Perry Mason: Noted criminal lawyer - intrepid, dramatic, elusive fighter, whose cause is never lost.
- The Case of the Perjured Parrot, 1939
The sign on the office door is a comfort to clients found at the wrong place at the wrong time; clients with secrets and clients who lie, innocent clients accused of murder. In over 80 novels written by lawyer/author Erle Stanley Gardner and 271 television episodes from 1957-1966, Perry Mason, and his Emmy winning portrayer (1959 and 1961) Raymond Burr, won the day.
Della Street: As much Perry Mason's right arm as his secretary.
- The Case of the Waylaid Wolf, 1960
Perry, however, was not in the fight for justice on his own. Those clients would be languishing in cells to this day, or worse, if the entire team hadn't pulled together. A lawyer like Perry is only as good as his confidential secretary and Della Street is the gold standard. Competent, intuitive and fearless Della Street was played on the series by Barbara Hale.
A star attorney such as Perry must be armed with the truth when he enters the courtroom and that information requires legwork. The legwork for Mason's cases is provided by the Paul Drake Detective Agency. Paul, played by William Hopper, knows his job, even though at times he is baffled by Perry and the risks his friend is willing to take for often less than forthcoming clients.
Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois in 1922. As an art student she turned to modeling as a means of making money which led to being signed by RKO Studios. A featured player and sometimes leading lady, a few of Barbara's pictures include The Falcon Out West, The Falcon in Hollywood with Tom Conway and Higher and Higher with Frank Sinatra. RKO teamed her with her husband Bill Williams (married 1946-1992) in The Clay Pigeon, A Likely Story and West of the Pecos. Barbara played the title character in Lorna Doone, leading lady to Larry Parks in Jolson Sings Again, to James Stewart in The Jackpot, to Randolph Scott in 7th Cavalry and to James Cagney in A Lion is in the Streets. Barbara is a sympathetic teacher in The Boy with Green Hair, a harried mother in the film-noir classic The Window and a bombshell entertainer in the nifty noir The Houston Story.
Della Street: Mason's confidential secretary with an intuitive flair for the feminine angle.
- The Case of the Cautious Coquette, 1949
In the 1950s Barbara was devoting most of her energies to raising her young family. On interview extras included with the television series 50th anniversary DVD release Barbara relates that she was speaking with Gail Patrick Jackson about an idea for customizing costumes for dolls to be sold in specialty boutiques. Gail, as executive producer of a new TV program based on Erle Stanley Gardner's popular Perry Mason novels, had other ideas. She wanted Barbara for Della Street. Previous secretaries to the crime busting attorney included Claire Dodd to Warren William, June Travis to Ricardo Cortez and Ann Dvorak to Donald Woods.
Barbara Hale won the Primetime Emmy in 1959 for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series. She was nominated for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor or Actress in a Series in 1961. Don't you just love the way the Emmy folks play around with their categories?! There were three nominees in the category that season including Barbara as Della, Abby Dalton as Lt. Hale in Hennessy and the winner, Don Knotts as Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show. Don't you just love the way the Emmy folks put that mix together?!
This coming April 18th Barbara Hale, a great-grandmother, turns 94. Barbara's attendance at fan conventions in recent years affirm how beloved she is among generations of Barbara and Della watchers.
Della Street: She was a one-way street and the way was always Perry Mason's.
- The Case of the Beautiful Beggar, 1965
Della was more than the gatekeeper to Perry Mason's inner sanctum. Perry relied on her instincts when sizing up clients and on her legal secretarial skills to keep the office and trials running smoothly. Della could be counted on giving more than one hundred percent to any cause of Perry's. She was not afraid to get her hands dirty in the field as a decoy or to hiding clients at her apartment. When forced into court, she was unflappable in the face of cross-examinations. This is not to say that Della wouldn't offer a word of caution to her foolhardy boss upon occasion, but there was never any doubt of her total support. On a personal level, while it was more apparent in Gardner's page turners that Perry and Della's closeness extended beyond business (all those late night dinners), there was never any doubt among TV fans of the depth of feeling between the two.
Paul Drake: Detective, long, laconic, and loyal, willing to toss his natural caution to the winds in the service of Perry Mason.
- The Case of the Perjured Parrot, 1939
Perry's most frequent combatant, District Attorney Hamilton Burger played by William Talman could call upon the services of the police department in the form of Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg, Wesley Lau as Lt. Anderson, Richard Anderson as Steve Drumm and Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice. Who's Perry gonna call? Paul Drake! The Paul Drake Detective Agency had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of operatives on call around the clock and contacts in cities far and wide. Paul may have dreamed of keeping regular business hours, but Perry knew he could call any time during the 24 hours allotted to us and Paul Drake would be on the case.
(1915 - 1970)
William Hopper's parents were the actor DeWolfe Hopper Sr. and actress turned influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. It was at his mother's urging that the young man entered the acting profession with no genuine sense of a calling. Signed by Warner Brothers in the mid-30s you will see in such pictures as The Footloose Heiress, The Adventurous Blonde and Public Wedding a handsome and pleasant actor of potential.
William Hopper was a Navy frogman during WWII, the stress of which left him with his striking white hair and a drinking problem. Resuming his acting career he played leads in Bs and solid supporting roles in prestigious features. The sci-fi fave 20 Million Miles to Earth stars Harryhausen effects and Hopper. He is Natalie Wood's distant father in Rebel Without a Cause and Patty McCormack's too normal father in The Bad Seed. I think his best roles in this period are for director William Wellman as Jan Sterling's fiance in The High and the Mighty, the good brother in Track of the Cat, and especially as a sympathetic dog trainer in Goodbye, My Lady.
William Hopper was one of the many actors who auditioned for the role of Perry Mason and the clip below is one of his screen tests to play the attorney. It may seem strange as we are so used to Raymond Burr as Perry, but I think Bill Hopper gives a credible characterization. Nonetheless, things worked out as they should. Nothing tops the breezy way Paul greets Della with "Hello, Beautiful" as he enters the Mason offices ready for the next adventure.
In 1959 William Hopper was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series. The season featured the Drake-centric episode The Case of Paul Drake's Dilemma, giving our favourite P.I. a chance to shine. The other nominees included Herschel Bernardi as Lt. Jacoby in Peter Gunn, Johnny Crawford as Mark McCain in The Rifleman and the winner, Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode in Gunsmoke.
Paul Drake: Detective with a lot of explanations to make and sleep to catch up on.
- The Case of the Empty Tin, 1941
Paul Drake had a phone in his car! When I was a kid I thought that was the coolest thing ever! Nowadays people of far less importance in my eyes walk around with little phones as if it is commonplace. Are they on a case?
Paul's favourite cases seem to be anytime he gets to interrogate a pretty girl. On more than one occasion Paul has put his private investigator's license on the line backing up one of Perry's convoluted schemes. Paul Drake seems to have the respect of the police and the loyalty of his employees and I certainly would have tuned in for a spin-off series focused on the Paul Drake Detective Agency. The imagination takes flight.
Barbara Hale and William Hopper
Loyal and hard-working, Della Street and Paul Drake are the support Perry Mason needs to get his clients acquitted. However, the brilliant attorney's mind races so that by the end of the episode, and for our benefit, there is usually some little bit of information that must be explained to the team before celebrations can begin. Above we see our stalwarts in the only colour episode of the original series, The Case of the Twice Told Twist from 1966. "My, how he does blather on" seems to be in back of Della's expression. Paul has the confused puppy dog look of "I never get it when he talks like this, but he pays his bills on time".
Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting THE TV SIDEKICK BLOGATHON which runs from March 6 - 8. Click HERE to spend time with our favourite folks from our favourite classic TV shows.