William Hopper

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This article is about the American actor. For other uses, see William Hopper (disambiguation).
William Hopper
William Hopper by Van Vechten.jpg
William Hopper in 1934, photo by Carl Van Vechten
Born DeWolf Hopper, Jr.
(1915-01-26)January 26, 1915
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died March 6, 1970(1970-03-06) (aged 55)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Resting place
Rose Hills Memorial Park
Other names DeWolf Hopper, Jr.
Bill Hopper
William Dewolf Hopper
Occupation Actor
Years active 1916; 1936–1966; 1970
Spouse(s) Jane Gilbert (m. 1940; div. 1959)
Jeanette Juanita Ward (m. 1959–70)
Children 1
Parent(s) Hedda Hopper
DeWolf Hopper

William Hopper (January 26, 1915 – March 6, 1970) was an American stage, film and television actor. Hopper is best remembered for playing private detective Paul Drake in more than 250 episodes of television's Perry Mason and for his role as the father of the Natalie Wood character in Rebel Without a Cause.

Early life[edit]

William DeWolf Hopper, Jr. was born in New York City, the only child of singer and comic stage actor DeWolf Hopper (1858–1935) and actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (1885–1966). He had one older half-brother from his father's second marriage in the 1880s. Hopper made his film debut as a baby in his father's 1916 silent movie Sunshine Dad. His mother divorced his father in 1922 and moved to Hollywood with their son.

He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1942, served as a frogman,[1] and received a Bronze Star for bravery and heroic action during operations in the Pacific. He was discharged when the war ended in 1945.

Acting career[edit]


Hopper began his acting career as a teenager, working in summer stock in Ogunquit, Maine. He went from there to Broadway, where he appeared in two plays in 1934, Order Please and Romeo and Juliet.

Early in his film career, Hopper appeared uncredited in numerous movies or under the name DeWolf Hopper. In 1936, he played a small role as a photographer in the Columbia Pictures film The King Steps Out starring Grace Moore and Franchot Tone. In 1937 he portrayed the leading man in two films, Public Wedding with Jane Wyman and Over the Goal. He also enjoyed significant roles alongside Ann Sheridan in The Footloose Heiress (1937) and Mystery House (1938).

After that he had roles that included playing a sergeant in the Western Stagecoach (1939) starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne; an intern in The Return of Dr. X starring Humphrey Bogart; a New York reporter in Knute Rockne, All American (1940) starring Pat O'Brien, Gale Page, Ronald Reagan and Donald Crisp; a reporter in the post-Hollywood Production Code version of The Maltese Falcon (1941) starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor; and a reporter in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) starring James Cagney and Walter Huston. Reagan and Hopper appeared in nine films together between 1937 and 1942.


In the mid 1950s Hopper resumed his movie career with the part of Roy in The High and the Mighty (1954) starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, and Robert Stack. In 1956 Hopper had a supporting role in Wayne's production of Good-bye, My Lady.

Other appearances included his iconic role as the father of Natalie Wood in the James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause (1955), as Robert Mitchum's ill-fated older brother Arthur in the William Wellman adventure Track of the Cat (1954), and as the often absent father Col. Kenneth Penmark in The Bad Seed (1956) also starring Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack. Hopper, along with Joan Taylor and a very young Bart Braverman, starred in the classic Ray Harryhausen science fiction film 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).

Also in 1957 he played a supporting role in the pilot episode of the television series The Restless Gun, which was broadcast as an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. His television guest appearances included the The Joseph Cotten Show, Gunsmoke, Fury, Studio 57, The Millionaire, and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.

He made two movie appearances during his years on Perry Mason but retired after the television show ended in 1966. He made one final movie appearance as a judge, Frederic D. Cannon in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970) starring Raquel Welch, John Huston, Farrah Fawcett, Rex Reed, and Mae West.

Perry Mason[edit]

Hopper is best known for his regular role as the private investigator Paul Drake on CBS's courtroom television series Perry Mason (1957–1966) with Raymond Burr in the title role and Barbara Hale as secretary Della Street. He originally auditioned for the role of Perry Mason, and Raymond Burr auditioned for the role of Mason's rival, district attorney Hamilton Burger. After Burr was given the role of Perry Mason, Hopper was cast as Mason's friend and private detective, Paul Drake. In the 1959 episode, "The Case of Paul Drake's Dilemma," Hopper played the defendant, the only time in the series' nine-year run that Paul Drake was tried for murder.

In 1959, Hopper was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series for his performance as Paul Drake.

Personal life[edit]

In the mid to late 1930s, Hopper occasionally visited nightclubs with film actress Isabel Jewell. He married actress Jane Gilbert (née Kies), sister of the better-known Margaret Lindsay, in 1940; they had one daughter, Joan (born 1942); the couple divorced in 1959.

Shortly after his divorce, he married Jeanette Juanita Ward (August 9, 1929 - October 20, 2008) and became stepfather to her son, Gordon Casimire Williamsii (né Gordon Patrick Williams, July 5, 1957 - June 15, 2013).[2] Jeanette died on October 20, 2008, of cardiac arrest from atherosclerosis in El Monte, California.

Although self-published Entertainment Celebrities is credited with claiming that actor Dennis Hopper was his cousin,[3] the Chicago Tribune stated that they were not related.[4]


Hopper was hospitalized on February 14, 1970, after suffering a stroke at his home in Yucca Valley, California. He died of pneumonia three weeks later, on March 6, at age 55.[1][5] He was buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

Stage credits[edit]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1916 Sunshine Dad Infant in carriage Uncredited
1937 The Big Broadcast of 1937 Ship's Officer Credited as DeWolf Hopper Jr.
1937 Love Is on the Air Eddie Gould
1937 Dick Tracy Dirigible Pilot Uncredited
1937 Mr. Dodd Takes the Air Second Production Manager Uncredited
1938 Love, Honor and Behave Yale Tennis Player Uncredited
1939 Stagecoach Sergent Uncredited
1939 Nancy Drew... Reporter Bit role Uncredited
1939 Daughters Courageous Striped-Shirted Man at Beach Uncredited
1939 The Old Maid John Credited as DeWolf Hopper
1939 The Angels Wash Their Faces Photographer Uncredited
1939 Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase Reporter Credited as DeWolf Hopper
1939 Dust Be My Destiny Reporter Uncredited
1939 Espionage Agent Student Uncredited
1939 On Your Toes Ronald - Peggy's Escort Uncredited
1939 The Return of Doctor X Intern Credited as DeWolf Hopper
1939 Invisible Stripes Society Gent in Top Hat Uncredited
1940 The Fighting 69th Private Turner Credited as DeWolf Hopper
1940 Calling Philo Vance Clerk at Hotel Nino in Chicago Uncredited
1940 Castle on the Hudson Reporter Uncredited
1940 Virginia City Lieutenant Reporting Murrell's Attack Uncredited
1940 'Til We Meet Again Man Uncredited
1940 Brother Orchid 2nd Reporter on Return Ship Uncredited
1940 No Time for Comedy First-Nighter Uncredited
1940 Knute Rockne, All American New York Reporter When Knute is Ill Uncredited
1940 Lady with Red Hair Lyceum Theater Attendant Uncredited
1941 Affectionately Yours Airline Attendant Uncredited
1941 The Bride Came C.O.D. Keenan's and Brice's pilot Credited as DeWolf Hopper
1941 Manpower Power Company Telephone Operator Uncredited
1941 The Maltese Falcon Reporter Uncredited
1941 They Died with Their Boots On Lt. Frazier Uncredited
1941 All Through the Night Reporter Uncredited
1941 You're in the Army Now Supply Man - Gas Masks Uncredited
1942 The Male Animal Reporter on porch Uncredited
1942 Lady Gangster John Credited as DeWolf Hopper
1942 Larceny, Inc. Traffic Policeman Uncredited
1942 Yankee Doodle Dandy Reporter Uncredited
1942 Across the Pacific Orderly Uncredited
1942 Desperate Journey Radio Operator Uncredited
1942 Beyond the Line of Duty University of Texas classmate Uncredited
1943 The Hard Way Hotel Desk Clerk Uncredited
1943 Action in the North Atlantic Canadian Soldier Uncredited
1954 The High and the Mighty Roy Credited as William Dewolf Hopper
1954 Sitting Bull Charles Wentworth Credited as Bill Hopper
1954 Track of the Cat Arthur Bridges
1955 Conquest of Space Dr. George Fenton
1955 Rebel Without a Cause Judy's father
1956 Good-bye, My Lady Walden Grover Alternative title: The Boy and the Laughing Dog
1956 The First Texan William Barret Travis
1956 The Bad Seed Col. Kenneth Penmark
1957 The Deadly Mantis Dr. Nedrick (Ned) Jackson
1957 20 Million Miles to Earth Col. Robert Calder
1970 Myra Breckinridge Judge Frederic D. Cannon Uncredited
Year Title Role Notes
1954 Mayor of the Town Girard Episode: "Minnie's Job"
1955-1956 Lux Video Theatre Various 3 episodes
1956 Fury Dr. Steve Brown/Steve Wilson Episode: "The Hobo"
1956 The 20th Century Fox Hour Philip Harland Episode: "One Life"
1956 Celebrity Playhouse Episode: "Stagecoach to Paradise"
1956 The Millionaire Capt. Jonathan Carroll Episode: "The Captain Jonathan Carroll Story"
1956 Gunsmoke John Henry Jordan
2 episodes
1956 Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre Rick Gordon Episode: "One Percent"
1956 Matinee Theater Episode: "Madame de Treymes"
1956-1957 Studio 57 Kip 2 episodes
1957 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Dan Mailer Episode: "The Restless Gun"
1957 The Joseph Cotten Show Arnold Bait Episode: "The Case of the Jealous Bomber"
1957-1966 Perry Mason Paul Drake 271 episodes


  1. ^ a b "TV Actor, William Hopper, 55". The Miami News. March 6, 1970. pp. 12–A. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  2. ^ "In Memory of Gordon Casimire Williamsii". dignitymemorial.com. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  3. ^ Norbert B. Laufenberg, Entertainment Celebrities (Trafford Publishing, 2005), 795
  4. ^ Bettelou Peterson. "What happened to Dennis Hopper who played Paul Drake in...," Chicago Tribune, TV sec., February 27, 1987.
  5. ^ New York Times: "William Hopper, Actor, Dies; Detective in 'Perry Mason,' 54," March 7, 1970, accessed July 14, 2011
  6. ^ "Romeo and Juliet". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2014-10-02. 

External links[edit]