Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Why William Hopper Preferred to Play Second Fiddle to Raymond Burr’s ‘Perry Mason’

Why William Hopper Preferred to Play Second Fiddle to Raymond Burr’s ‘Perry Mason’

For nine seasons, William Hopper portrayed private investigator Paul Drake opposite Raymond Burr‘s Perry Mason. Drake personifies a picture of cool, coming into Perry’s office by a back door. He’d sit on the edge of Perry’s desk. Then, he’d look over to his boss. Maybe he would arrive a little bit before Perry did, only to have time to say to Della Street (Barbara Hale), “Hello beautiful.”

Wouldn’t Hopper prefer to play Mason himself? He would have been the lead actor in a very successful TV drama. Hopper’s good looks were not lost on the female viewers. So, why not take on the lead role?

“I like playing pals with the stars,” Hopper said. “If this series ever stops, I only hope I can find another series to be pals again. Let the stars do all the work.”

William Hopper, Raymond Burr Only 2 Actors For /Perry Mason

In the interview, Hopper said many actors auditioned to play Mason. But it all boiled down to two people: Burr and Hopper, according to MeTV. Hopper lost out on the leading role and was offered the part of Drake.

“I turned it down,” Hopper said. “I should have had my head examined, but I said no flatly. Then such a good deal was made that I had to sign. It turned out just fine. Look at the job Ray is doing with Mason. I couldn’t have done it.”

In a 1962 interview with The Shreveport Journal, Hopper said his character in the Erle Gardner Stanley books was entirely different than his portrayal of him.

“If they thought they were getting Paul Drake, they were mistaken,” Hopper said. “Because what they got was me, nobody else. I play him my way. Now I’m amused to read Gardner’s new books. Paul Drake comes out like me.”

Actor Admits He Preferred To Play Behind Mason

Hopper didn’t mind playing second in command to Mason — he preferred it — even if it meant not having a girl by his side.

“I’ve seen what it has done to him,” Hopper said. “The poor guy has had to dedicate his life to Perry Mason. I remember in the first two years, he used to stay up until midnight every night to work out changes that would improve the script.” 

“Even now he must live at the studio while we’re working,” Hopper said. “He has no life outside whatsoever. He has a beautiful house at the beach, but he never sees it. Luckily, he is the kind of guy who is dedicated to activity. If he has nothing to do for three weeks, he ends up in the hospital.”