In conversation with my sister Stef, I mentioned that a sports jacket my Dad left to me suffers from the Paul Drake Effect, which term many video engineers use to refer to the tendency of small-check black and white fabric to create an iridescent pattern of color striping when viewed on a color video monitor or television. Perry Mason was always shot in black and white (yes, I know, save the one ep), and Paul Drake's snazzy jackets were disquieting to the color TV owner of the sixties, so they toned down his wardrobe in deference to this.
"Okay, so my sport coat's making your eyes bleed. It's houndstooth. The very name suggests...there will be blood!"
Which of course led to a discussion of Bill Hopper, the reluctant actor. A natural, and I'm convinced that if he had given a shit, he'd have greatly improved movies that, say, Glenn Ford and Robert Mitchum slept through (though don't get me wrong, I like 'em both).
The show reran merrily along in syndication since 1988 on OC independent channel KDOC for years, and I caught episodes whenever I could. It ran weekdays at noon, which of course led to the conversion of the warehouse staff at 24frame to love the show as well. Serious, we watched Perry Mason on the big-ass HP Plasma TV in the lunchroom every day for years, and I was the Master of Ceremonies, sort of, because I knew all the episodes, and was able to add bits of movie-lore to each ep ("ah, this is the one with Robert Redford," or "check out Indus Arthur, starred in Angel's Flight", or "yep, that's Burt Reynolds (or Dick Clark, or whoever), or "Paul Drake delivers the best line ever, coming up").
Sadly, KDOC moved Perry to 5AM (!) a few months ago, and finally pounded the last nail in the coffin all the way in by dropping the show altogether a couple weeks ago, which means that Perry is for the first time since it began in 1957 not shown anywhere in the Los Angeles TV market.
I'm also, as you know, a great fan of 50s Sci-Fi B-movie schlock, which made Perry all the more enjoyable, as many of the cast (both regular and guest) in Perry were recognizable from the SFB movie genre, and Bill Hopper himself was no exception (The Deadly Mantis, 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Conquest of Space).
Curiously, Paul seemed to have an abiding dislike for "kids these days," as evidenced in several episodes, which I always thought was a little odd given the character's supposed ability to fit into and glean information from any societal subset, but Hopper delivered lines like this with extra gusto, so I kinda got the sense he shared the sentiment. I guess we can be glad the show didn't survive long enough to encounter hippies. Neither did Hopper.
There's a second complaint I have about the character developed later in the show's life-- he became a sort of buffoon, which violated the original character. I'm thinking of a scene in a Mexican (which I suspect was referred to then as "Spanish") restaurant where Paul is overwhelmed by salsa muy picante, to the laughter of Perry and Della. It just doesn't fit-- Paul is LA born and bred, after all, and again, fits in like an old shoe wherever he goes-- it's his business. It's reminiscent of the offense done to the Dr Watson character by Nigel Bruce in Universal's Sherlock Holmes movies-- in each case, comic relief is provided in the original by the police, and the films don't seem to think that this is enough, to my irritation.
Second best line: Paul is hired by a shady asshole who tries to set him up for a murder rap. Paul gets wise, and confronts the asshole, who takes a swing (and a miss) at him. "I was hoping you'd try something like that," bristles Paul, eyes lighting up, as he punches him in the nose.
Hopper himself, well, he retired to Palm Springs after the show folded, and gave it up at the ripe old age of 55 in 1970 to Pneumonia, which is I think another way of saying "complications arising from emphysemic pulmonary crash and burn" as a result of all those fucking Chesterfields he chain-smoked on the set of Perry Mason.
Scott again: I wrote back to say that while I've only seen a few complete Perry Mason episodes, if ever I come across the end of one I'm compelled to watch, because that's when the entire cast is gathered in the court room, and the camera starts cross-cutting between all the aged, but indelible character actors from the Golden Age that cycled endlessly through that show. I remember one in particular that featured -- to my astonishment -- Edmon Ryan and George Matthews, reunited 18 years after playing incompetent motorist Joe Doakes and his equally inept Guardian Angel in the classic short film for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, X Marks the Spot (as seen on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, King Dinosaur).
The Case of the Promoter's Pillbox"), and went on to talk about how indispensable Paul was to the "classic Perry setup":
The decedent is portrayed in the first act as the biggest asshole on two legs, and he is hated by all, so pretty much everyone is a suspect when he finally turns up dead. Again we know enough to watch for the mild-mannered fellow with apparently nothing to gain by killing the dude-- until Paul strides into court with a message for Perry in the last act which reveals the man with the motive. Priceless.
And Paul buttons it up in the last scene (in Perry's office or over dinner with Della): "All right Perry, but would you mind telling me how you knew where to look for the [whatever]?"
"Simple, Paul," says Perry...