Thursday, January 26, 2012

Birthday Tribute: William Hopper

This time we’re going to have a birthday tribute on time! (And there’ll be another at the end of next week.)

Today we’re spotlighting the wonderful William Hopper, born January 26th, 1915. The son of journalist and socialite Heddy Hopper, William was not fond of associating with celebrities or of the acting scene in general. He tried other careers before resignedly coming back to acting.

I have to be honest, I haven’t seen William H. in a great many other roles yet. And some of the ones I did see, it was so long ago I barely remember! It’s been years since I’ve seen Rebel Without a Cause, for instance. (Something I need to remedy.) And I’ve been highly curious about The Bad Seed. That always sounded like a very dark and disturbing movie to me, but at the same time I had an interest in seeing it. I have even more of one since learning that William H. is in it!

The main thing I can talk about that I’ve seen him in other than Perry is 20 Million Miles to Earth. One of the countless B-quality sci-fi/horror flicks to come out of the 1950s, it features our William H. in a starring role as Colonel Robert Calder. (The only reason I watched the film was because he was in it.) The leader of a failed mission to Venus, Calder is the only survivor. A native creature he and his crew brought back as a specimen escapes and starts wreaking havoc around the world a la Godzilla. Most of the movie features Calder and the military trying to recapture the creature, in between Calder exchanging barbs with the female lead.

It’s not a particularly remarkable film, aside from the early usage of stop-motion animation. The stop-motion elephant is quite interesting. William H.’s character is enjoyable too. He has some similarities with Paul, particularly his love of the ladies. But Calder is different too. It’s really intriguing to see William H. play a character in a leadership role, and one who can be a bit of a jerk sometimes. Overall, Calder is a good person just trying to protect the people of Earth. (And of course he gets the girl.)

According to, William H. was in, among many other things, The Angels Wash Their Faces. I believe that was the last of the Dead End Kids series of films. It wasn’t the most enjoyable, but I did like it, and now I’ll want to see it again to catch William H. in his uncredited role of a photographer. He was also in one of the 1930s Nancy Drew movies with Bonita Granville, The Hidden Staircase. While I’ve never cared for Bonita’s portrayal of Nancy (she’s too perky and ditzy, in my opinion), the films are fun and I would love to see William H. in that one! But you know, I can’t help thinking that the movie This Is My Love must have one of William H.’s most fascinating and ironic roles ever. He plays a district attorney! Paul Drake’s mouth would drop in astonishment.

The Perry Mason 50th Anniversary DVD set includes a rare film reel with some of the cast’s various screen tests. A couple feature William H. testing for Perry Mason himself! I think what I found the most interesting was seeing the little gestures and voice inflections that are William H.’s and not Paul Drake’s. He definitely brings his own unique characterization to the role. He did a good job, but I can’t help thinking that the perfect choice was made in casting him as Paul.

Paul is a great guy to have around. He’s loyal, intelligent, and enjoys having a good time. Too bad he rarely has the chance to show the ladies out on the town. So often he gets interrupted in the middle of dates by new assignments. I wonder if he charges more when that happens.

He’s also the general comic relief. He often comes with a sarcastic or ironic remark to a situation and sometimes makes amusing flubs, such as discovering he can’t tolerate the hot Mexican food in The Negligent Nymph. His stunned reactions to the various odd things Perry sometimes requests on cases provide a good chuckle. (“Two dozen flies?!”)

One of the things I look forward to the most when watching episodes is seeing him interact with Della. His customary “Hello, Beautiful” greeting is sweet, and he and Della often get a playful banter going. As previously highlighted, the scene in The Carefree Coronary when Della brings the news of Paul’s life-threatening condition to Perry is absolutely heart-wrenching. They have a very close bond. Their innocent flirting is only further proof of it, especially since I doubt they would ever become seriously involved with each other. To feel comfortable and relaxed enough to engage in the flirting shows how well they must be on the same wavelength.

Paul is a tough guy. He’s had to punch or wrestle many an attacker to the floor. And sometimes he’s the one who ends up attacked. Out of all the main cast, I believe he’s the only one to be knocked unconscious (repeatedly so, too). He’s also the only one to end up on death’s door during a case. (Perry has come close a couple of times, but he’s never actually been harmed.) And he’s the only one to end up charged with murder. (Poor Hamilton. It was so clear that he did not want to prosecute that case.)

Paul is angry with injustice and sometimes loses his temper with the bad guys or other characters lurking around causing trouble. I’m not sure he’s ever been angrier than a couple of times in season 9. The Sausalito Sunrise features him undercover as a truck driver and getting very tough with a reporter who’s stowed away with him. He doesn’t know whether to believe the guy’s story or not, and warns him to do exactly as he says or he’ll be shot. And in The Dead Ringer, both he and Della become outraged when Perry’s client believes the frame-up crafted to make Perry look like a shyster.

Out of all the characters, he’s interacted with Hamilton the least. He’s even spoken to Tragg and Andy more than Hamilton. And his obvious friendship with Steve Drumm never fails to fascinate me. Paul seems extremely relaxed around Steve, perhaps even moreso than with Andy. And Steve reciprocates; he’s often joining Paul and the others for meals. Even Andy, with his fairly friendly nature, rarely if ever does this.

William H. was such a classic choice for Paul. (I believe every one of the cast was absolutely ideal, for that matter.) And as I discover William H.’s many other roles, Paul will probably always be the one for whom I hold the softest spot.

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