drop diamond earrings, a single solid strand of diamonds around her neck and a small white, satin purse, the word goddess would not have been an overstatement.
That evening the flashbulbs never stopped around her. I can still remember the way Perry Mason stepped to the side, smiling beatifically watching as Miss Street, embarrassed by the attention, kept trying to move closer to him.
Newspapers were always filled with their pictures, however, and just as often Della Street was pictured in crisp business attire, rushing into or out of court, laden with briefcases and folders, or being hauled into police headquarters because she was involved in one of Mr. Mason's well known stunts. Young ladies, if you want a lesson in the art of dressing for the office to maximize both respect and your female attributes, I suggest looking up some back issues of the Los Angeles Times; specifically Miss Della Street.
When we were introduced she was warm and open, smiling kindly to everyone in the group. Seeing I was a bit out of my depth she focused on me asking me what I did and what I wanted to do in the future. Listening intently she offered advice then introduced me to the courtly Mr. Mason. By the time he lured her to the dance floor, I knew exactly, at 26 whom I wanted to be when grew up.
When we began this series, which was meant with respect and to focus on women of an earlier generation who don't always get the credit they deserve, we took heat from younger generations who believed that "woman behind the man" was somehow pejorative.
Hopefully, after profiling these incredible women you can see that they were just as relevant in their time as you are in yours—maybe even more so!—and that what they did "then" ultimately made possible what you do today: stand not behind men, but beside them.
Or as the eloquent Mr. Mason joked one recent afternoon, "Della Street hasn't just been standing behind me the last 42 years; she's been holding me up!"
-Lauren Jeffries, Editor In Chief, Metroplolitan