- (1895–1972)Born in Hendrysburg, Ohio, William Boyd worked as a wildcatter in the Oklahoma oil fields before making his way to the California fruit orchards, evidently planning all along to try for the movies. He landed his first part in 1919 in a Cecil B. DeMille silent and continued working regularly for DeMille. From 1919 to 1934, Boyd appeared in nearly 70 films. Among his major roles for DeMille was the lead in The Volga Boatman (1926) and the part of Simon of Cyrene in The King of Kings(1927). His career nearly ended when another actor named William Boyd was involved in a sordid Hollywood scandal and the two Boyds were confused for one another. In 1935 Harry Sherman cast Boyd, now “Bill” Boyd, as the lead in Hop-Along Cassidy. The original character, from a series of novels by Clarence Mulford, had a permanent limp from a gunshot wound. Boyd, who had rarely mounted a horse before, sprained his ankle doing so and, conveniently for the film, developed a limp. In the film he is introduced as Bill Cassidy, but he gets shot and thereafter everybody on the ranch calls him old Hopalong. This is the only movie in which Hopalong limped. Sherman ran the Hopalong Cassidy series through 54 episodes after which Boyd took over production for 12 episodes. The series was so successful that Boyd became completely identified with his character.A smart businessman, Boyd bought all rights to the character ofHopalong Cassidy after Sherman relinquished interest. He was one of the first to purchase rights to a property for television. When the film series started winding down, Boyd began franchising the Hopalong Cassidy character on everything he could market—lunch pails, bicycles, milk bottles, costumes. He also launched a radio series, a magazine, and a long-running comic book series. Then in 1950, The Hopalong Cassidy Show became the first network dramatic television series. By this time Boyd was showing his age pretty well and so ended the Hopalong Cassidy era with a few parades and rodeo appearances. By the early 1950s, Hopalong Cassidy had run its course and Boyd retired to Palm Desert, California. In 1968 after surgery on a lymph gland, he ceased all public appearances or photographs because of his perceived disfigurement. William Boyd was a much better actor than he is usually given credit for. Even in the 1950s after the “Hoppy Craze” ended, Cecil DeMille asked him to play Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956). Boyd wisely declined, knowing that Hopalong Cassidy playing Moses would probably not help the picture. Even if his acting was not recognized, many believe that William Boyd revolutionized American popular culture by being one of the first to market his film character far beyond the limits of a movie theater.See also TELEVISION WESTERNS.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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