Monday, February 15, 2021

Seven Things to Know About William Hopper

1. William Hopper auditioned for the TV series Perry Mason--for the role of Perry! You can view his screen test opposite Ray Collins as Lieutenant Tragg on YouTube. The part went to Raymond Burr, of course, and Hopper was cast as private investigator Paul Drake. He was nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series in 1959.

2. William DeWolf Hopper Jr. was born in 1915 to actors DeWolf and Hedda Hopper. His father became a theatre producer and his mother became a famous Hollywood gossip columnist. For William's film roles in the 1930s and 1940s, he was listed as DeWolf Hopper--if he got a credit at all.

3. In her 1962 book The Whole Truth and Nothing But, Hedda Hopper wrote about her son: "When he went off to war, he'd already attained stature as an actor. On his return--with a medal for valor which I've never seen--not one soul in the motion picture industry offered him a job. Hell would have frozen over before I'd have asked anyone for help for a member of my family. So Bill went to work selling automobiles for "Madman" Muntz. One day he woke up to the fact that he was an actor, got himself a part with Bill Wellman in The High and the Mighty--and asked Wellman not to tell anybody who his mother was."

4. William Hopper acted in over 100 films prior to joining the Navy during World War II. His appearances consisted of bit parts, though often in A-pictures with stars like John Garfield, James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson. He was in six Errol Flynn films: Virginia City, They Died With Their Boots On, Dive Bomber, Footsteps in the Dark, Desperate Journey, and Gentleman Jim.

5. William Hopper and Raymond Burr each acted in films opposite Natalie Wood prior to Perry Mason. Hopper played Natalie Wood's father in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Burr starred as a psychopath who held Wood's character captive in A Cry in the Night (1956). 

With Patty McCormick in The Bad Seed.
6. Hopper's other notable pre-Perry Mason film roles were in The Bad Seed (1956) as little Rhoda's father and in the science fiction movies The Deadly Mantis and 20 Million Miles to Earth (both 1957). He appeared earlier in Conquest of Space (1955), co-starring two other future TV stars: Eric Fleming (Rawhide) and Ross Martin (The Wild Wild West).

7. William Hopper retired from acting after Perry Mason ended its run--though he had a small unbilled part as a judge in Myra Breckinridge (1970). He died of pneumonia after experiencing a stroke in 1970; he was 55. He was survived by his second wife Jeanette Ward and daughter Joan from his first marriage. 


  1. Thank you for this article. Perry fans salute you.

    Producer Arthur Marks on his friend, William Hopper: "He was a big kid. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. I loved him dearly."

  2. I've come to realize lately how many movies he was in. I see him and yell, There's Paul!

  3. Uhhh...
    That book that Hedda Hopper wrote, The Whole Truth And Nothing But, came out in 1962, four years before her death -
    - as opposed to 2017, or fifty-one years after her death (which would have been a helluva trick ...)

  4. Very interesting! I always enjoy seeing William Hopper, whether it be in a film or as Paul Drake. He could have made a good Perry, but then it makes one wonder who would have been cast as Paul in his place.

  5. William Hopper would have been a terrific Perry Mason, but – as others have pointed out – who would be Paul Drake?

    1. I seen the screen test and he was adequate as Perry but nobody could do that role more justice than Raymond Burr. Hopper was th4 only Drake that's for sure like Burr and Hale it's unfathomable seeing anyone else in his role. Casting magic like that is rare as heck now.

  6. I ABSOLUTELY love Perry Mason. Every one of these actors brought pure magic to their characters, to see anyone else replace them is unimaginable, pure and true Hollywood magic in it's purest sense. I grew up watching Perry Mason and fell in love law.

  7. I'm a true fan of Perry Mason and am in love with Paul 💓
    I watch now on MeTv every week night

  8. What happened to his eye? Why does no one know?

  9. I just watched an episode earlier today from 1961 and thought Hopper looked incredibly puffy. His lids were heavy and hooded, despite all the pancake makeup.

    I was shocked to learn he was only 46 at the time. Looked more like 60. It's not surprising he died 9 years later, no doubt from that heavy drinking he did after the war, not to mention the constant smoking.

    Kind of fascinating when you realize the entire cast smoked. Talman and Hopper died very young, while Burr and Hale lived long lives -- especially Hale...