You're right. Don't know what I did before.
$ perl -e "$now = localtime(); print $now;"
syntax error at -e line 1, near "="
Execution of -e aborted due to compilation errors.
As explained to me by ikegami and runrig in the chatterbox: perl -e "$now = localtime(); print $now;" and perl -e ' = localtime(); print ;' are equivalent in bash (Ubuntu's default) unless $now is an Environmental variable within the Bash shell.
In other words if one is doing some Bash scripting and has defined $1 as a variable within that shell-script ... then the way to access that same system (environmental) $1 is to use perl -e " ... $1 ... ".