|William Boyd's horse during his Hopalong Cassidy days at Paramount, United Artists and TV series was named "Topper".
Boyd and Grace Bradley married on June 5, 1937. And soon after their marriage, they purchased a white horse. The story is that Grace selected the horse's name because she liked the TOPPER books (or films) that were authored by Thorne Smith.
Thorne Smith wrote two books on Topper - Topper was first published in 1926 and Topper Takes a Trip in 1932. The first film was TOPPER (MGM, 1937) and starred Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Roland Young, and Billie Burke and was released Summer, 1937.
The Hoppy film and TV program quantities and public appearances are significant and spread over a twenty four year period from 1935 - 1959:
- 66 Hoppy films were released in 1935 - 1948; 41 were from Paramount followed by 25 released by United Artists.
- 52 half-hour television shows in 1952 - 1954: 12 half-hour programs were created (condensed) from the United Artists films with Andy Clyde and Rand Brooks; and 40 new half-hour shows were filmed featuring Edgar Buchanan as 'Red Connors'.
- in the 1950s, Boyd and Topper kept busy doing public appearances, parades, charity events, etc. Boyd did not ride in the January 1, 1960 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena as Topper had died in 1959.
Many western movie fans assume that our cowboy heroes owned their horse(s). In Boyd's case, that came a bit later in his Hopalong Cassidy career. In the early films, he rode several rental mounts from local stables.
How many Toppers were there? I re-looked at the first 26 Hoppy films which were released 1935 - late 1939. Also viewed many of the TV shows as well as color films of Boyd riding in parades, personal appearances, etc. I've done screen captures and there are FOUR horses:
- white horse with clear face (in 8 films released 1935 - 1937).
- white horse with dark mouth and nose (in 6 films released 1936 - 1937).
- white hoss with mottled face (in 3 films released in 1938).
- white horse with clear face; has dark splotches under neck and lower chest by breast plate (in 9 films released 1938 - 1939). (And this is the horse that William Boyd owned ... and rode in later films, the Hoppy TV program, and many parades, public appearances, and events. Boyd and Grace named him Topper and the horse died January, 1959.)
White horse #1
In the early Hoppys - including film #1 HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY (Paramount, 1935) - Boyd rode a white hoss with a clean and clear face. This screen capture is from CALL OF THE PRAIRIE (Paramount, 1936), the 4th film in the series.
White horse #2
(From Old Corral collection)
A white horse with a dark mouth and nose was ridden in TRAIL DUST (Paramount, 1936), HOPALONG CASSIDY RETURNS (Paramount, 1936), THREE ON THE TRAIL (Paramount, 1936), TEXAS TRAIL (Paramount, 1937), HOPALONG RIDES AGAIN (Paramount, 1937), and NORTH OF THE RIO GRANDE (Paramount, 1937).
Above - a lobby card from NORTH OF THE RIO GRANDE (Paramount, 1937). Guy in the middle is Jack Rutherford. Unsure of the mustached guy on the far right.
White horse #3
Another variant was a popular rental horse which I've labeled "white horse with a mottled face and many names". Boyd rode him in PARTNERS OF THE PLAINS (Paramount, 1938), HEART OF ARIZONA (Paramount, 1938), and CASSIDY OF BAR 20 (Paramount, 1938). Above is a screen capture from PARTNERS OF THE PLAINS.
Lots of movie appearances for this rental hoss which may have come from the Fat Jones Stables. He was ridden in westerns by Wally Wales, Tim McCoy, Rex Bell, Dave Sharpe, Buster Crabbe, Ray Corrigan, Smith Ballew, and Jack Hoxie. And he was Reed Hadley's trusty steed in the serial ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION (Republic, 1939). There's lots of coverage on this particular horse - go to the Trusty Steeds homepage for more.
After three films on the mottled face hoss, Boyd began riding a white steed that has grayish splotches under the chin and on the upper neck, along with another gray area near the breast plate.
Their first film together was BAR 20 JUSTICE (Paramount, 1938) which was released in June, 1938. That horse is shown below in a crop from a still from SECRET OF THE WASTELANDS (Paramount, 1941), along with a Hoppy comic book cover and another closeup showing the face and splotches. This horse was purchased late 1937 - early 1938 by Boyd and Grace and they named him "Topper".
He had a mild disposition and wasn't skitterish with crowds or kids, a valuable asset to Boyd who did many parades and public appearances.
The last two Hoppy movies were FALSE PARADISE and STRANGE GAMBLE which were released in September - October, 1948. And he's riding this horse.
Also viewed some Hoppy television shows with Edgar Buchanan. The TV series finale was titled "Tricky Fingers" and televised April, 1954. And Boyd was riding this horse with the gray splotches.
|White horse #4 was purchased late 1937 - early 1938 by William Boyd and named "Topper". Topper died January, 1959.|(From Old Corral collection)From SECRET OF THE WASTELANDS (Paramount, 1941). (Courtesy of Minard Coons)Cover of Hoppy comic #93 from September, 1954. (From Old Corral collection)Another view of the gray splotches on Topper. Screen capture of Boyd and Topper at an unidentified parade or event.
Topper died January, 1959 and was interred at S.O.P.H.I.E. / Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park. I contacted S.O.P.H.I.E. and they advised that Topper was interred on January 14, 1959. More on his death further down this webpage.
The Encyclopedia of TV Pets (Rutledge Hill, 2002) by Ken Beck and Jim Clark has a Grace Bradley Boyd interview and lots on Topper. A few quotes from the book with some added notations:
- "... purchased the horse, a pure white Arabian stallion, soon after he married his wife Grace Bradley Boyd ..." (Note: Boyd and Grace married June 5, 1937.)
- Grace said "He found Topper and me the same year. He had a horse, but it was not what he wanted, so we went to this ranch to look at a horse ... and we both fell in love with him."
- "Topper was cared for and trained by Mike Nimeth. Nimeth was responsible for transporting the horse to personal appearances ..."
- "He was just a good old gentle saddle horse."
- "Topper went out to his trailer and just never woke up. Three weeks later, Mike Nimeth died of a heart attack ... Once Topper went, there would be no more parades, and he wouldn't ride another horse. The two deaths were taken as a sign by Boyd to hang up his Hoppy spurs, so he retired the character." (Note: 66 year old horse trainer Michael Nimeth passed away February 11, 1959 in Los Angeles from a heart attack. Death notice below.)
Getty Images has several wonderful photos of Boyd with this horse, including two dated May, 1951. These links will open in a separate tab / window:
The Internet Archive has an October, 1951 issue of TV Guide magazine with a photo article about Topper and his custom trailer ... and Mike Nimeth was the horse trainer. Couple interesting quotes from the article: "Topper has been with Hoppy for almost 15 years now." (which indicates Boyd bought the horse circa 1937 - 1938.) And "Hoppy bought him for $520." This will open in a separate window / tab: http://archive.org/details/tvguide-newyork-1951-10-26/page/25/mode/1up?view=theater
Death notice in the February 14, 1959 Los Angeles Times newspaper for Topper's trainer Michael A. Nimeth. Will open in a separate window / tab: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/122244009/death-notice-for-michael-a-nimeth/
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above tidbit is from the pressbook for RENEGADE TRAIL (Paramount, 1939), which notes that Boyd's regular snow-white charger, King Nappy, was injured and replaced by Topper, one of the doubles.
Right is a screen capture from RENEGADE TRAIL showing Boyd riding White Horse #4 with the gray splotches on the neck and chest.
Which horse was King Nappy? Haven't got a clue.
But Boyd was riding White Horse #4 in about a half dozen films prior to RENEGADE TRAIL. Methinks that pressbook blurb is more creative writing than fact.
(Courtesy of Dale Crawford and Jim Sorensen) | ||Marker for Topper at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, California.|
The park is called S.O.P.H.I.E. (Save Our Pets' History in Eternity).
Some biographies on Boyd mention that Topper passed away in 1961. Recent findings indicate Topper died January, 1959.
To resolve that 1961 vs. 1959 death question, I e-mailed S.O.P.H.I.E. / Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park ... and they quickly responded: "checked our records and I show the date of interment for 'Topper' as January 14, 1959."
Topper at Find A Grave: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/7667621/topper
Newspaper articles noted that Boyd would not be riding in the January 1, 1960 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena because Topper had died in 1959. These links will open in a separate tab / window:
January 16, 1960 Hanford, California Sentinel: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/118732827/william-boyds-horse-topper-was-26/
December 23, 1959 Pasadena, California Independent: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/118729772/william-boyd-will-miss-riding-in-the/
December 19, 1959 Los Angeles Mirror: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/118730869/william-boyd-will-not-ride-in-the-new/
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Hoppy comic #62
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Hoppy comic #74
| |(Courtesy of Minard Coons)William Boyd and his Topper with the gray splotch.
Links ... and these will open in a separate tab / window.
In 2001, Starz Encore Westerns did a one hour documentary titled HOPALONG CASSIDY - PUBLIC HERO #1, and Gunsmoke's Dennis Weaver was the host. It's available on YouTube. If you watch this, use the slider and move to about the 55 minute mark as Grace Bradley Boyd talks about her hubby doing parades, the death of Topper, etc.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=cqsWjv-kDUE
The Internet Archive has digitized many 78 rpm records. There's a couple 1948 recordings with William Boyd chatting about his trusty steed Topper, and each runs about 3 minutes:
"My Horse Topper" - Part 1: https://archive.org/details/78_my-horse-topper---part-1_bill-boyd---hopalong-cassidy_gbia0002976a
"My Horse Topper" - Part 2: https://archive.org/details/78_my-horse-topper---part-2_bill-boyd---hopalong-cassidy_gbia0002976b