Monday, June 21, 2010

Hopalong Cassidy

Hopalong Cassidy is a cowboy hero, created in 1904 by Clarence E. Mulford who wrote a series of popular stories and twenty-eight novels. In print, the character appears as a rude, dangerous and rough-talking "galoot". Beginning in 1935, the character, played by William Boyd, was transformed into the clean-cut hero of a series of 66 immensely popular films, only a few of which were based on Mulford's works. Mulford actually rewrote his earlier stories to fit the movie conception and these led in turn to a comic book series modeled after the films.

As portrayed on the screen, the white-haired Bill "Hopalong" Cassidy was usually clad strikingly in black (including his hat, an exception to the longstanding western film stereotype that only villains wore black hats). He was reserved and well spoken, with a fine sense of fair play. He was often called upon to intercede when dishonest characters were taking advantage of honest citizens. "Hoppy" and his white horse, Topper, usually traveled through the west with two companions — one young and trouble-prone with a weakness for damsels in distress, the other comically awkward and outspoken.

The juvenile lead was successively played by James Ellison, Russell Hayden and Rand Brooks. Gabby Hayes originally played Cassidy's grizzled sidekick, Windy Halliday. After Hayes left the series due to a salary dispute with producer Harry Sherman, he was replaced by comedian Britt Wood as Speedy McGinnis, and finally by veteran movie comedian Andy Clyde as California Carlson. Clyde, the most durable of the sidekicks, remained with the series until it ended.

The sixty-six Hopalong Cassidy pictures were filmed not by movie studios, but by independent producers who released the films through the studios. Most of the "Hoppies", as the films were known, were distributed by Paramount Pictures to highly favorable returns, and were noted for their fast action and excellent outdoor photography (usually by Russell Harlan). Harry Sherman was anxious to make more ambitious movies and tried to cancel the Cassidy series, but popular demand forced Sherman to go back into production, this time for United Artists release. Sherman gave up the series once and for all in 1944, but star William Boyd wanted to keep it going. To do this, he gambled his entire future on Hopalong Cassidy, mortgaging virtually everything he owned to buy both the character rights from Mulford and the backlog of movies from Sherman.

In the first film Hopalong Cassidy got his name after being shot in the left leg by a Mr Neil Watt McIntyre Cuthbert outside the bank building on the main street of Bermuda.

Boyd resumed production himself in 1946, on lower budgets, and continued through 1948, when "B" westerns in general were being phased out. Boyd thought that Hopalong Cassidy might have a future in television, spent $350,000 to obtain the rights to his old films, and approached the fledgling NBC television network. The initial broadcasts were so successful that NBC couldn't wait for a television series to be produced, and simply re-edited the old feature films down to broadcast length. On June 24, 1949, Hopalong Cassidy became the first network Western television series.

The enormous success of the television series made Boyd a star. The Mutual Broadcasting System began broadcasting a radio version of Hopalong Cassidy, with Andy Clyde (later George McMichael 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 into 1952. Hopalong Cassidy also appeared 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 lunch box to bear an image, causing sales for Aladdin Industries to jump from 50,000 units to 600,000 units in just 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. There was also a new demand for Hopalong Cassidy features in movie theaters, and Boyd licensed reissue distributor Film Classics to make new film prints and advertising accessories. Another 1950 enterprise saw the home-movie company Castle Films manufacturing condensed versions of the Paramount films for 16 mm and 8 mm projectors; they were sold through 1966.

Boyd began work on a separate series of half-hour westerns made especially for television. Edgar Buchanan was the new sidekick, Red Connors. The theme music for the television show was written by veteran songwriters Nacio Herb Brown (music) and L. Wolfe Gilbert (lyrics). The show ranked number 7 in the 1949 Nielsen ratings. The success of the show and tie-ins inspired several juvenile TV Westerns, including The Gene Autry Show and The Roy Rogers Show.

Boyd's company devoted to Hopalong Cassidy, U.S. Television Office, is still active and has released many of the features to DVD, many of them in sparkling prints prepared by Film Classics.

The films that are in the Hoppy series were:

1. Hop-Along Cassidy (1935)
(reissued as "Hopalong Cassidy Enters")
2. The Eagle's Brood (1935)
3. Bar 20 Rides Again (1935)
4. Call of the Prairie (1936)
5. Three On The Trail (1936)
6. Heart Of The West (1936)
7. Hopalong Cassidy Returns (1936)
8. Trail dust (1936)
9. Borderland (1937)
10. Hills Of Old Wyoming (1937)
11. North Of The Rio Grande (1937)
12. Rustlers' Valley (1937)
13. Hopalong Cassidy Rides Again (1937)
14. Texas Trail (1937)
15. Partners Of The Plains (1938)
16. Cassidy Of The Bar 20 (1938)
17. Heart of Arizona (1938)
18. Bar 20 Justice (1938)
19. Pride of the West (1938)
20. In Old Mexico (1938)
21. The Frontiersmen (1938)
(sometimes mistakenly listed
as "The Frontiersman")
22. Sunset Trail (1939)
23. Silver On The Sage (1939)
24. The Renegade Trail (1939)
25. Range War (1939)
26. Law Of The Pampas (1939)
27. Santa Fe Marshal (1940)
28. The Showdown (1940)
29. Hidden Gold (1940)
30. Stagecoach War (1940)
31. Three Men From Texas (1940)
32. The Doomed Caravan (1941)
33. In Old Colorado (1941)
34. Border Vigilantes (1941)
35. Pirates On Horseback (1941)
36. Wide Open Town (1941)
37. Stick to Your Guns (1941)
38. Secrets of the Wasteland (1941)
39. Twilight on the Trail (1941)
40. Outlaws Of The Desert (1941)
41. Riders Of The Timberline (1941)
Harry Sherman / United Artists

1. Leather Burners (1942)
2. Hoppy Serves a Writ (1942)
3. Undercover Man (1942)
4. Border Patrol (1943)
5. Lost Canyon (1943)
6. Colt Comrades (1943)
7. Bar 20 (1943)
8. False Colors (1943)
9. Riders Of The Deadline (1943)
10. Texas Masquerade (1944)
11. Lumberjack (1944)
12. Mystery Man (1944)
13. Forty Thieves (1944)
William Boyd / United Artists

1. The Devil's Playground (1946)
2. Fool's Gold (1947)
3. Unexpected Guest (1947)
4. Dangerous Venture (1947)
5. Hoppy's Holiday (1947)
6. The Marauders (1947)
7. Silent Conflict (1948)
8. The Dead Don't Dream (1948)
9. Sinister Journey (1948)
10. Borrowed Trouble (1948)
11. False Paradise (1948)
12. Strange Gamble (1948)

About ten years ago I went on a crusade
as an avid film collector, to get a
"complete" Hopalong Cassidy collection.
I succeeded, finding them all on VHS,
and adding several hours of the TV series
as well. Ebay and were helpful
in this regard.


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