Clarence E. Mulford’s fictional character, created in 1904, “Hopalong Cassidy” was brought to the silver screen in 1935.
The real Hopalong was a foul-mouthed ruffian with a wooden leg that put a little hop in his walk hence the name. He was a man with no ambition sidekick of Mulford’s clean-cut protagonist, Buck Peters.
Hollywood’s Hopalong was transformed into a clean-cut two-fisted, sarsaparilla-drinking good guy who didn’t smoke or cuss. It was said Mulford fainted when he attended a movie premier featuring Hollywood’s version of Hopalong.
Hoppy was played by William Boyd, a silver-haired forty-year-old matinee idol.
Life sometimes imitates art. William Boyd, earned a reputation as boozer, womanizer and hell-raiser. His career foundered and no studio wanted to take a chance on hiring him. It didn’t help when in 1931 another actor, also named William Boyd was arrested on a morals charge. The newspapers inadvertently ran a photo of the wrong William Boyd and for a time it looked like his career was over. Then Lady Luck intervened on his behalf.
In 1935, he got the role of Hopalong Cassidy. At first he was terrified of horses and had to work through that. He dressed from head to toe in Navy blue, never got his dark outfit dirty and never lost his hat in a fight.
In a time when the good guys wore white hats he appeared to be a hero who dressed in black. They were filmed in black and white so on film it appeared he was wearing black.
B-Westerns were being phased out in 1948 and after the studio dropped the series Boyd managed to scrape up $350,000 to buy the rights. He took the films to NBC Television in 1949 and the rest is history.
Boyd became so inspired by the fictional cowboy he was portraying that he quit drinking, smoking and throwing wild parties. He stayed faithful to his fourth wife Grace Bradley Boyd from 1937 until his death in 1972 at the age of seventy-seven.
A reporter once asked him, “What made you give up your ways as one of Hollywood’s bad boys” and Boyd replied, “When you’ve got millions of parents and kids saying what a wonderful guy Hoppy is, what the hell do you do? You’ve got to be a wonderful guy.”