Sunday, April 19, 2020

Hopalong Cassidy: One of the Best in the West

By Christopher Robinson

An Iconic phenomenon of film and television, Hopalong Cassidy was based on the western character created by novelist Clarence E. Mulford during the turn of the century. It subsequently became a cultural mainstay of the 1930s, remaining successful into the next two decades.

“Hoppy” was played exclusively by Ohio-born actor William Boyd, who grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before becoming a bit player in the early days of Hollywood (Definition of bit player is 'a person who performs a very small role in a play or movie).

Boyd worked steadily in film, even being cast, on occasion, by famed director Cecil B. DeMille, but RKO Pictures eventually dumped Boyd from their contract when another actor, named William Boyd, was arrested for a prohibition-era alcohol possession charge. A judge recommended the latter use the name ‘William “Stage” Boyd’ but after starring in the atrocious 12-chapter science fiction serial, The Lost City, “Stage” Boyd passed away.

Stick To Your Guns (1941) Hopalong Cassidy played by William Boyd

Not long after, Boyd won the lead role in the first Hopalong Cassidy B-western for Paramount Pictures.

Drastically altered from Mulford’s salty scoundrel character, “Hoppy” was re-imagined as a dapper, clean-living hero who set fine examples while saving the day. Decked out in all-black and brandishing two single-action revolvers on his trusty white stallion, Topper, Boyd’s Hoppy persona featured a distinctive look, thanks to his prematurely gray hair.

Cassidy and his fellow hands worked for the Bar 20 ranch and helped the cause of justice wherever danger threatened it. In that capacity, they solved murders, saved damsels, settled land disputes and even tamed frontier towns as deputized lawmen.

Cassidy also benefited from the additional luxury of having two sidekicks to share in his adventures. There was, of course, the obligatory companion of the seasoned rascally cutup variety. Windy Halliday was  portrayed by none other than Gabby Hayes who began in the series as other characters in a few of the earlier films. Later on, Britt Wood joined as Speedy and finally, Andy Clyde stepped in to play a character named “California” Carson.

A younger compadre rounded out the team who, at various times, would be named Johnny, Jimmy or Lucky. Often this resident greenhorn took care of the story’s love interest, allowing Cassidy more freedom in his ensuing heroics.

The series soon became immensely popular thanks to Boyd’s charm and natural approach to the role of a good-natured hero who met trouble head on and righted wrongs wherever they were found. The 'Hoppy' craze led to a comic strip, a radio series, an amusement park, and a diverse line of merchandising, including Cassidy’s distinction of being the first character on a lunch box (there’s  a good trivia bit for ya).

Boyd produced the final Hoppy films himself and allegedly put all his investments into the acquisition of the Hopalong Cassidy trademark. This later enabled him to recoup his losses by releasing the films to the NBC television network. The Hoppy features were condensed for TV and Boyd soon began producing new episodes, gaining an even larger audience and kickstarting the subgenre of the TV western.

The rest, of course, is history. Not bad, pardner!

About the Author

Christopher Robinson is a writer, filmmaker and musician in New Jersey who has contributed to several magazines and websites.

Robinson also worked as a cameraman, videographer, cable access TV host, teacher and producer. He scripted and produced commercial videos as well as cable television programs for local consumption.

For more info about Christopher, click here.

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