Electronic television was invented in the 1920’s, but didn’t become commercially available until about 1948. This electronic marvel would alter the course of history forever. Never before had people been able to witness history as it happened. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth and the assassination of JFK. Man landing on the moon in 1969 and a three hour slow speed chase of a white Bronco. Television is the most powerful and influential media that ever existed.
Careers and fortunes were made. Actors became household names and some were made famous by one role. You know them. Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce. Henry Winkler as The Fonz. The list goes on. Some television actors went on to star on the big screen and some movie actors found their place on TV. The first sets were big boxes with a grainy picture that you had to use rabbit ear antennae to focus and you had horizontal and vertical hold controls. One of the kids was the remote and you only had three channels.
Of all the people who became stars, only one could be the first. His name was William Boyd. He started acting in silent movies in the 1920’s (I actually came across one on Turner Classic Movies once). His destiny was sealed when he auditioned and won the lead role in a series of movies based on the character created by Clarence Mulford… Hopalong Cassidy. Between 1949 and 1952 he was the biggest star in the media universe.
Born June 5, 1895
Belmont County, Ohio. U.S.
Died September 12, 1972 (aged 77)
Beginning in 1990, the town of Cambridge, Ohio began having a Hopalong Cassidy Festival to celebrate their favorite son. I was an exhibitor at the toy gun and western memorabilia show they have there every year from 2001 to 2007. Some of the biggest dealers from across the country, people I had only talked to on the phone or through toy ads, with were there. They came from Birmingham, Plymouth Mass., Pasadena Texas, and a man named Quinn, who runs the biggest cap gun show in the country from California. He has tens of thousands of dollars worth of guns to buy and sell. His fifth wife, Grace Bradley Boyd, attended the festivals until the year she died, 2010, on her 97th birthday.
Boyd resumed production in 1946, on lower budgets, and continued through 1948, when “B” westerns were being phased out. Boyd thought Hopalong Cassidy might have a future in television, spent $350,000 to obtain the rights to his old films, and approached the fledgling NBC network. The initial broadcasts were so successful that NBC could not wait for a television series to be produced and edited the feature films to broadcast length. On June 24, 1949, Hopalong Cassidy became the first network Western television series.
The success of the television series made Boyd a star. The Mutual Broadcasting System began broadcasting a radio version, with Andy Clyde (later George MacMichael on Walter Brennan’s ABC sitcom The Real McCoys) as the sidekick, in January 1950; at the end of September, the show moved to CBS Radio, where it ran until 1952.
Mrs. Boyd told us Hoppy sold their car,took out a second mortgage on their house and begged or borrowed every nickle he could from friends in Hollywood.Actors didn’t make much back in those days.
The festival featured all kinds of activities, but meeting Mrs. Hoppy was one of the thrills of my life. She was the epitome of style and class. She would come around and speak to the dealers and I actually talked to her for almost ten minutes. I never accomplished much in my life, but that’s something no one can take away from me.
Here are a few photos from the local paper from one of the festivals:
Note: there are always a number of cowboy impersonators. The only real actor I ever saw was Buck Taylor (Newly from Gunsmoke)
This was taken in the hallway when you first come in the convention center
The series and character were so popular that Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the cover of national magazines such as Look, Life, and Time. Boyd earned millions as Hopalong ($800,000 in 1950 alone), mostly from merchandise licensing and endorsement deals. In 1950, Hopalong Cassidy was featured on the first lunchbox to bear an image, causing sales for Aladdin Industries to jump from 50,000 to 600,000 in one year. In stores, more than 100 companies in 1950 manufactured $70 million of Hopalong Cassidy products, including children’s dinnerware, pillows, roller skates, soap, wristwatches, and jackknives.
Hoppy had his name or likeness on over 2100 different products from cereal pinbacks to dishes and flatware,lamps,bicycles,bread,dairy products and local banks.
I’ll do another post next week to highlight some of the myriad products he endorsed.
He was the kind of role model we lack today. Every kid imagined being Hoppy, riding on his big white horse, Topper.
It was great to be a kid then and have heroes like him to look up to.
Hoppy and Grace
She was in her 90’s when this was taken. Still a class act