Tuesday, January 26, 2016

William Hopper: Birthday Tribute

I need to come up with some more topics so I don't only update this blog on anniversaries. But regardless, we have the very special occasion of William Hopper's 101st birthday to celebrate!

I've been trying to think of something new I can say about our Paul Drake. As the long-suffering detective for Perry Mason, Paul often gets roped into doing all kinds of bizarre and sometimes slightly illegal things to further the cases and uncover the guilty parties. He goes undercover as a television repairman at least twice in order to search dwellings for important evidence. Other times he passes himself off as an insurance salesman or other random occupations.

Even though I don't accept the television movies as canon, I do find it interesting to muse on the contrasts between Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. Paul Jr. seems to be more of a detective cliche, falling back on lies and masquerades at every turn. Paul Sr. never likes doing anything off-the-wall or law-bending or breaking. Always worried about his license, Paul Sr. is determined to stay on the straight and narrow as much as possible . . . which isn't always as much as he would like when working for Perry Mason!

Sometimes Paul has to collect bizarre items, such as his long list of sugar, hay, horseshoes and other acquisitions as part of The Bashful Burro case or the flies in The Bogus Books. As only William Hopper can do, Paul reacts to some of these outlandish requests with appropriate shock and disbelief. "A couple of dozen flies?!" is a classic line with a priceless expression to match.

Perhaps the weirdest and most appalling things Perry asks Paul to do are the blatantly illegal ones. In one of the last episodes of the series, The Scarlet Scandal, Perry actually wants Paul to saw off part of a hollow pole in the park and bring it to court for a visual aid! When Paul expresses concern about going to jail for damaging county property, Perry simply says he'll have to take that chance. But for once Paul puts his foot down; he hands Perry the saw and says, "We'll have to take that chance." (I do have to wonder why the local law enforcement or the judge doesn't get on Perry's case for that little act of vandalism!)

Paul is a good and loyal friend, the most faithful Perry and Della could have. Although they generally tease and banter, The Carefree Coronary allows Perry and Della to really show how much Paul means to them and that they're definitely aware of how much Paul has done for them through the years. It's a rare look into their special friendship from a more serious point-of-view, one that I think was a long time overdue.

Paul loves the ladies, but always seems to have trouble dating them. Cases dominate his life and always seem to get in the way when he wants to have a social life. We don't ever seem to see the ladies getting frustrated about this, but it would certainly be understandable if they ever do. Paul definitely finds it discouraging. But always a trooper, he knows that work comes first and accepts that.

Paul also has the misfortune of being the only one in the main cast to get knocked out during the show's run, and not just once, but off and on throughout. Season 3's Paul Drake's Dilemma and season 7's The Ugly Duckling are just two of those painful moments. With Paul's dangerous occupation, it's understandable that it would happen sometimes, especially in classic television. Paul can be grateful he wasn't knocked out over fifty times, like fellow detective Joe Mannix!

Travel doesn't happen a whole lot on Perry, at least travel out of the state of California. Most of the time when it does, Paul is the one doing it. He's been to Mexico multiple times and New Orleans a couple of times. He's also visited Boston, Washington D.C., Florida, and other assorted locations. One of his most important and intense trips is to South America in The Deadly Verdict, a trip that directly brings about the solution of the case. It's doubtful whether he ever gets to take vacations; all of those trips were for work. On one occasion he comments that the idea of a vacation must just be him dreaming. Poor Paul.

As with all classic television shows, there were little inconsistencies. In season 5's The Travelling Treasure, Paul is going fishing with Perry and seems to know what he's doing. In season 7's The Frightened Fisherman, Paul acknowledges that he is not a fisherman and doesn't know what Perry is driving at when it comes to the fishing aspects of the case. But it's a minor quibble and the most important things about Paul always stayed the same, thanks in no small part to William Hopper's wonderful acting.

It's hard to imagine Perry without William Hopper's strong presence. I can't even begin to picture the series without him. He is an enduring and glowing part of the series' appeal.

There are those on Facebook who feel likewise. William Hopper has a special corner of the web via Facebook and The William DeWolf Hopper Jr. Fan Page. If you're a William Hopper and Paul Drake fan, this is a lovely place to go to celebrate with other fans.

Happy 101st Birthday, William. You will always be a large part of what makes Perry Mason special.


  1. William Hopper & Barbara Hale were (imho) the Best Supporting actors in any TV series. Both were just perfect in their roles, their important roles to the success & longevity of the best danged dramatic TV series ever

    1. They were both definitely wonderful! Perry wouldn't have been the same without them. It's intriguing how each character was so perfectly cast and it all gelled so well. Thanks for commenting!