Birth Date: January 26, 1915
Date of Death: March 6, 1970 / Age: 55
Location of Death: stroke
Biography: William Hopper (January 26, 1915 – March 6, 1970) was an American actor. He is probably best-remembered for playing Paul Drake on TV's Perry Mason.
He was born William DeWolf Hopper, Jr. in New York, New York, the only child of actor/matinee idol DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935) and actress/gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (whose birth name was Elda Furry) (1885-1966).
His debut motion picture appearance was as a baby in his father's 1916 silent movie Sunshine Dad. His mother divorced his elderly father in 1924, and she and Billy eventually moved to Hollywood.
He 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, Order Please and Romeo and Juliet (both in 1934).
In 1936, he played the small role as a photographer in the movie The King Steps Out starring Grace Moore and Franchot Tone at Columbia. After that he had roles that include playing a sergeant in the Western Stagecoach (1939) starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne; 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 Maltese Falcon (1941) starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, with Gladys George, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet; and a reporter in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) starring James Cagney, with Walter Huston. Hopper appeared in numerous movies, mostly uncredited or using the name DeWolf Hopper in the early years.
He had two wives, actress Jane Gilbert (married 1940-divorced), and Jan. He and Gilbert had one daughter, Joan Hopper (born 1942). (He also had a stepson, Gordon Williams).
He enlisted as a frogman in the Coast Guard in 1942 and won a Bronze Star for bravery and heroic action during operations in the Pacific. He was discharged in 1945 when the war was over, but chose not to return to the movie industry. Instead, he became a car salesman in Hollywood for eight years.
In the mid-1950s, Hopper resumed his acting career with his role as Roy in The High and the Mighty (1954) starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, and Robert Stack. Other appearances include his role as the father of Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) with James Dean, and as Col. Kenneth Penmark in The Bad Seed (1956) starring Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack.
His crowning achievement was his regular role as private investigator Paul Drake on the classic lawyer TV series Perry Mason (1957-1966) with Raymond Burr as Mason and Barbara Hale as secretary Della Street. Hopper was originally cast in the role as Mason with Burr as Drake, but the roles were switched before shooting began.
In 1959, Hopper was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series for his role as Drake.
His guest appearances on TV include Gunsmoke, Studio 57, The Millionaire, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, and On Trial.
He made two movie appearances during his years on Perry Mason, but retired after the show was canceled in 1966. He made one final movie appearance playing a judge, Frederic D. Cannon, in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970) starring Mae West, John Huston, and Raquel Welch.
He was hospitalized February 14, 1970, after a stroke at his home in Yucca Valley, and was transferred to the hospital in Palm Springs when pneumonia developed.
William Hopper died of pneumonia at age fifty-five in Palm Springs. He is interred in Rose Hills Cemetery, Whittier.