William Hopper in 1934
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten
|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 1940s. 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 A. 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 and his fifth wife, actress Hedda Hopper. 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 nationwide.
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 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).
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 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 TV 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
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.:65
Hopper worked in summer stock and made movie appearances during his years on Perry Mason. After the series was cancelled in 1966 he declined other TV offers. He made one final film appearance in Myra Breckinridge (1970),:66 unreleased at the time of his death.
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 double 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||The King Steps Out||Soldier|||
|1936||Murder with Pictures||Photographer|||
|1936||The Accusing Finger||Reporter||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1936||The Big Broadcast of 1937||Ship's Officer|||
|1936||Easy to Take||Monitor room man||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1936||Beware of Ladies||Reporter|||
|1937||Larceny on the Air||Announcer||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1937||Join the Marines||Marine|||
|1937||Dick Tracy||Dirigible Pilot|||
|1937||Public Wedding||Tony Burke||Male lead, opposite Jane Wyman|
|1937||The Footloose Heiress||Jack Pierson|||
|1937||Mr. Dodd Takes the Air||Second production manager|||
|1937||Back in Circulation||Pete Edington|||
|1937||Love Is on the Air||Eddie Gould|||
|1937||Over the Goal||Ken Thomas||Male lead, opposite June Travis|
|1937||The Adventurous Blonde||Matt|||
|1938||The Patient in Room 18||Grabshot|||
|1938||Daredevil Drivers||Neeley bus driver|||
|1938||Love, Honor and Behave||Yale tennis player|||
|1938||Women Are Like That||Larraby|||
|1938||Mystery House||Lal Killian|||
|1939||Daughters Courageous||Striped-shirted man at beach|||
|1939||The Cowboy Quarterback||Handsome Sam||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||The Old Maid||John||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase||Reporter||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Pride of the Blue Grass||Joe||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||On Your Toes||Escort||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1939||The Return of Doctor X||Intern||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1939||Invisible Stripes||Young Man||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||A Child Is Born||Intern||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||The Fighting 69th||Private Turner||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1940||Calling Philo Vance||Hotel clerk||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Castle on the Hudson||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Virginia City||Lieutenant||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Flight Angels||Lefty||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Tear Gas Squad||George||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1940||Brother Orchid||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||The Man Who Talked Too Much||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Gambling on the High Seas||Station operator||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Ladies Must Live||Joe Barton||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1940||Money and the Woman||Depositor||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Knute Rockne, All American||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Always a Bride||Man at campaign meeting carrying Michael||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1940||Santa Fe Trail||Officer||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||The Case of the Black Parrot||Second mate||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Flight from Destiny||Travin||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Footsteps in the Dark||Police secretary||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Knockout||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||A Shot in the Dark||Jones||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Strange Alibi||Desk clerk||Credited as Bill Hopper|
|1941||Affectionately Yours||Airline attendant||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Passage from Hong Kong||Watson||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||The Bride Came C.O.D.||Keenan's pilot||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Bullets for O'Hara||Richard Palmer||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Manpower||Power company telephone operator||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||Dive Bomber||Pilot||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||Navy Blues||Ensign Walters||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||International Squadron||Radio operator||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||The Maltese Falcon||Reporter||Credited as Bill Hopper|
|1941||Blues in the Night||Pool player||Credited as Bill Hopper|
|1941||All Through the Night||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||The Body Disappears||Terrence Abbott||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1941||You're in the Army Now||Clerk||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1941||They Died with Their Boots On||Frazier||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||The Male Animal||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Murder in the Big House||Reporter||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Larceny, Inc.||Customer||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Juke Girl||Clerk||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Lady Gangster||John||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1942||Yankee Doodle Dandy||Reporter|||
|1942||Escape from Crime||Reporter|||
|1942||Across the Pacific||Orderly|||
|1942||Desperate Journey||Aircraftsman||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1942||Beyond the Line of Duty||University of Texas classmate||Short film|
|1943||Truck Busters||Trucker||Credited as Bill Hopper|
|1943||The Hard Way||Clerk||Credited as Bill Hopper|
|1943||The Mysterious Doctor||Orderly||Credited as DeWolfe Hopper|
|1943||Action in the North Atlantic||Canadian soldier|||
|1943||Murder on the Waterfront||First sentry||Credited as DeWolf Hopper|
|1944||The Last Ride||Swank|||
|1954||The High and the Mighty||Roy||Credited as William DeWolf Hopper|
|1954||Sitting Bull||Charles Wentworth||Credited as Bill Hopper|
|1954||This Is My Love||District Attorney|||
|1954||Track of the Cat||Arthur Bridges|||
|1955||Conquest of Space||Dr. George Fenton|||
|1955||Robbers' Roost||Robert Bell|||
|1955||One Desire||Mac McBain|||
|1955||Rebel Without a Cause||Judy's father|||
|1956||Good-bye, My Lady||Walden Grover|||
|1956||The First Texan||William B. Travis|||
|1956||The Bad Seed||Col. Kenneth Penmark|||
|1957||The Deadly Mantis||Dr. Nedrick (Ned) Jackson|||
|1957||20 Million Miles to Earth||Col. Bob Calder|||
|1957||Slim Carter||Joe Brewster|||
|1970||Myra Breckinridge||Judge Frederic D. Cannon|||
|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||The 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||The 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||The 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- Associated Press (March 6, 1970). "TV Actor, William Hopper, 55". The Miami News. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- "Awards Search". Emmys. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. 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.
- Reuters (March 7, 1970). "William Hopper, Actor, Dies; Detective in 'Perry Mason,' 54". The New York Times. 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.
- "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.