Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Double Birthday Tribute: William Hopper and William Talman

While it’s still the 4th, I wanted to be sure to get in a little birthday tribute post for William Talman. Then I had that sinking feeling because I knew I thought there was something else in January, but I forgot to look into it. Hence, I missed getting up a birthday post for William Hopper on the 26th. So, perhaps, this post should be for both of the Williams together.

What would the show have ever been like without the Williams? I can scarcely conceive of it. Of course, nowadays there are the television movies without them (instead bringing us a new William for a few of them, Barbara Hale’s son William Katt), and there is definitely something sharply missing. And I honestly have to wonder if the television series would have ever gotten so popular that the movies could have happened, had the first two Williams not been part of it.

There are some absolutely wonderful, rare gems on the 50th Anniversary DVD set. Even if people aren’t thrilled with the episode choices, I can’t understand why they would ever get rid of this treasure trove if they have it, since the bonus features are so amazing. There’s two interviews with Raymond Burr and one with Barbara Hale, as well as interviews with director Arthur Marks and CBS executive Anne Nelson. There are syndication promos and a photo gallery and a featurette on Erle Stanley Gardner. And then there are extremely rare gems such as screen tests, some of the cast on Stump the Stars (I can’t help wondering why Wesley wasn’t there), and a second version of William Talman’s message against smoking.

Sadly, there are no screen tests for William Talman, but there is a very intriguing one where William Hopper is trying out for the role of Perry Mason. He does a good job, naturally, but somehow he just doesn’t feel quite right for the character. I don’t know if that’s because I’m used to him as Paul Drake or if it’s the same thing the people putting the show together saw. Apparently, they saw that they definitely didn’t want to let William Hopper go, but they also saw that they could find a better place for him than as Perry.

As Perry’s friend and best private investigator, William H. is so perfectly cast. He fits into the role like a glove, so comfortable with the character and so expertly making the character his own. Other actors could have (and have) played Paul Drake, but it’s William Hopper’s characterization that is remembered the most.

The clips of the cast members on Stump the Stars are a true delight. We see Raymond, Barbara, and the Williams each take a turn acting out charades. They’re all having a wonderful time relaxing and laughing and being silly with each other. The good rapport they all had is very clear here. While William Talman and Barbara Hale succeed in getting the others to understand their pantomimed sentences, William Hopper and Raymond Burr have quite a bit more trouble.

William Talman and William Hopper are in wonderful form as they both act out and guess sentences. Their comments and reactions are among the most hilarious; my favorite is probably when they’re working on William H.’s sentence, “Perry Mason wishes to meet tailor: Object, a law suit.” They’ve gotten as far as “meet”, and somehow they get on the idea that Perry wants to meet another type of mason. William T. chimes in with “Mason jar!” Priceless. I also love where they’re on Raymond’s sentence, “The Case of the Busy Spook, or No Rest for the Weirdy!” and Barbara goes, “The Case of the Nose!” and William H. lightly swats her on the back.

On a much more somber note, William Talman’s anti-smoking message is very heartbreaking and powerful. It isn’t the same one as the short version that’s on YouTube; there are some similarities in content at the beginning (although the dialogue is not exact), but then they completely diverge. The long version on the disc has him then go into telling in detail how he’s been a smoker since age twelve and discusses the urgent need to fight cancer. I’m unsure why there are the two versions of the message or where this longer version was shown; it clocks in at around seven minutes, compared to the one-minute message on YouTube. Both versions show his deep sincerity and sadness over the cancer that has been ravaging his body and his strong desire to get people to realize the dangers of smoking and stop.

I never fail to be moved by both versions, but the one on YouTube has always struck a particular poignant chord with me. I have literally been brought to tears as William Talman shows pictures of his family and the picture of himself and Raymond and tells how he doesn’t want to lose his battle against cancer and thus also lose on being able to be with his loved ones.

Today, it would have been William Talman’s 99th birthday. On the 26th of January, it would have been the same for William Hopper. Born the same year, both also left us far too soon.
Wonderful actors and wonderful men: I salute you.


  1. This is a very nice birthday tribute to both Williams. They added so much to the shows. I miss all those people being together.

    I agree with you about the 50th Anniversary DVD. All those segments you mention are wonderful, including the commentary by Art Marks and Barbara Hale.

    The audition tapes are my favorite. I especially was taken by actually seeing the date written on the tins containing the film. My gosh, I was a kid then, but as a kid I saw those people from day 1 in their roles on tv. It was nostalgic for me to see that, and I was emotionally struck when I hadn't expected to be.

    You are very right about Hopper as Mason. It's my feeling that it's not just that you and I and others are used to Burr as Mason and Hopper as Paul Drake. I think that it's more that the role of that defense attorney, the guy who must question a witness and make him or her sweat, had to bring some gravitas or authority to the role, through vocal quality, through body language, through pacing of speech, and through facial expression. Burr demonstrated those things while Hopper didn't do any as well, I don't think.

    Hopper, I think, was a well-cast as a right hand man but not a lead. Maybe he would have been very good in romantic comedy but again, probably not as a lead.

    I read once about Burr, the words of a director who, I think, was directing an Ironside episode, that when he wasn't quite sure what to do with a scene, he always decided to do a close up of Burr and let his face fill the frame, relying on him to make the connection with the audience. It seemed as if this director had discovered what
    someone else once said about Burr, both as a villain and as Mason, that he had a handsome face, but more importantly, an "interesting face."

    I thought about those comments as I watched the Hopper audition as Mason. Bill Hopper was a very handsome guy, but I suddenly understood the comment about Burr's "interesting face" and thought that when the close-ups came for Hopper, they just lacked something that Burr's close-ups had.
    I decided, handsome or not, his face wasn't as interesting. As a viewer, with Perry, I always got sucked into what he might be thinking and it was Burr's face/facial expressions that did that.

    As for Stump the Stars, it's a trip.

    Did you happen to figure out what word or phrase Raymond Burr was trying to get them to say when he kept acting like he was getting shot or stabbed in the back (if that's what he WAS doing. LOL.) Someone suggested he was trying to rhyme a word but for the life of me I don't recall the word that person suggested.

    Barbara Hale was very good at the game, suggesting she had played it before, and seemed to be very competitive and very encouraging of the others, even seemed to be extra encouraging of Raymond, as if he were a bit shy about the whole thing. Perhaps he had expressed angst about his appearance and she had been reassuring him. It was nice to see them as a team of themselves, not their characters. Talman and Hale seemed the most relaxed in their own skins on such a show.

    1. Thank you for your comment! :)

      You make some very interesting observations on the contrasts between Raymond Burr and William Hopper. It definitely makes things make more sense about the casting choices, and oh yes, Raymond totally has an interesting face! Both on Perry and on Ironside, he's able to convey so much without saying a word. Not every actor can do that so well.

      LOL. I was thinking about what Raymond could have meant when I watched the clips again to prepare for this post. I ended up deciding that maybe he was going for a groaning "Oooh" sound, which might lead to sounding out "spook".

      Interesting observations on everyone's reactions to being on the show! I like the thought of Barbara trying to reassure a shy Raymond.