Full name: William Lawrence Boyd
1895 - 1972
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Born in Ohio in 1895 and raised in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, William Boyd arrived in Hollywood around 1918. He became a full-fledged leading man during the silent era, and his best work from that period included many films for Cecil B. deMille.
But roles had been tough to find during the early to mid 1930s. Stories and rumors generally mention: that Boyd looked too old due to his prematurely gray hair; and that Boyd was a womanizer and liked parties and alcohol.
Then there was the confusion between this William Boyd, and another Tinseltown performer who had the same name. That 'other' William Boyd had been involved in a scandal in the early 1930s, and our William 'Hoppy' Boyd was incorrectly identified in the press and news as the guilty party. The accusations nearly wrecked our William Boyd's career. (The William Boyd that was the subject of the scandal wound up with the moniker of William 'Stage' Boyd. Remember him --- he was the evil 'Zolak' in the awful serial, THE LOST CITY (Krellberg, 1935), which featured Kane Richmond as the hero.)
In the mid 1930s, several forces came together. These were Paramount Pictures, a producer named Harry 'Pop' Sherman and Boyd. 'Pop' Sherman was an independent producer, but by the mid 1930s, the states rights distribution channels for low budget, independently produced sagebrush yarns were disappearing. Sherman got lucky and convinced Paramount to release a series of westerns based on the Hopalong Cassidy novels and short stories authored by Clarence E. Mulford.
Hollywood history or myth is that character actor James Gleason may have been a contender for the Hopalong Cassidy role. In actuality, Gleason was announced as Hopalong, and there were mentions in Hollywood tradepapers including June, 1935 issues of Film Daily. In the July 10, 1935 Film Daily, Paramount ran a full color, multi-page announcement on their new releases, and had Gleason in their new Hopalong series. However, the August 3, 1935 Film Daily noted that Gleason had signed a long term contract with RKO.
But when the dust cleared and filming began, forty year old William Boyd had the Hoppy job.
The first in the new series, HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY (Paramount, 1935) went into general release in August, 1935 and had Boyd being helped by James Ellison, a handsome fellah and pretty good actor who portrayed Hoppy's saddle pal 'Johnny Nelson'. (Note that this would later be re-named HOPALONG CASSIDY ENTERS, and become the generally accepted title for that movie.) 1935 was also the year that Republic Pictures was formed, and a singing cowboy named Gene Autry began his starring series at the new studio.
The third Cassidy yarn, BAR 20 RIDES AGAIN (1935) included George Hayes as 'Windy' and is one of my favorite westerns. In film #5, THREE ON THE TRAIL (Paramount, 1936), Hayes became 'Windy Halliday' and a full-fledged member of the Hopalong Cassidy trio.
Paramount may have been surprised with the enthusiastic fan response to the new series. And it rolled along quite well for the next season or two. But Ellison was being groomed for better things, and Russell Hayden replaced him beginning with HILLS OF OLD WYOMING (Paramount, 1937). Hayden had not been an actor, but was a member of the Hoppy production crew.
Hayes was around through RENEGADE TRAIL (Paramount, 1939), and then left because of a salary dispute or some disagreement with Pop Sherman. Hayes immediately signed on with Republic Pictures as the sidekick to Roy Rogers and Bill Elliott ... and that's when he took on the nickname of 'Gabby'.
The brief comedic replacement was Britt Wood, the downhome comic with the big hat, who really wasn't too bad as the third member of the trio. Ultimately Wood was let go, and veteran screen comedian Andy Clyde arrived, and his first appearance was in the very good THREE MEN FROM TEXAS (Paramount, 1940). Clyde continued as Hoppy's sidekick through the end of the film series in 1948.
Les Adams found an interesting tidbit --- on Monday, May 20, 1940, Film Daily reported that William Boyd had broken his leg while on location filming for DOOMED CARAVAN, but production would continue with Boyd's leg in a plaster cast.
Continuing the musical chairs, Hayden exited after completing the 1940-41 releases and went over to Columbia Pictures to help western hero Charles Starrett. Soon after, he was given his own oater series at Columbia. With Hayden gone, Hoppy's new assistant was Brad King, who was OK, but definitely not an Ellison or Hayden.
Around that time, Paramount sold off some of its productions, and this included 'Pop' Sherman's Hopalong Cassidy unit. Boyd and Sherman wound up at United Artists, and they would distribute through UA until the series ended with FORTY THIEVES (UA, 1944), which was released in the Summer of '44. During this UA period, Brad King was replaced by Jay Kirby ... then there was George 'Superman' Reeves ... and Jimmy Rogers. While the UA films are relatively good (compared to B westerns in general), they are not equal to the earlier, and higher budgeted, Paramount Hoppys.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above, producer Harry 'Pop' Sherman (1884-1952).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above, Boyd's production company logo for his 1946-48 series at United Artists.
(Courtesy of Fred D. Pfening, Jr.)
For the next two years or so, Boyd and Hoppy were off the screen. During this time, Boyd purchased the rights to the films and character. He also formed his own production company to resurrect the Cassidy cinema adventures.
Brand new Hopalong flicks hit the silver screen beginning with FOOL'S GOLD in 1946. A dozen were made and released by United Artists during 1946-1948, and the Cassidy film finale, STRANGE GAMBLE, arrived at movie houses in late 1948. In this UA dozen, Andy Clyde returned as Hoppy's sidekick and the new member of the team was Rand Brooks who did a creditable job as the impulsive 'Lucky Jenkins'. But this was post World War II time --- film production costs had skyrocketed, people's movie tastes and habits were changing, and the B western was fading. Thus, this final batch of Cassidy westerns are not on par with the earlier films.
A newfangled gadget called television arrived to save the day, and the end result was a significant financial windfall to Boyd. The Hopalong Cassidy films were first shown on the Paramount-owned KTLA TV station in Los Angeles. Then they became a network broadcast over NBC, and early Sunday evenings became 'Hoppy night'. Nielsen ratings for the one-hour Cassidy NBC program were solid --- 9th place for the 1950-51 season and in 28th place for 1951-52. The movies were edited down to about 54 minutes to fit both film and commercials into a one hour time slot. I remember being mesmerized when I watched the Hoppy yarns on our first TV set, which I vaguely recall was an Emerson with a ten or twelve inch screen.
For the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons, there were 52 half-hour Hoppy adventures. A dozen were created (condensed) from the later United Artists films with Andy Clyde and Rand Brooks. And 40 brand new half hour shows were lensed and featured Edgar Buchanan as 'Red Connors'.
The end result of all this air time was that Boyd and the Hoppy character were more popular than ever.
In addition to TV, Boyd did circuses, rodeos, personal appearance tours, hospital visits, et al. He brought the Hoppy series to radio ... he opened up his own Hoppyland theme park ... and merchandising included hats, gunbelts, lunch buckets, clothing and more. There was also a long running series of comic books. He was on the covers of magazines such as Life, Look and TV Guide. Gosh ... I was the proud owner of an official Hopalong Cassidy twin capgun set that had black holsters made out of real leather.
The Cassidy films, particularly the 1935-1941 Paramount releases, are a definite notch or two above the typical B western, and the production quality and higher budgets are immediately apparent. Plus, the scripting and plots were good, the photography was superb, and about half were filmed at scenic Lone Pine, California. Additionally, the running times were much longer than the normal 55-60 minute western programmer --- as best I can recall, the longest Hoppy film ran a tad over 80 minutes.
As to William Boyd the man, he had gone through a personal transformation and re-awakening. Boyd had four unsuccessful marriages (to Laura Maynes in 1917; Ruth Yeager Miller in 1921; Elinor Virginia Crow in 1926; and Dorothy Sebastian in 1930). On June 5, 1937, he and actress Grace Bradley tied the knot, and the result was a happy pairing that continued through Boyd's death in 1972 of heart problems and parkinson's disease. A few years prior to his passing, Boyd had cancer surgery. They adored each other, and in interviews, Grace mentions the tough times when they had to sell most everything to come up with the dollars to acquire the Hopalong Cassidy rights.
Over the years, William Lawrence Boyd --- and his version of the Hopalong Cassidy character --- blended together to became one and the same. The parents and kiddies of the time loved him. And through personal appearances and such, Boyd returned that love and adoration --- you could see it in his face and smile and hear it when he belted out one of his great laughs.
Many kids who grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s owe some of their personal values and beliefs to William Boyd. That's his greatest accomplishment.
(Courtesy of Donn & Nancy Moyer)
Above - Grace Bradley Boyd sandwiched between Nancy and Donn Moyer at the 2000 Lone Pine Festival. Grace was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 21, 1913. Grace passed away on her 97th birthday, September 21, 2010. A private service was held on Thursday, September 23, 2010 and she was interred next to her husband at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California..
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above are William Boyd and James Ellison in a lobby card from Hoppy film #3, BAR 20 RIDES AGAIN (Paramount, 1935). This card is from the Sherman S. Krellberg re-issue of the film, and note that George Hayes is billed as "Gabby". Hayes didn't have that moniker when he worked in the Cassidy series. He became "Gabby" when he went to work at Republic Pictures.
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Stephen Morris (who later had a screen name of Morris Ankrum) has the drop on Hoppy in this lobby card from HILLS OF OLD WYOMING (Paramount, 1937).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above from L-to-R are William Boyd, Russell Hayden, Andy Clyde and Morris Ankrum (now billed as Ankrum) in a lobby card from WIDE OPEN TOWN (Paramount, 1941). This was released in late Summer, 1941 and was Russell Hayden's twenty seventh and final Hoppy film. His next job was at Columbia, helping Charles Starrett.