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.