William De Wolf Hopper was born in 1858 to a well-off father who hoped his son would pursue the law just as he had, but De Wolf, as he would later be known, was drawn to the stage. He made his stage debut in 1879 in OUR DAUGHTERS. His attempts at serious drama were lackluster, perhaps due to his gangling frame. He was very tall: anywhere from six-feet-two to six-feet-five depending on which source you believe. Other actors resented being dwarfed by him on stage. When it was discovered he possessed a booming bass singing voice, he joined the ranks of musical comedy performers and never looked back. His first staring role was in Gustave Kerker's CASTLES IN THE AIR. In 1884 he joined the cast of John Phillip Sousa's DESIREE (and you thought he only wrote marches). Hopper would go on to enjoy a very popular career until his death in 1935.
The musical theatre milieu was the perfect setting for Hopper to pursue his true passion--young chorus girls. All told, he was to marry six times, which later earned him the sobriquet: "The Husband of His Country." From the time he married his first wife, when he was twenty-one, until his death in 1935, at age seventy-seven, there was not one year during that time that he was not married. Clearly the gaps between weddings were brief. When you add in De Wolf's many mistresses, he had to have led a hectic life. Rennold Wolf, a fellow Lamb's Club member returned from a trip to Rome where he had viewed newly discovered excavations. He reported that over the door of a temple sacred to Vestal Virgins was the inscription, "You Can't Keep De Wolf From the Door."
You would assume for someone to leave such a wide swath of beautiful ladies in his wake, De Wolf must have been the handsomest of men. Although his features were well-formed and regular, there were some unusual aspects to his appearance. For starters, he was completely bald, as a result of a case of typhoid fever when he was fifteen. To hide his alopecia, De Wolf wore wigs both on and off stage. Then later in his life, he had a reaction to strong medicines that rendered a permanent bluish tinge to his skin.
De Wolf's first wife, Helen Gardner, was his second cousin. They married in 1880 when he was 21. After they divorced in 1885, De Wolf married Ida Mosher in 1886. She bore him a son, John. It was his third wife, Edna Wallace, who had a theatrical career of her own. After marrying De Wolf in 1893, Edna secured the lead in DR. SYNTAX (1894). Edna would go on to not only rival her husband's stage performances but his off-stage adventures as well. One afternoon, Hopper led a group of his fellow Lambs uptown to show them his fashionable townhouse he had just rented for himself and his blushing bride. Leading them through the first floor, he expounded on its elegance and then directed them up the imposing stairs. Flinging open the carved mahogany doors, he announced, "This is the bedroom." The Lambs filed in and abruptly stopped. There atop the four poster, sans clothing, lay Edna. Besides her, similarly unclad, was the English jockey, Todd Sloan. Apparently he really was a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Both were fast asleep, exhausted from the matinee performance. The Lambs looked to De Wolf. What would the object of his wife's cuckoldry do? He slowly walked to the bed and peered down at the naked, diminutive bodies. "Aren't they beautiful," he whispered.
Hopper's next wife was Nella Bergan, whom he married in London. She won the longevity trophy for their 1898 to 1913 run. However, it was his next bride, number five, who became the most famous in her own right. Elda Furry was a stage-struck girl form Altoona, Pennsylvania. She met De Wolf in 1913 while they were both in A MATINEE IDOL. Later that year, they married. In 1916 she made her screen debut in the silent film, THE BATTLER OF HEARTS. She went on to have a modest success as a character actor for MGM. Modest or not, her income exceeded a chagrined De Wolf's.
It was not as a actress that little Elda Furry gained fame. With her career in a slump, the outspoken Mrs. Hopper turned to writing a gossip column using her new first name, Hedda. It was in this role that Hedda Hopper became a household name. She and De Wolf had one son, William De Wolf Hopper, Jr. born in 1915. As an adult, William Hopper reluctantly became an actor, drifting in and out of the profession before securing steady employment as detective Paul Drake on TV's Perry Mason series.
No recounting of De Wolf Hopper can fail to mention his signature piece. In the 1880's shows often boosted attendance by holding special social nights. On August 14 1888, the Casino Theatre presented a baseball night. In the audience were: Hall-of-Fame pitcher, Tim Keefe, Attorney John Montgomery Ward and the dying General William T. Sherman. That night, Hopper was handed a poem clipped from a newspaper to recite. It was entitled "Casey at the Bat." From that night on, at almost every performance, audiences demanded he repeat it. He would recite "Casey..." for the next forty years on stage, records, radio and film. It was filmed in 1922 as one of the first talkies--five years before THE JAZZ SINGER and is included in Ken Burns BASEBALL (1994).