HOPALONG CASSIDY was the hero of twenty-eight western novels written by Clarence E. Mulford in the twenties, thirties, and forties. Giving testimony to the lasting popularity of this fictional cowboy hero is the very real fact that a dozen of the novels are still in print.
In his early writings, Mulford portrayed the character as rude, dangerous, and rough-talking. Beginning in 1935, the character—as played by movie actor William Boyd in films adapted from Mulford's books—was transformed into a clean-cut on-screen hero. A total of sixty-six immensely popular films were released, only a few of which relied on Mulford's original story lines. Mulford later revised and republished his earlier works to be more consistent with the character's new, polished on-screen persona.
Hopalong Cassidy: On the Page, On the Screen covers each of Mulford's books and each of the Cassidy theatrical films in full detail. A comprehensive index enables readers interested in almost anything linked to the books or films
WILLIAM (BILL) BOYD, a star of the silent movies under contract to Cecil B. DeMille, brought HOPALONG to the screen in a feature produced by Paramount Pictures. Paramount made 34 more pictures with Bill Boyd as Hoppy and United Artists produced 31 others, also with Bill Boyd. Never in Hollywood's history has one man played the same character in as many features. When audiences the world over saw the films, Bill Boyd and Hopalong Cassidy became synonymous.
As portrayed on the screen, the white-haired Bill "Hopalong" Cassidy was usually clad strikingly in black (including his hat, an exception to the longstanding western film stereotype that only villains wore black hats). He was reserved and well spoken, with a fine sense of fair play. He was often called upon to intercede when dishonest characters were taking advantage of honest citizens. "Hoppy" and his white horse, Topper, usually traveled through the west with two companions—one young and troubled, prone with a weakness for damsels in distress, the other comically awkward and outspoken.
Time Magazine in 1950 said, "Boyd made Hoppy a veritable Galahad of the range, a soft spoken paragon who did not smoke, drink or kiss girls, who tried to capture the rustlers instead of shooting them, and who always let the villain draw first if gunplay was inevitable." Boyd himself said, "I played down the violence, tried to make Hoppy an admirable character and I insisted on grammatical English."
Sixty-six motion picture features starring the same actor. An incredible feat! No wonder, then, that this large body of work led Bill Boyd to television in 1950.
The sixty-six Hopalong Cassidy pictures were filmed by independent producers who released the films through the studios. Most of the "Hoppies," as the films were known, were distributed by Paramount Pictures to highly favorable returns. They were noted for their fast action and excellent outdoor photography (usually by Russell Harlan). Harry Sherman was anxious to make more ambitious movies and tried to cancel the Cassidy series, but popular demand forced Sherman to go back into production, this time for United Artists release.
Sherman gave up the series once and for all in 1944, but William Boyd wanted to keep it going. To do this, he gambled his entire future, spending $350,000 to control “Hopalong Cassidy”, mortgaging virtually everything he owned to buy both the character rights from Mulford and the backlog of movies from Sherman. Boyd, with remarkable foresight, then sold the television rights to all the Hoppy motion pictures and licensed 52 of them to the fledgling NBC Television Network to be telecast as one hour episodes. The initial broadcasts were so successful that NBC could not wait for a television series to be produced and simply reedited the old feature films down to broadcast length. On June 24, 1949, Hopalong Cassidy became the first network Western television series.
From the moment that HOPALONG CASSIDY premiered on NBC, Bill Boyd became an international hero, for the films were telecast not only in America but all over the world as well. Twelve of the remaining motion picture features that Boyd retained under the Company name, "North Vines," were edited by him into half hour episodes. Following this move, he formed a new television production company to shoot a series of 40 new half hour episodes. The company ended up creating a total of 52 half hours for the NBC network.
His popularity was astounding. He received 15 thousand fan letters a week. He received endless and persistent requests from individuals and international organizations to make public appearances. He made two worldwide tours while NBC pressed him to continue production. The stress was tremendous. He was in his sixties by this time, and he personally felt that the Hoppy character could not be properly portrayed at this age. He was also feeling the pressure of being before the cameras month after month. The year before he retired, he made 40 Hoppy episodes in as many weeks and made one more tour around the world for the Newsboys' Association.
Completing that tour, he put his horse Topper out to pasture, hung up his guns, took off his boots, and said adios to HOPALONG CASSIDY, his alter ego. Boyd was reluctant to retire because of his loyal fans and the knowledge that his large production crew would be put out of work. Fortunately, CBS was about to start shooting the series, GUNSMOKE, and Boyd was able to turn over his company to that network, assuring employment for his entire crew.
The series and character were so popular that Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the cover of national magazines, such as Look, Life and Time. Boyd earned millions as Hopalong ($800,000 in 1950 alone), mostly from merchandise licensing and endorsement deals. In 1950, Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the first lunchbox to bear an image, causing sales for Aladdin Industries to jump from 50,000 units to 600,000 units in just one year. In stores, more than 100 companies in 1950 manufactured $70 million of Hopalong Cassidy products including children's dinnerware, pillows, roller skates, soap, wristwatches, and jackknives.
Bill Boyd's television success has never been rivaled. During public appearances, as many as a million fans turned out to see him. These fans, believe it or not, included presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, admirals, generals, ambassadors, prime ministers and of course John Q. Public.
Boyd didn't sing, dance, play football, baseball or basketball, nor did he box or play tennis or race cars. Boyd was merely HOPALONG CASSIDY. He smiled, waved, and shook hands. He was simply...Mr. Goodguy...everybody's favorite cowboy...everybody's FRIEND, BUDDY, PAL and IMMORTAL HERO.
In the first film, Hopalong Cassidy (then spelled "Hop-along") got his name after being shot in the leg.
Hopalong's "drink of choice" was the nonalcoholic sarsaparilla. For more information see:
William Lawrence Boyd (June 5, 1895 - September 12, 1972) was an American film actor best known for portraying Hopalong Cassidy.
Boyd was born in Hendrysburg in Belmont County, located 26 miles east of Cambridge, Ohio. He was reared in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the son of day laborer Charles William Boyd and his wife, the former Lida Wilkens. Following his father's death, he moved to California and worked as an orange picker, surveyor, tool dresser and auto salesman.
In Hollywood, he found extra work in Why Change Your Wife? and other films. During World War I, he enlisted in the army but was exempt because of a "weak heart." More prominent film roles followed, and he became famous as a leading man in silent film romances, earning an annual salary of $100,000. He was the lead actor in Cecil B. DeMille's The Volga Boatman (1926) and DeMille's extravaganza, The King of Kings, helping Christ carry the cross as Simon of Cyrene and also in DeMille's Skyscraper. He then appeared in D.W. Griffith's, Lady of the Pavements (1929).
Radio Pictures ended Boyd's contract in 1931 when his picture was mistakenly run in a newspaper story about the arrest of another actor, William "Stage" Boyd, on gambling and liquor charges. Having been reckless with his money, Boyd was broke and without a job.
In 1935, he was offered the supporting role of Red Connors in the movie Hop-Along Cassidy, but asked to be considered for the title role and won it. The original Hopalong Cassidy character, written by Clarence E. Mulford for pulp fiction, was changed from a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler to its eventual incarnation as a cowboy hero who did not smoke, drink or swear and who always let the bad guy start the fight. 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 and, like rival cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, gained lasting fame in the Western film genre. The Hopalong Cassidy series ended in 1947 after 66 films, with Boyd producing the last 12.
Anticipating television's rise, Boyd spent $350,000 to purchase the rights to the Hopalong Cassidy character, books and films. In 1949, he released the films to television, where they became extremely popular and began the long-running genre of Westerns on television. Like Rogers and Autry, Boyd licensed much merchandise, including such products as Hopalong Cassidy watches, trash cans, cups, dishes, Topps trading cards, a comic strip, comic books, radio shows and cowboy outfits. The actor identified with his character, often dressing as a cowboy in public. Although Boyd's portrayal of Hopalong made him very wealthy, he believed that it was his duty to help strengthen his "friends" - America's youth. The actor refused to license his name for products he viewed as unsuitable or dangerous, and turned down personal appearances at which his "friends" would be charged admission.
Boyd had a cameo as himself in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 circus epic, The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille reportedly asked Boyd to take the role of Moses in his remake, The Ten Commandments, but Boyd felt his identification with the Cassidy character would make it impossible for audiences to accept him as Moses.
Hoppy & Grace
Following his retirement from the screen, Boyd invested both his time and money in real estate and moved to Palm Desert, California. He refused interviews and photographs in later years, preferring not to disillusion his millions of fans who remembered him as their screen idol.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1734 Vine Street. In 1995, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The original American Pie album by Don McLean inner sleeve featured a free verse poem written by McLean about Boyd (See Below) along with a picture of Boyd in full Hopalong regalia. This sleeve was removed within a year of the album's release. The words to this poem appear on a plaque at the hospital where Boyd died.
At his death in 1972, he was survived by his fifth wife, actress Grace Bradley Boyd, who died on September 21, 2010 on her 97th birthday.
American Pie Album 1971 Don McLean