This is “singing cowboys month” on TCM and although William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy was not a singing cowboy, I think he deserves a mention for the contributions he made to the western genre.
Unless you are a certain age, you may be scratching your head and wondering, “Who was Hopalong Cassidy?” “Hoppy” was, along with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, one of the great western heroes in the movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Also, like Autry and Rogers, he was very successful on television in the late 1940s and for years afterward.
Bill Boyd was 12 years older than Autry and 17 years older than Rogers. Although they all had success on TV and in films, Boyd led the way. Unlike many western heroes, he wore a totally black outfit including a black hat instead of the usual “good guy” white hat. At age 40 in 1935, he became Hopalong Cassidy along with co-star and future Roy Rogers and Gene Autry sidekick, Gabby Hayes.
His series of 66 quickly made “B” westerns was very successful as kids loved to watch Hoppy beat up the bad guys. With his black outfit, silver hair, and white horse Topper, he was quite an imposing figure as his fast paced action made quick work of the villains.
HOPPY WITH TOPPER
By 1944, the producer of his films ended the series. Bill Boyd mortgaged everything he had to buy the rights to the films and by 1946 was back in business as Hoppy. By 1948, the “B” western was losing its edge in theaters but, like Rogers and Autry, Boyd was a good businessman and saw a future in the new world of television.
NBC was a new network at that time and Boyd sold his films to them in edited versions that would fit into the television format. Later he made a series of 30 minute shows which ran from 1949-1951 on NBC and for years afterward in syndication. At age 58, he retired in 1953.
William Boyd’s future wife, Grace Bradley, married him three weeks after they met in 1937. Although she was 18 years younger, she said he was “the love of my life.” They were together until 1972 when he died at 77.
At the Lone Pine Film Festival in 1995, 82 year old Grace said, “Everybody I talk to is looking for a hero. They say ‘If only we had Hoppy again’, or somebody like him. The children have no role models. Who do we have?” I understand her point.
Grace Bradley Boyd died on her birthday last September in Dana Point, California. She was 97 and died of age related causes.
I feel lucky to have grown up in the Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers era. It was exciting to see their movies and TV shows on cold Ohio winter days with a cup of Ovaltine or Campbell’s tomato soup as we eagerly watched them round up the bad guys on our 16” Admiral black and white TV.
Trivia question: Where did Hoppy's horse Topper get his name?
Lobby poster for a Hoppy western