|"Which Way Did
Just as Raymond Burr will always be Perry Mason, Bill Hopper will always be Paul Drake. He defined the role. In doing so, Hopper came into his own in the same world he had feared, resented, and avoided. His friendships on the Mason show were a source of joy and emotional support. He shared a dressing room with Bill Talman for years and both men boasted they never had a disagreement in all that time. Despite all the togetherness they experienced in one of the hardest-working TV companies ever, Hopper could not resist joining Barbara Hale and Talman in playing summer stock comedies while the Mason show filming was on hiatus.
He was comfortable and popular off the set, too. Robert Mitchum was a chum, as was the pseudo-prince-turned-restaurateur Mike Romanoff. With the outstanding success of the series, Bill Hopper could finally be sure that mom could not take the credit for all his efforts and achievements. Other TV series offers came his way, but he turned them down. After "Perry Mason" went off the air, he played a few more roles here and there. His last was in Myra Breckenridge, which was unleashed upon the public in 1970. Always he was content to play the good-natured neighbor, sidekick, or slob rather than the dashing hero, the self-described "pleasant fellow whom you like having around the family living room."
"Oh, I've learned some tricks," he told a TV Guide interviewer once. "Like how to say, 'Perry, which way did they go?' several hundred different ways, and maybe charm a few modest birds off a few trees while doing it. And maybe even pop would be proud. But essentially I'm a nonthrobbing actor. I'm sorry, pop, but that's what I am."
In many ways, like his famous character, he arrived on the scene at the last possible moment. Saved from a life of avoiding momma and selling Chevys, he slipped in by that side door. Hearts didn't melt, Oscar never came knocking. But that was all right.
"I am not Gable," he told his mother once. "Never was. Never will be."
Bill Hopper died on March 6, 1970, of pneumonia, the same affliction that had taken his mother, Hedda, in 1966.
|The Perry Mason TV Show Book Copyright © 1987 by Brian Kelleher and Diana Merrill. All rights reserved. Presented here by permission of the copyright holder. Commercial use prohibited. Web page Copyright © 1998 D. M. Brockman. Last edited 04 Nov 2004.|