Born William DeWolf Hopper Jr. in New York on January 26, 1915, William Hopper's parents were famed stage actor DeWolf Hopper and actress-turned-gossip-columnist Hedda Hopper. Hopper's parents entered films at around the time of his birth, but as his father was nearly 60 years old at the time, his mother had more success on the silver screen. Following her divorce from DeWolf Hopper in 1922, Hedda Hopper acted in many films until the late 1930s, when her now infamous newspaper column took off. As her son matured into a handsome young man, Hedda Hopper pushed him to become an actor. After doing summer stock and appearing in a few Broadway plays, at the age of 20 William Hopper signed a contract with Paramount. At about this time his estranged father died, so Hopper initially used the stage name DeWolf Hopper Jr.

William Hopper

Handsome 1930s photo of William Hopper, taken around the time of his signing with Paramount

The young Hopper did not enjoy acting as his mother and father had, yet he stuck with the profession, moving to Warner Bros. in 1937. In the late 1930s, he briefly moved out of bit parts and had a couple of starring roles in such Warner Bros. second features as Over the Goal (1937; with June Travis) and Mystery House (1938; with Ann Sheridan). However, Hopper's lack of enthusiasm for the profession relegated him once again to bit parts soon after. He married actress Jane Gilbert in 1940, whom he met when each had a bit role in the Warner Bros. George Raft vehicle Invisible Stripes (1939). The couple welcomed a daughter, Joan, two years after the nuptials. During World War II, he entered the Coast Guard and upon his return in 1945, he threw in the towel and his acting career and became a car salesman, a profession he hated but stuck with until the mid 1950s. In early 1954 director William Wellman approached him for a role in the adventure The High and the Mighty (1954; with John Wayne). This time, however, Hopper was hooked and he quickly retooled his acting career, becoming a far more successful actor.

the films of william hopper

Public Wedding (1937)

William Hopper, Raymond Hatton, and Jane Wyman

William Hopper marries Jane Wyman as a publicity stunt in the Warner Bros. comedy Public Wedding

The Cowboy Quarterback (1939)

Marie Wilson, William Hopper, and Gloria Dickson

From the Warner Bros. comedy The Cowboy Quarterback with Marie Wilson and Gloria Dickson

Track of the Cat (1954)

William HopperTab Hunter and William Hopper

LEFT: As Arthur Bridges in the Warner Bros. adventure Track of the Cat. RIGHT: With Tab Hunter

One Desire (1955)

William Hopper

Universal-International promotional photo from the Rock Hudson vehicle One Desire

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Natalie Wood and William Hopper

Hopper portrays the father of love-starved Natalie Wood in the classic Warner Bros. teen angst drama Rebel Without a Cause

The Bad Seed (1956)

William Hopper

From the Warner Bros. horror cult favorite The Bad Seed

Good-Bye, My Lady (1956)

Brandon De Wilde and William Hopper

With Brandon De Wilde in the heartwarming Warner Bros. drama Good-Bye, My Lady

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

William Hopper, Frank Puglia, and Joan TaylorWilliam Hopper and Thomas HenryWilliam Hopper

From Columbia's science fiction flick 20 Million Miles to Earth, which features special effects by Ray Harryhausen. LEFT: With Frank Puglia and Joan Taylor. CENTER: With Thomas Browne. RIGHT: Lobby card

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Alix Talton and William HopperAlix Talton and William HopperAlix Talton, William Hopper, and Craig StevensAlix Talton, William Hopper, and Craig Stevens

From Universal-International's science fiction thriller The Deadly Mantis. LEFT and CENTER A: With Alix Talton. CENTER B and RIGHT: With Craig Stevens

Slim Carter (1957)

William Hopper

Lobby card from Universal-International's comedy Slim Carter

Perry Mason (1957-1966 CBS TV Series)

William Talman, Ray Collins, Barbara Hale, Raymond Burr, and William Hopper

Late 1950s CBS promotional photo from Perry Mason. Pictured are William Talman, Ray Collins, Barbara Hale, Raymond Burr, and William Hopper

later years

The zenith of Hopper's career came when he was cast as Paul Drake in the long-running CBS series Perry Mason. Initially, he tested for the title character role but lost out to Raymond Burr. Nevertheless, in 1959 he was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series for his work on Perry Mason. That same year, he and his wife Jane divorced. Hopper stayed with the series for the entire nine-season run, and he took no film roles during his tenure on the series.. After the 1966 death of his mother and the cancellation of Perry Mason, Hopper settled into semi-retirement. In 1969 he took a small role in the film version of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge. However, three months before the film's release, Hopper suffered a stroke in February 1970 and died of pneumonia on March 6, 1970, at the age of 55. He was survived by his second wife, a daughter, and a stepson.

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Please note: Many of Hopper's early, uncredited performances are not listed here.
Myra Breckinridge (1970) with Mae West, John Huston, Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, Farrah Fawcett, Jim Backus, John Carradine, Andy Devine, and Grady Sutton
Slim Carter (1957) with Jock Mahoney, Julie Adams, Barbara Hale, Bill Williams, and Joanna Moore
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) with Joan Taylor
The Deadly Mantis (1957) with Craig Stevens and Alix Talton
The Bad Seed (1956) with Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, and Eileen Heckart
The First Texan (1956) with Joel McCrea, Felicia Farr, Jeff Morrow, Jody McCrea, and Chubby Johnson
Good-bye, My Lady (1956) with Walter Brennan, Brandon De Wilde, Phil Harris, Sidney Poitier, and Louise Beavers
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) with James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, Rochelle Hudson, Dennis Hopper, and Edward Platt
One Desire (1955) with Anne Baxter, Rock Hudson, Julie Adams, Carl Benton Reid, and Natalie Wood
Robbers' Roost (1955) with George Montgomery, Richard Boone, Bruce Bennett, Peter Graves, and Warren Stevens
Conquest of Space (1955) with Walter Brooke, Eric Fleming, Mickey Shaughnessy, Benson Fong, and Ross Martin
Track of the Cat (1954) with Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright, Diana Lynn, Tab Hunter, and Beulah Bondi
This Is My Love (1954) with Linda Darnell, Dan Duryea, Faith Domergue, and Jerry Mathers
Sitting Bull (1954) with Dale Robertson, J. Carrol Naish, John Litel, and Iron Eyes Cody
The High and the Mighty (1954) with John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Robert Stack, Jan Sterling, Phil Harris, David Brian, John Howard, and William Campbell
Murder on the Waterfront (1943) with Warren Douglas
Larceny, Inc. (1942) with Edward G. Robinson, Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford, Jack Carson, and Anthony Quinn
Lady Gangster (1942) with Faye Emerson and Frank Wilcox
The Body Disappears (1941) with Jeffrey Lynn, Jane Wyman, Edward Everett Horton, Craig Stevens, David Bruce, and Willie Best
Bullets for O'Hara (1941) with Joan Perry, Roger Pryor, Anthony Quinn, and Dick Purcell
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) with James Cagney, Bette Davis, Stuart Erwin, Eugene Pallette, and Jack Carson
Here Comes Happiness (1941)
Gambling On the High Seas (1940) with Wayne Morris, Jane Wyman, Gilbert Roland, and George Reeves
Flight from Destiny (1940) with Geraldine Fitzgerald and David Bruce
Ladies Must Live (1940) with Wayne Morris and George Reeves
Flight Angels (1940) with Virginia Bruce, Dennis Morgan, Wayne Morris, Ralph Bellamy, and Jane Wyman
Tear Gas Squad (1940) with Dennis Morgan, John Payne, and George Reeves
Castle on the Hudson (1940) with John Garfield, Ann Sheridan, Pat O'Brien, and Burgess Meredith
The Fighting 69th (1940) with James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and George Brent
The Return of Doctor X (1939) with Wayne Morris, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan, and Huntz Hall
Pride of the Bluegrass (1939)
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939) with Bonita Granville
The Old Maid (1939) with Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, and George Brent
Cowboy Quarterback (1939) with Bert Wheeler, Marie Wilson, and William Demarest
Nancy Drew... Reporter (1939) with Bonita Granville
Mystery House (1938) with Dick Purcell, Ann Sheridan, and Anne Nagel
Daredevil Drivers (1938) with Dick Purcell
The Adventurous Blonde (1937) wiht Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane, and Anne Nagel
The Footloose Heiress (1937) with Craig Reynolds, Ann Sheridan, and Anne Nagel
Over the Goal (1937) with June Travis, Herbert Rawlinson, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, and Hattie McDaniel
Love Is On the Air (1937) with Ronald Reagan, June Travis, and Dickie Jones
Join the Marines (1937) with Paul Kelly, June Travis, Reginald Denny, Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, Sterling Holloway, and Carleton Young
Public Wedding (1937) with Jane Wyman, Dick Purcell, Marie Wilson, and Veda Ann Borg
The Accusing Finger (1936) with Paul Kelly, Marsha Hunt, Kent Taylor, and Robert Cummings
The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936) with Jack Benny, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye, and Ray Milland

The Restless Gun, 1957-1959 NBC (later ABC) TV series. Hopper portrayed Don Maler. Also starring in the series was John Payne
Perry Mason, 1957-1966 CBS TV series. Hopper portrayed Paul Drake. Also starring in the series were Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale

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The Slightly Paul-Centric Perry Mason
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Watch William Hopper's 1957 sci-fi flick 20 Million Miles to Earth
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This page premiered December 5, 2003.