HOPALONG CASSIDY SERIES

   William Boyd played Hopalong Cassidy in nearly 70 films, followed by a radio show, the first dramatic network television show, comic books, lunch pails, and an entire industry based on the “Hoppy Craze” during the 1950s. Thus Hopalong Cassidy was by far the most successful series of Westerns ever.
   The character of Hopalong came from a popular series of novels written by Clarence E. Mulford. The original Hopalong was a young, red-haired cowboy with a hot temper who cussed and chewed tobacco and who would shoot anyone who made fun of his lame leg. The novels were popular and were prime material for Hollywood. But when Harry Sherman of Paramount formed the character, he smoothed over the rough spots. Instead of young, red headed, and hot tempered, the Hopalong of the film version was a middle-aged, white-haired, mild-tempered, white-horse-riding jovial cowboy played by Boyd. The early films in the series followed Mulford’s original plots fairly closely, eliminating just the adult material, but eventually the films borrowed the novel titles and not much else. Nevertheless, due to their grounding in the best-selling novels, Hopalong Cassidy Westerns tended to be superior to most B Westerns. Boyd was not a horseman, so he had difficulty developing into the famous cowboy star. While making the first film, Hop-Along Cassidy (1935), Boyd sprained an ankle riding, so he is never seen riding close up and he actually walks with a limp, earning the nickname Hopalong. Never again in the series does Boyd limp. Cliff Lyons did all the riding in the early films for Boyd. James Ellison and Gabby Hayes also partnered with Boyd for the first film and for many after. All Hopalong Cassidy films worked off the same formula. There would be a slow buildup to the action, with an obligatory fistfight (rarely involving Boyd), and then a leather-burning chase scene across the prairie with quick-cutting running inserts, all to thunderous music such as “Dance of the Furies” from Christoph W. Gluck’s Don Juan (used several times). In theaters, audiences of young people would wait for these moments and then, just as in some cult movies of the 1990s, would leap to their seats and chant as the chase ensued.
   The image of Hopalong Cassidy became an icon for B Westerns. Boyd always began the film in a solid black suit and large black hat with a high, rounded crown. He wore an intricately stitched double gun belt. His pistols were chrome plated and finely engraved. Like the other cowboy stars, he had a trick horse, the solid white Topper, whose saddle and bridle were also finely stitched. Although he was often pictured on milk cartons and bread wrappers roping calves, Hopalong Cassidy never roped anything in the movies.
   As with other cowboy stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, William Boyd had a special creed of behavior for his young fans, Hopalong Cassidy’s Creed for Boys and Girls:
   1. The highest badge of honor a person can wear is honesty. Be mindful at all times.
   2. Your parents are the best friends you have. Listen to them and obey their instructions.
   3. If you want to be respected, you must respect others. Show good manners in every way.
   4. Only through hard work and study can you succeed. Do not be lazy.
   5. Your good deeds will always come to light. So, do not boast or be a showoff.
   6. If you waste time or money today, you will regret it tomorrow. Practice thrift in all ways.
   7. Many animals are good and loyal companions. Be friendly and kind to them.
   8. Astrong, healthy body is a precious gift. Be neat and clean.
   9. Our country’s laws are made for your protection. Observe them carefully.
   10. Children in many foreign lands are less fortunate than you. Be glad and proud you are an American.
   The Hopalong Cassidy films under Harry Sherman’s guidance were perhaps the highest quality films of the B Western era. In fact, several of the early films had feature running times and budgets equal to many full-budget Westerns. Perhaps the best of these, besides the first one of the series, are Bar 20 Rides Again (1935) and Hopalong Cassidy Returns (1936). The late films in the series, after Harry Sherman left, did not keep up the quality and aimed almost exclusively at the juvenile market. Strange Gamble (1948), with Andy Clyde as sidekick, was the last William Boyd Hopalong Cassidy film. After that, Boyd moved production to television.
   However, that was not the last Hopalong Cassidy film. Christopher Coppola’s Gunfighter (1998) brought back the cowboy one more time starring rodeo cowboy Chris Lybbert as the young Cassidy and
   Martin Sheen as the old Hopalong Cassidy. This film, which had no box office success at all, is a postmodern Western based more on the original Mulford novels than on the William Boyd movies.
   See also TELEVISION WESTERNS.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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