Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Memoriam: William Hopper

My gosh, I feel horrible about this. It’s still the 6th where I am, but just barely. I feel like I’ve done William Hopper a grave disservice by not getting this up in the morning or afternoon. That was my original plan; however, due to the way I shuffled all my projects around, it ended up like this instead. And by the time I finish writing this and post it, it will probably be the 7th.

Anyway, this is a memoriam post for William Hopper. Born into a socialite life due to his extrovert and famous mother Hedda Hopper, William H. really wanted to go into a career other than acting, and tried more than once.

Rather than rebellious, he was shy, and felt much more at home away from the Hollywood spotlight. When he became an actor, as he said, because it was expected of him and was the easiest thing for him to go into, he did not like it. His parts were usually small, but that was just fine as far as he was concerned.

He served in underwater demolitions during World War II, returning home a hero after being injured in the Philippines. He tried being a car salesman for a while, which he said he was not good at. He returned to show business in 1953, beginning to appear on television as well as in the movies. It was during a live television performance that he at last was able to begin to overcome his anxiety of performing.

He had appeared in countless movies and some TV shows by the time he auditioned for Perry Mason. He tried out for the role of Perry himself, as well as for Paul. Watching those screen tests on the 50th Anniversary DVD set is very interesting. He certainly does a good job as Perry, although I feel that placing him as Paul was the most ideal choice. He felt the same, and said as much in subsequent interviews.

Another of the most interesting and fun things available for Perry fans on the 50th Anniversary set is a clip from the game show Stump the Stars, a sort of charades game. Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, and the Williams appeared on it around 1963. It’s one of the only things available for fans to see how they interacted out-of-character, and it’s a true delight. The camaraderie and close friendship that they’ve each spoken of in interviews is very visible. And some of the comments as they try to guess each other’s assigned charades are hilarious. After Barbara makes one amusing quip about what Raymond’s charade might be, (“The Case of the Nose!”) William H. good-naturedly swats her on the shoulder.

Barbara Hale has said that she thought of the Williams and Ray Collins as “the boys” and they all treated her like a younger sister.

I can’t remember who said this, but William Hopper and William Talman shared a dressing room. They both said that they got along quite well (claiming they never had a disagreement, in fact). That makes me regret all the more that there were not more scenes between their characters on the series. It was definitely a missed opportunity; I’m sure their interaction would have been delightful to see.

In any case, William H.’s interaction with Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale was always wonderful. Perry, Della, and Paul were a trio of friends, out to solve the most complicated cases possible. And somehow, they always managed to succeed.

Paul Drake’s interaction with the police characters was very varied and interesting. With Tragg there was usually a sense of tension, no matter how friendly Tragg appeared on the surface. With Andy there was usually, but not always, a more relaxed atmosphere. As previously noted, Paul seemed to get along best with Steve. I wonder how William H. and Richard Anderson got along in real-life.

(And speaking of Andy, after watching The Careless Kitten again and seeing the context in which Paul was delivering his unfinished comment, I wish he had been allowed to complete it. It almost looked like he might have actually been going to say, “There’s nothing Andy likes better than to stay on top of things” or something similar. If he had been allowed to finish his thought, and it had been along those lines, it would have been the explanation I was complaining there wasn’t. Hamilton tried to explain something along those lines in his awesome scene, talking about the police department’s opinion in general, but it would have been compounded and more understandable if Paul had been able to explain more precisely about Andy in specific.)

Always content to play the sidekick rather than the lead, William H. departed this life March 6th, 1970. (Forty-two years ago. . . . How does the time go by like that?) He is greatly missed. And he will always be remembered as our Paul Drake.


  1. Hi, great job with posts.

    Question about your reference to Stump the Stars-what does Barbara Hale's quip ("After Barbara makes one amusing quip about what Raymond’s charade might be, ('The Case of the Nose!') William H. good-naturedly swats her on the shoulder" mean?

    In other words, why the reference to "Nose."

  2. Hi! Thank you! Glad to have you on-board.

    You know, I'm actually still trying to figure that one out myself. Raymond's phrase was "The Case of the Busy Spook, or, No Rest for the Weirdy" (!), and I think at the time Barbara made that quip, he was trying to get them to guess the "busy spook" part. He may have had his hands up by his nose making a ghostly gesture.

  3. None of us could ever figure out what he was doing with his back--was he pretending to have shot in the back? We still don't know what his back has to do with "spook."

  4. Ray Collins said that Burr was a real gentleman. Burr was always patient with the older actor when he sometimes had trouble remembering his lines.

    1. Yes, I remember hearing that. Thanks for the reminder! That will look nice as part of my Raymond Burr tribute next week.