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HOPALONG CASSIDY MAKES regular appearances among other cowboys on SiriusXM’s ”Radio Classics.” I recall him too as a frequent star of Saturday matinee westerns when I was growing up.
Always dressed in black, always behaving in a courtly manner, Hoppy rescued many a western maiden with nary a kiss in return. (Unlike the Cisco Kid, whose adventures invariably included a sappy “Oh, Cisco” sigh from the heroine.)
Actor William Boyd portrayed Hopalong Cassidy in 66 movies from 1935 through 1948, many released later to TV, and in a radio show running from 1948 to 1952, with frequent “Radio Classics” rebroadcasts now.
Indeed, William Boyd’s career had its hopping along as well.
A Silent Film Star. After California stints as orange picker, tool dresser, and car salesman, Boyd found work in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1920 comedy Why Change Your Wife? Gloria Swanson starred; Boyd was uncredited as Naval Officer at Hotel.
Wikipedia says, before long, “his easy charm, charisma, and intense good-looks” earned Boyd star status. By the time of his starring in DeMille’s 1926 The Volga Boatman, Boyd was making $100,000 a year.
To put this in perspective, think $1.5 mil today.
Seventeen roles in three years, all credited by then, included one in The Flying Fool, 1929, a transitional flick released both in silent and talkie form. (Aviatrix Pancho Barnes performed some of the stunt flying.)
A Bump on the Trail. In 1931, Boyd’s career encountered a significant bump caused by another actor with the same name. William “Stage” Boyd had legitimate stage background, but he also had bad habits. As described by Wikipedia, “William ‘Stage’ Boyd’s arrests for alcohol possession (during Prohibition) and drug possession damaged his career and that of the other William Boyd. Many newspapers reported the arrests but published photos of the wrong William Boyd, who lost his studio contract with RKO.”
By the time the dust settled, our William Boyd was virtually broke and without a job. For a few years, he was credited in films as “Bill Boyd” to prevent being mistaken for the other fellow.
Stardom Resumed, This Time on the Saddle. Wikipedia writes, “In 1935, Boyd was offered the supporting role of Red Connors in the movie Hop-Along Cassidy, but he asked to be considered for the title role and won it.”
Wikipedia continues, “Although Boyd ‘never branded a cow or mended a fence, cannot bulldog a steer’ and disliked Western music, he became indelibly associated with the Hopalong character.”
Indeed, Boyd did more; he transformed the character.
Mulford’s Original Hop-Along. As described in Wikipedia, Clarence E. Mulford’s pulp magazine Hop-Along, originated in 1904, was “rude, dangerous, and rough-talking. He had a wooden leg which caused him to walk with a little ‘hop,’ hence the nickname.”
Hardly the Hoppy we know today.
Boyd’s Hoppy Foresight. By 1948, many saw Hoppy as old hat. Wisely, though, Boyd mortgaged almost everything he owned to buy rights as well as the film backlog for $350,000.
Even more wisely, he approached a local NBC TV station with one of his older movies. Received so well, it encouraged the network to ask for more, and Boyd released the entire catalog.
By 1950, Boyd appeared on the covers of Life, Look, and Time. His business was burgeoning into Hoppy watches, trading cards, comic books, cowboy outfits, and the radio show that prompted today’s SimanaitisSays.
Another DeMille Offer. In 1952, Cecil B. DeMille was casting his remake of The Ten Commandments and asked Boyd to portray Moses. Boyd said no, feeling that Hoppy would make it impossible for audiences to accept him as Moses.
Another wise decision by Boyd and an opportunity for Charlton Heston. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021