William Hopper was glad that he lost out on the role of Perry Mason

William Hopper was almost the main man in Perry Mason.

CBS Television Distribution

There is usually only one name that comes to mind when we think of Perry Mason: Raymond Burr. However, in the alternate reality of TV timelines, it was Perry Mason's close personal friend who almost became the main man of the series.

It turns out that William Hopper, who played the role of private investigator Paul Drake, almost had the role of Perry Mason before Burr. 

His character was known for his professionalism, loyalty and charismatic demeanor. Those qualities helped the character to quickly become beloved by Perry Mason fans over the course of its nine seasons on-air.

But while Paul Drake's loyalty stood strong, the actor almost beat Burr out for the role in a test for who could play the role. However, according to a 1962 interview with News Herald, Hopper couldn't have been happier to pass the role off to Burr. 

"I couldn't be more pleased," Hopper said. "I tested for the Perry Mason role. I lost it, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Most actors would hate coming in second place to the lead star, but not Hopper. He knew coming in second to Mason would be just as important to the series. Afterall, the man needed rest. But why did Hopper really not want the job of Perry Mason?

"Because I've seen what it has done to poor Ray Burr," Hopper said. "The poor guy has to dedicate his life to Perry Mason. I remember 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 continued. "He has no outside life whatsoever. 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."

Burr was known for his work ethic while on the series. His work schedule kept him working until midnight, sleeping at the office and writing on weekends. Comparatively, Hopper was happy to take the role of second banana. He made the character his and embraced his position. 

"Paul Drake in the Erle Stanley Gardner books was entirely different than my character," Hopper said. "I play him my way. Now, I'm amused to read Gardner's new books. Paul Drake now comes out like me!"

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6 Comments

Bluerabbit2 3 days ago
When I was younger, my parents introduced me to Perry Mason. In fact, they introduced me to what seems like tons of shows that I am still watching today at yhe age of 60. My favorite is William Hopper and his character, Paul Drake. He was someone with whom I felt close to and cannot explain why. Even today, I still feel the same way but I love the entire cast. I start and stop reading the Perry Mason books depending upon what's happening in my life. He makes a wonderful Paul Drake!!
CaptainDunsel 7 days ago
And of course, Raymond Bur was originally brought in to test for the role of Hamilton Burger. Imagine if it had ended up cast that way - Hopper as Mason and Burr as Burger. The DA would have won every case!
TheKodakKid 7 days ago
Interesting that Hopper wasn’t the only would-be Perry Mason to play a prominent role in the series. William Talman, who ended up playing Hamilton Burger, was also seriously considered for the lead role as well. I’m not sure there was ever another TV series that had that dynamic within its primary cast.

You would think that it would have made for a difficult working atmosphere. However, the entire cast seemed to have a great chemistry, and worked very well together.
Runeshaper 10 days ago
The whole cast on Perry Mason was EXCELLENT!
teire 11 days ago
Love Paul Drake/William Hopper. Such a great ensemble — every character is my favorite.
McGillahooala 11 days ago
Great story. I would agree that playing a subordinate role and having a life would be preferable to being the star.
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