William Hopper in 1934
|Born||William DeWolf Hopper Jr.
January 26, 1915
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||March 6, 1970
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Pneumonia|
|Resting place||Rose Hills Memorial Park|
|Years active||1916; 1934–1970|
William DeWolf Hopper Jr. (January 26, 1915 – March 6, 1970) was an American stage, film, and television actor. The only child of actress and Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, he appeared in predominantly minor roles in more than 80 feature films in the 1930s and '40s. After serving in the United States Navy during World War II, he left acting, but in the mid-1950s, he was persuaded by director William Wellman to resume his film career. He became best known for his work in television, as private detective Paul Drake in the long-running CBS series, Perry Mason.
William DeWolf Hopper Jr., was born January 26, 1915 in New York City. He was the only child of noted actor, singer, comedian, and theatrical producer DeWolf Hopper (March 30, 1858 – September 23, 1935) with his fifth wife, actress Hedda Hopper (born Elda Furry; May 2, 1885 – February 1, 1966). He had one older half-brother, John A. Hopper, 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. Hedda Hopper became one of America's best-known gossip columnists, with nearly 30 million readers in newspapers in the U.S.
Hopper began his acting career as a teenager. He made his first stage appearance at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, in She Loves Me Not. He worked in summer stock in Ogunquit, Maine.:58 He appeared on Broadway in the short-lived comedy Order Please (1934) and as a member of the ensemble in Katharine Cornell's production of Romeo and Juliet (1934–35).
In March 1936, Hopper — then working under the name Wolfe Hopper — won a contract at Paramount Pictures. Early in his film career, Hopper appeared in numerous movies, uncredited and also under the name DeWolf Hopper. In 1936, he played a small role as a soldier in the Columbia Pictures film The King Steps Out starring Grace Moore. In 1937, he portrayed the leading man in two films, Public Wedding with Jane Wyman and Over the Goal with June Travis. 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 John Ford Western, Stagecoach (1939); an intern in The Return of Dr. X (1939); a college football player in Over the Goal (1939); and reporters in Knute Rockne, All American (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).
Military service and postwar career
Hopper served with the United States Navy during World War II, as a volunteer with the Office of Strategic Services and as a member of the newly created Underwater Demolition Team. He received a Bronze Star and several other medals during operations in the Pacific.
In 1953, director William Wellman persuaded Hopper to resume his movie career with his 1954 film, The High and the Mighty, opposite Jan Sterling. Before filming began, Hopper challenged Wellman because he suspected his mother had arranged the offer. "When it appeared Wellman was serious, I asked him if he knew whose son I was. He ignored me," Hopper recalled. "I was so lousy, so nervous, I didn't even know where the camera was. But somehow Billy got me through. Afterward, I thanked him. He said, 'Thank me, my foot. After this, you're going to be in every picture I make.' I didn't believe him.":60 Hopper subsequently appeared in two of Wellman's films, Track of the Cat (1954) and Good-bye, My Lady (1956).
Hopper was cast to star opposite Claire Trevor in the live television drama, "No Sad Songs for Me",:61 broadcast April 14, 1955, on NBC's Lux Video Theatre. He had such stage fright, he initially cancelled: "I swore I'd never act again as long as I lived," Hopper recalled. "Then I thought, what the heck, they can't shoot me, and walked on the set. Something happened then. It was as if someone had surgically removed the nerves.":61
At last comfortable on screen, Hopper played the stern and emotionally distant father of Natalie Wood in the James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and the often absent father in The Bad Seed (1956). With Joan Taylor and a very young Bart Braverman, he starred in the classic Ray Harryhausen science-fiction film 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).
In 1956 Hopper guest-starred again on television during the first season of the Western series Gunsmoke, portraying an outlaw initially supported by townsfolk in an episode titled "Robin Hood". The following year 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. Some of Hopper's other television guest appearances include the The Joseph Cotten Show, Fury, Studio 57, and The Millionaire.
Hopper is best known for his principal role as the private investigator Paul Drake on CBS's courtroom television series Perry Mason (1957–66). He initially tested for the title role, while Raymond Burr read for the role of Mason's courtroom adversary, district attorney Hamilton Burger. Burr was encouraged to lose weight and return to audition for the role of Perry Mason — which he later did, successfully.[a] Hopper, too, was called back. Executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson recalled, "When Bill Hopper came in to read for Paul Drake he blurted out, 'You hate my mother.' And that was Hedda Hopper. Well, I disliked what she stood for, but 'hate' is something else — and anyway he was perfect as Drake, and we got him."
"As Paul Drake, William Hopper was called on to be the most versatile of the principals in the Perry Mason cast," wrote Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill in their chronicle of the television series::61
He was not only the careful investigator, the duke-it-out tough guy, the ladies' man, and the hipster, but also the fall guy, the strikeout artist, the "eating machine" and "the big kid." Hopper's Drake alone provided the comic relief for the show. And, despite being a rather late bloomer to the acting field, he played all the parts surprisingly well and believably. His appearances made fair shows good, and good shows better.:61
The 1959 episode, "The Case of Paul Drake's Dilemma", had Hopper's character on trial for murder. It was the only time in the series' nine-year run that Paul Drake was the defendant.:65
Hopper continued to work in summer stock and to make movie appearances during his years on Perry Mason; however, after the series was cancelled in 1966, he declined other television offers. He did, though, make one final film appearance in Myra Breckinridge (1970), which premiered in New York three months after his death.:66
In 1959, Hopper was nominated as Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series at the 11th Primetime Emmy Awards for his performance as Paul Drake.
In 1940, Hopper married actress Jane Kies, sister of Margaret Lindsay, whose professional name was Jane Gilbert.:60 They had worked together on the 1939 film, Invisible Stripes. They had one daughter, Joan, born in 1947.:60
On February 1, 1966, Hopper announced the death of his mother, actress and celebrated Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, from pleural pneumonia.
Hopper entered Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, California, on February 14, 1970, after suffering a stroke. He died of pneumonia three weeks later, on March 6, at age 55. Survived by his second wife, Jan, he was buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.
Select theatre credits
- 1934: Order Please, Playhouse Theatre, New York City (as Victor Neilson)
- 1934–35: Romeo and Juliet, Martin Beck Theatre, New York City
Select film and television credits
|1916||Sunshine Dad||Baby||Credited as William DeWolf Hopper Jr.|
|1936||King Steps Out, TheThe King Steps Out||Soldier||Uncredited|
|1936||Murder with Pictures||Photographer||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1936||Big Broadcast of 1937, TheThe Big Broadcast of 1937||Ship's Officer||Uncredited|
|1936||Easy to Take||Monitor room man||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1936||Accusing Finger, TheThe Accusing Finger||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1936||Beware of Ladies||Reporter||Uncredited|
|1937||Larceny on the Air||Announcer||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1937||Join the Marines||Marine||Uncredited|
|1937||Dick Tracy||Dirigible Pilot||Uncredited|
|1937||Public Wedding||Tony Burke||Male lead, opposite Jane Wyman|
|1937||Mr. Dodd Takes the Air||Second production manager||Uncredited|
|1937||Footloose Heiress, TheThe Footloose Heiress||Jack Pierson|||
|1937||Back in Circulation||Pete Edington||Uncredited|
|1937||Love Is on the Air||Eddie Gould|||
|1937||Over the Goal||Ken Thomas||Male lead, opposite June Travis|
|1937||Adventurous Blonde, TheThe Adventurous Blonde||Matt|||
|1938||Daredevil Drivers||Neeley bus driver||Uncredited|
|1938||Love, Honor and Behave||Yale tennis player||Uncredited|
|1938||Mystery House||Lal Killian|||
|1938||Patient in Room 18, TheThe Patient in Room 18||Grabshot||Uncredited|
|1938||Women Are Like That||Larraby||Uncredited|
|1939||Midnight||Flammarions' Party Guest||Uncredited|
|1939||Daughters Courageous||Striped-shirted man at beach||Uncredited|
|1939||Cowboy Quarterback, TheThe Cowboy Quarterback||Handsome Sam||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Old Maid, TheThe Old Maid||John||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Angels Wash Their Faces, TheThe Angels Wash Their Faces||Photographer||Uncredited|
|1939||Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Dust Be My Destiny||Reporter||Uncredited|
|1939||On Your Toes||Ronald - Peggy's Escort||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1939||Pride of the Blue Grass||Joe||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||On Dress Parade||Soldier Getting Radio Report from H4||Uncredited|
|1939||Return of Doctor X, TheThe Return of Doctor X||Intern||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Child Is Born, AA Child Is Born||Intern||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1939||Invisible Stripes||Young Man||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Fighting 69th, TheThe Fighting 69th||Private Turner||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1940||Calling Philo Vance||Hotel clerk||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Castle on the Hudson||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Virginia City||Lieutenant||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Til We Meet Again'Til We Meet Again||Man||Uncredited|
|1940||Tear Gas Squad||George||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1940||Flight Angels||Lefty||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Brother Orchid||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Gambling on the High Seas||Station operator||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Man Who Talked Too Much, TheThe Man Who Talked Too Much||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Ladies Must Live||Joe Barton||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1940||Money and the Woman||J.L. Burns, Bank Depositor||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||No Time for Comedy||First-Nighter||Uncredited|
|1940||Knute Rockne, All American||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Always a Bride||Man at campaign meeting carrying Michael||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Lady with Red Hair||Lyceum Theater Attendant||Uncredited|
|1940||Santa Fe Trail||Officer||Scenes deleted, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Case of the Black Parrot, TheThe Case of the Black Parrot||Second mate||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Flight from Destiny||Travin||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Footsteps in the Dark||Police secretary||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Here Comes Happiness||Best Man||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Knockout||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Shot in the Dark, AA Shot in the Dark||Jones||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Strange Alibi||Desk clerk||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1941||Affectionately Yours||Airline attendant||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Bride Came C.O.D., TheThe Bride Came C.O.D.||Keenan's pilot||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Bullets for O'Hara||Richard Palmer||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Highway West||Frank Carson - Murdered Cashier||Uncredited|
|1941||Manpower||Power company telephone operator||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Dive Bomber||Pilot||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||International Squadron||Radio operator||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Passage from Hong Kong||Watson||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Navy Blues||Ensign Walters||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Maltese Falcon, TheThe Maltese Falcon||Reporter||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1941||Blues in the Night||Billiard Player||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1941||They Died with Their Boots On||Lt. Frazier||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||All Through the Night||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Body Disappears, TheThe Body Disappears||Terrence Abbott||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||You're in the Army Now||Clerk||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Male Animal, TheThe Male Animal||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Lady Gangster||John||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1942||Murder in the Big House||Reporter||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Larceny, Inc.||Customer||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Yankee Doodle Dandy||Reporter||Uncredited|
|1942||Juke Girl||Atlanta Postal Clerk||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Spy Ship||Reporter||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1942||Escape from Crime||Reporter||Uncredited|
|1942||Secret Enemies||Ensign||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1942||Across the Pacific||Orderly||Uncredited|
|1942||Desperate Journey||Aircraftsman||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||You Can't Escape Forever||Soldier||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1942||Beyond the Line of Duty||University of Texas classmate||Short film, uncredited|
|1942||Gentleman Jim||Undetermined Role||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1943||Hard Way, TheThe Hard Way||Hotel Desk Clerk||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1943||Mysterious Doctor, TheThe Mysterious Doctor||Orderly||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1943||Truck Busters||Trucker||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1943||Action in the North Atlantic||Canadian soldier||Uncredited, as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1943||Murder on the Waterfront||First sentry||Uncredited, as DeWolf Hopper|
|1944||Last Ride, TheThe Last Ride||Swank||Uncredited|
|1954||High and the Mighty, TheThe High and the Mighty||Roy||Uncredited, as William DeWolf Hopper|
|1954||Sitting Bull||Charles Wentworth||Uncredited, as Bill Hopper|
|1954||This Is My Love||District Attorney||Uncredited|
|1954||Track of the Cat||Arthur Bridges||Uncredited|
|1955||Conquest of Space||Dr. George Fenton|||
|1955||Robbers' Roost||Robert Bell||Uncredited|
|1955||One Desire||Mac McBain|||
|1955||Rebel Without a Cause||Judy's father|||
|1956||Good-bye, My Lady||Walden Grover|||
|1956||First Texan, TheThe First Texan||William B. Travis|||
|1956||Bad Seed, TheThe Bad Seed||Col. Kenneth Penmark|||
|1957||Deadly Mantis, TheThe Deadly Mantis||Dr. Nedrick (Ned) Jackson|||
|1957||20 Million Miles to Earth||Col. Bob Calder|||
|1957||Slim Carter||Joe Brewster|||
|1970||Myra Breckinridge||Parole officer||Released posthumously|
|1954||Mayor of the Town||Girard||"Minnie's Job"|
|1955||Lux Video Theatre||Brad Scott||"No Sad Songs for Me"|
|1955||Ford Theatre||Joe Cramer||"The Mumbys"|
|1955||Lux Video Theatre||Host||"Perilous Deception"|
|1955||Warner Brothers Presents … Casablanca||Wilson Randall||"Labor Camp Escape"|
|1956||Fury||Sam Wilson||"The Hobo" (credited as Bill Hopper)|
|1956||20th Century Fox Hour, TheThe 20th Century Fox Hour||Phil Harland||"One Life"|
|1956||Gunsmoke||John Henry Jordan||"Robin Hood"|
|1956||Lux Video Theatre||Jim Johanson||"The Star"|
|1956||Celebrity Playhouse||"Stagecoach to Paradise"|
|1956||Millionaire, TheThe Millionaire||Capt. Jonathan Carroll||"Captain Jonathan Carroll"|
|1956||Gunsmoke||Tasker Sloane||"Unmarked Grave"|
|1956||Lux Video Theatre||George||"The Top Rung"|
|1956||Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre||Rick Gordon||"Ten Percent"|
|1956||Matinee Theater||"Madame de Treymes"|
|1956||Studio 57||Smith||"The Magic Glass"|
|1957||Studio 57||Kip||"Mr. November"|
|1957||Schlitz Playhouse of Stars||Dan Mailer||"The Restless Gun" (pilot for TV series)|
|1957||Joseph Cotten Show, TheThe Joseph Cotten Show||Arnold Bait||"The Case of the Jealous Bomber"|
|1957–66||Perry Mason||Paul Drake||271 episodes|
- Hopper's audition as Perry Mason, along with Burr's auditions for Burger and Mason, were included as special features on the 2008 "50th Anniversary Edition" Perry Mason DVD set.
- Reuters (March 7, 1970). "William Hopper, Actor, Dies; Detective in 'Perry Mason,' 54". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- Ancestry.com. California, Death Index 1940–1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2000. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
- Douglass, Harvey (July 12, 1933). "DeWolf Hopper Calls 6th Wife the Only Perfect One". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
- "William Hopper". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- Associated Press (February 2, 1966). "Hedda Hopper, Columnist, Dies; Chronicled Gossip of Hollywood". The New York Times.
- "De Wolfe Hopper's Son Wins Contract". The Milwaukee Sentinel. April 8, 1936. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
- Wolters, Larry (January 10, 1960). "Meet Hedda's Son Bill". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2015-05-12.
- Kelleher, Brian; Merrill, Diana (1987). "William Hopper as Paul Drake". The Perry Mason TV Show Book. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 57–66. ISBN 9780312006693. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
- "Order Please". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
- "Romeo and Juliet". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
- "Wolfe Hopper Gets a Movie Contract". The Milwaukee Sentinel. March 11, 1936. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
- Du Brow, Rick (July 11, 1961). "Mason's Sidekick Used to Sell Cars". The Daily Review (UPI).
- "William Hopper ('Paul Drake') is dead". Delta Democrat-Times. March 8, 1970.
- United Press International (March 7, 1970). "Perry Mason Star Hopper Dead at 55". Oakland Tribune.
- Thomas, Bob (June 16, 1962). "Perry Mason's Aide Faces a Dilemma". Oakland Tribune (Associated Press).
- "The High and the Mighty". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
- "Lux Video Theatre, Season 5". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Robin Hood", season 1 episode 17 (S01E17) of Gunsmoke, originally broadcast February 4, 1956. Full video of "Robin Hood" available for viewing on YouTube. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (April 10, 2008). "Perry Mason — 50th Anniversary Edition". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
- Bawden, James (April 29, 2014). "Dream Factory Time: Gail Patrick". Classic Images. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
- Myra Breckinridge, cast and crew credits, production details, and release dates; catalog of the American Film Institute (AFI). Retrieved June 15, 2017.
- "Awards Search". Emmys. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- Associated Press (March 6, 1970). "TV Actor, William Hopper, 55". The Miami News. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- "Jane Gilbert". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- "Invisible Stripes". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- Ancestry.com. California Birth Index, 1905–1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc. 2005. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
- "Modern Screen Goes to a Christening". Modern Screen. 35 (3): 32. August 1947. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- United Press International (March 7, 1970). "William Hopper Dies in Palm Springs at 55". Redlands Daily Facts.
- "William Hopper". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- "William Hopper". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- "William Hopper". BFI Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- "Mayor of the Town". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Ford Theatre". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Warner Brothers Presents". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Fury, Season 1". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "The 20th Century-Fox Hour, Season 1". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Gunsmoke, Season 1". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Lux Video Theatre, Season 6". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Celebrity Playhouse". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "The Millionaire, Season 2". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Lux Video Theatre, Season 7". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Jane Wyman Theater". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Matinee Theater". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Studio 57, Season 2". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Studio 57, Season 4". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "On Trial: The Joseph Cotten Show". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.
- "Perry Mason". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-05-05.