Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Memoriam: William Hopper

And so we come to another March 6th, another anniversary of the date William Hopper tragically left us far too soon in 1970. Eerily enough, Erle Stanley Gardner died within the week of the same year and we lost two key figures in the shaping of Perry Mason.

William Hopper brought his immortal contributions to Perry when he showed up to do a screentest for Perry Mason himself. He definitely left an impression and ended up cast as our beloved Paul Drake. That was most certainly a wise choice. He brought so much heart and soul to our cast and the reunion movies feel so lonely without him.

I love when Paul gets a chance to be tough and show his stuff, since sometimes he's used as a comic relief character. One of my favorite scenes is in The Stand-In Sister, when he corners the escaped criminal by calmly and smoothly holding a gun on him at the top of the pier as he starts to climb up.

That season 6 episode also has the curious distinction of being the only one, I think, to actually have kind of a downer epilogue. Even if the courtroom scenes end rather grimly, the epilogue usually tries to cheer things up and end the episode on a happy note. In The Stand-In Sister, however, the epilogue has John Gregory talking to his criminal brother Stefan and wondering why he changed his mind and lied on the witness stand in Gregory's favor instead of telling all the things he threatened to that would make Gregory look horrible. Stefan growls that he has to be nice, since Gregory is holding all his money for him. Gregory, who had apparently hoped that there was some spark of brotherly affection as the reason, goes back over to Perry looking downcast and the episode ends. Um, ouch.

The only other episode I can think of that ends rather grim doesn't even fully count, as it's season 9's The Vanishing Victim and it only appears grim because the version usually shown on television cuts off the epilogue for some bizarre reason. In the televised version, it generally ends with Hamilton talking to the murderer and telling him that he has one more trip to take and this time he can't pass it off on someone else to take for him. The real ending is that silliness with Perry and Paul and the money Paul is charging for expenses that Perry decides to give to Steve for charity tickets without Paul's permission. I still wonder whether Paul is really charging unfairly and hence, Perry might be somewhat justified in his actions, or if Paul is being perfectly fair (aside from maybe nineteen cents, heh) and Perry is not being very nice to just give all of Paul's money away. I usually tend to lean more in Paul's favor, since Perry has unfairly taken money away from him in other episodes such as The Married Moonlighter, although I still wonder.

Paul has some interesting hobbies. Fishing seems to be a casual thing with him, judging by the fact that he fishes with Perry in season 5 yet doesn't seem to know a lot about where specific kinds of fish can be found in season 7. He seems to want to take up golfing, at least in season 9, as he wants those clubs in The Vanishing Victim and then the very next episode is The Golfer's Gambit and he's out practicing on the green. He's in excellent physical shape, as shown in The Carefree Coronary, and he likely works out and exercises to be in top form for the very physically demanding parts of his job.

Of course, Paul's favorite hobby, most likely, is dating. And admiring beautiful women. Several episodes have scenes with him getting distracted by women, and many more have him either on dates or talking about going on dates. Or, unfortunately, being pulled away from dates. But, always the loyal friend, he goes about doing whatever Perry wants done.

Paul is more skeptical than Perry. Many times he's certain that a client is guilty, or at least, is wary of their innocence. But he supports Perry anyway. And in The Angry Astronaut, when Paul brings the case to Perry, he says that he thinks the client is guilty but that he still deserves the best counsel. Paul can be a good judge of people at times, though, such as when he pegged Mark Chester as a weak-kneed slimeball in The Candy Queen.

All of the Perry characters are very human and three-dimensional. Paul is definitely not an exception. He can be funny. He can be serious. He makes good decisions and bad. And all in all, Perry Mason could never be the same without him. William Hopper is still very loved and missed.


  1. I can't imagine anyone else as Paul. Wm Hopper was perfection, to me, in the role. In all the various PM movies, I always mentally compare whatever PI PM is using to Paul & they always to my mind, come up lacking.

    I also enjoy the B-movies that cast Mr Hopper also, lol, even if the movies weren't any good :)

    Thanks for remembering a heckuva character actor

    1. He totally was! I definitely do the comparing thing too, especially with William Katt's Paul Jr. The other guy, Ken, was actually a lawyer doing P.I. legwork, so I usually don't compare him to Paul Sr.

      Ah yes, I love watching old B-grade movies with my favorite actors in them. ;) They make the things worth watching.

      William Hopper must always be remembered! Thanks for commenting!