By Eddie Goggin
One of the most legendary figures in Cowboy Fiction just has to be the noted Hopalong Cassidy, who, played by the effective William Boyd, seemed to rule the western screen for many years, during the thirties, forties, and fifties etc.
William Boyd was born on the 5th June, 1895, in Ohio, the son of a labourer, Charles William Boyd, and the former Lida Wilkens. When the young William was in his teens, his father died, so the Boyd family moved out to California, where William worked at any odd job he could pick up.
While working in the Hollywood film area, Boyd found work as a film extra, and did well, having been rejected for army service due to a ‘weak heart’. After this, some more prominent film roles beckoned, so he joined the Cecil B de Mille group, and played leading roles in a number of epics, including the extravaganza, King of Kings, in 1927, where he played the part of Simon of Cyrene, the man who helped to carry the Cross of Jesus.
In 1929, Boyd worked with leading film mogul, DW Griffith, but, at this period, the Wall Street Crash had taken all of the impetus out of the film industry, and times were hard.
Radio Pictures cut Boyd’s contract in 1931, after he had been arrested when his picture was mistakenly run in a newspaper about the arrest of another actor for gambling and liquor charges, from which Boyd was eventually cleared. This was one of the lowest points of Boyd’s career, and he was struggling to survive, when the Paramount Picture Studios, – who were in the planning stage of filming a story by Clarence E. Mulford, of a western adventure, entitled Hop-Along, who was a character depicted to be a hard-drinking, rough-living cowpoke – got in touch.
The studio offered Boyd the part of Hop-Along’s sidekick, Red Connors, but Boyd asked to be considered for the title role, and was pleasantly surprised when he won it.
That introductory film, titled Hop-Along Cassidy, was made in 1935, and did so well that a series was quickly organised, going on to make a grand total of 66 films, which put Boyd in the record books of having played the very same character the most times in film history.
Hopalong, as the original name grew into, became the tall quiet man, dressed in black, which had always been the bad lad’s colour. and he generally had two sidekicks, one young man called Lucky, who was played by Russell Hayden in the series, with the third pal in the team, a grizzly old-timer, shared over the years by George Gabby Hayes as Windy, and alternately, Andy Clyde as California.
The success of the series made William Boyd a millionaire, for the Hopalong Cassidy name was introduced into many everyday objects, that could be bought in almost every store in the country. The character, played so well by William Boyd, even appeared on the cover of the famous Time Magazine, certainly one of the highest accolades of all. In later years, Boyd bought up all the old films, and introduced them as a special television series, and made another fortune.
William Boyd, with his white horse, Topper, was one of the hits of the century. The new series, in the 1950s, premiered on NBC, and made Boyd a star of International standing, for the Hopalong films were telecast all over the world.
A couple of world tours did nothing but good for the ‘Hopalong’ legend, and Boyd drew large crowds wherever he went, especially among the youngsters.
All of this brilliant adulation was fine and dandy, but Boyd’s private life did not indeed travel the trail that he would have liked it to. He was married five times, to Laura Maynard, Ruth Miller, Elinor Fair, Dorothy Sebastien, and Grace Bradley. He fathered one child, with Elinor Fair, a son, who unfortunately died, aged only nine months, which was a real heart-breaker for the big star. William Boyd himself died on September 12th, 1972, aged 77, at Laguna Beach, California, as a result of complications from Parkinsons Disease, and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, in California. HAPPY TRAILS!