Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Born Today January 26: William Hopper


Born William DeWolf Hopper Jr. in New York City, he was the only child produced from the marriage of his successful comedian father, who went by the stage name "DeWolf Hopper," and later famed Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (he would be her only child in life).  After his parents divorce in 1922, Hedda took him to Hollywood, where he would be raised in a single parent home.  Though unrecognizable in the photograph above, he would go on to be one the most iconic faces of 1950's television in the role of investigator Paul Drake, in the hit legal drama Perry Mason, complete with a full head of white hair.  His face was second only behind that of Raymond Burr ("Perry Mason") himself.  The reason for his inclusion here, is that he got something as an infant that almost no one got as a "child actor" in the midst of the silent era--credit as "infant in carriage."  This came when he was nearly 1 year of age and put in a comedic feature starring his father in 1916:  Sunshine Dad (Wikipedia entry).  It was written by none other than Tod Browning.  His father was sure that he got the credit under the name "DeWolf Hopper Jr."  This was almost unheard at the time.  Infants had been appearing in film since the 1890's (when almost no credits existed); but babies continued to be denied credit in Hollywood even into the 1930's talking era, so this is a really interesting little piece of history.  William wouldn't appear in another film again for 20 years (The King Steps Out); even then, he had to go through the motions of taking bit parts that were uncredited.  So, this makes his first credit even more interesting to history.  He languished in these roles, occasionally getting roles that were credited, until World War II broke out.  He joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific theater.  He would later become a member of the Underwater Demolition Team, also known as Frogmen--these were the earliest incarnation of what would later morph into the Navy SEALS.  After the war, he largely went into car sales in Hollywood, taking the occasional television acting role when it came up.  Finally in 1954 director Bill Wellman (a friend of Hopper's) persuaded him to resume his film acting career; he would go on to appear in Wellman's The High And Mighty starring John Wayne.  The days of selling cars was over, and he went on to have prominent roles in many different types of films until he was cast in the role of Drake in 1957.  That series was, obviously, a huge success and continued through the year 1966.  After this, he had only one role; that of a Judge in Myra Breckinridge, based on novel by Gore Vidal, which starred Raquel Welsh, but also John Huston and Mae West.  This too was an uncredited role, but the complimentary type...that of a cameo.  Hopper suffered a stroke on the 14th of February (sadly Valentine's Day!) in 1970 and was admitted into Desert Hospital in Palm Spring, California.  He passed away there some three weeks later on the 6th of March of pneumonia.  He is buried at Rose Hill Memorial Park in Wittier, CA.  He was only 55 years of age.  

With Burr on the set of Perry Mason

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