For the next two years or so, Boyd and Hoppy were off the screen. During this time, Boyd purchased the rights to the films and character. He also formed his own production company to resurrect the Cassidy cinema adventures. Brand new Hopalong flicks hit the silver screen beginning with FOOL'S GOLD in 1946. A dozen were made and released by United Artists during 1946-1948, and the Cassidy film finale, STRANGE GAMBLE, arrived at movie houses in late 1948. In this UA dozen, Andy Clyde returned as Hoppy's sidekick and the new member of the team was Rand Brooks who did a creditable job as the impulsive 'Lucky Jenkins'. But this was post World War II time --- film production costs had skyrocketed, people's movie tastes and habits were changing, and the B western was fading. Thus, this final batch of Cassidy westerns are not on par with the earlier films. A newfangled gadget called television arrived to save the day, and the end result was a significant financial windfall to Boyd. The Hopalong Cassidy films were first shown on the Paramount-owned KTLA TV station in Los Angeles. Then they became a network broadcast over NBC, and early Sunday evenings became 'Hoppy night'. Nielsen ratings for the one-hour Cassidy NBC program were solid --- 9th place for the 1950-51 season and in 28th place for 1951-52. The movies were edited down to about 54 minutes to fit both film and commercials into a one hour time slot. I remember being mesmerized when I watched the Hoppy yarns on our first TV set, which I vaguely recall was an Emerson with a ten or twelve inch screen. For the 1952-53 and 1953-54 seasons, there were 52 half-hour Hoppy adventures. A dozen were created (condensed) from the later United Artists films with Andy Clyde and Rand Brooks. And 40 brand new half hour shows were lensed and featured Edgar Buchanan as 'Red Connors'. The end result of all this air time was that Boyd and the Hoppy character were more popular than ever. In addition to TV, Boyd did circuses, rodeos, personal appearance tours, hospital visits, et al. He brought the Hoppy series to radio ... he opened up his own Hoppyland theme park ... and merchandising included hats, gunbelts, lunch buckets, clothing and more. There was also a long running series of comic books. He was on the covers of magazines such as Life, Look and TV Guide. Gosh ... I was the proud owner of an official Hopalong Cassidy twin capgun set that had black holsters made out of real leather. The Cassidy films, particularly the 1935-1941 Paramount releases, are a definite notch or two above the typical B western, and the production quality and higher budgets are immediately apparent. Plus, the scripting and plots were good, the photography was superb, and about half were filmed at scenic Lone Pine, California. Additionally, the running times were much longer than the normal 55-60 minute western programmer --- as best I can recall, the longest Hoppy film ran a tad over 80 minutes. As to William Boyd the man, he had gone through a personal transformation and re-awakening. Boyd had three unsuccessful marriages (to Ruth Miller, Elinor Fair and Dorothy Sebastian). In 1937, he and actress Grace Bradley tied the knot, and the result was a happy pairing that continued through Boyd's death in 1972 of heart problems and parkinson's disease. A few years prior to his passing, Boyd had cancer surgery. They adored each other, and in interviews, Grace mentions the tough times when they had to sell most everything to come up with the dollars to acquire the Hopalong Cassidy rights. Over the years, William Lawrence Boyd --- and his version of the Hopalong Cassidy character --- blended together to became one and the same. The parents and kiddies of the time loved him. And through personal appearances and such, Boyd returned that love and adoration --- you could see it in his face and smile and hear it when he belted out one of his great laughs. Many kids who grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s owe some of their personal values and beliefs to William Boyd. That's his greatest accomplishment.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Born in Ohio in 1895 and raised in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, William Boyd arrived in Hollywood around 1918. He became a full-fledged leading man during the silent era, and his best work from that period included many films for Cecil B. deMille. But roles had been tough to find during the early to mid 1930s. Stories and rumors generally mention: that Boyd looked too old due to his prematurely grey hair; and that Boyd was a womanizer and liked parties and alcohol. Then there was the confusion between this William Boyd, and another Tinseltown performer who had the same name. That 'other' William Boyd had been involved in a scandal in the early 1930s, and our William 'Hoppy' Boyd was incorrectly identified in the press and news as the guilty party. The accusations nearly wrecked our William Boyd's career. (The William Boyd that was the subject of the scandal wound up with the moniker of William 'Stage' Boyd. Remember him --- he was the evil 'Zolak' in the awful serial, THE LOST CITY (Krellberg, 1935), which featured Kane Richmond as the hero.) In the mid 1930s, several forces came together. These were Paramount Pictures, a producer named Harry 'Pop' Sherman and Boyd. 'Pop' Sherman was an independent producer, but by the mid 1930s, the states rights distribution channels for low budget, independently produced sagebrush yarns were disappearing. Sherman got lucky and convinced Paramount to release a series of westerns based on the Hopalong Cassidy novels and short stories authored by Clarence E. Mulford. Hollywood history or myth is that character actor James Gleason was a serious contender for the role of Hopalong Cassidy. But when the dust cleared and filming began, forty year old William Boyd had the job. The first in the new series, HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY (Paramount, 1935) had Boyd being helped by James Ellison, a handsome fellah and pretty good actor who portrayed Hoppy's saddle pal 'Johnny Nelson'. (Note that this would later be re-named HOPALONG CASSIDY ENTERS, and become the generally accepted title for that movie.) 1935 was also the year that Republic Pictures was formed, and a singing cowboy named Gene Autry began his starring series at the new studio. The third Cassidy yarn, BAR 20 RIDES AGAIN (1935) included George Hayes as 'Windy' and is one of my favorite westerns. In film #5, THREE ON THE TRAIL (Paramount, 1936), Hayes became 'Windy Halliday' and a full-fledged member of the Hopalong Cassidy trio. Paramount may have been surprised with the enthusiastic fan response to the new series. And it rolled along quite well for the next season or two. But Ellison was being groomed for better things, and Russell Hayden replaced him beginning with HILLS OF OLD WYOMING (Paramount, 1937). Hayden had not been an actor, but was a member of the Hoppy production crew. Hayes was around through RENEGADE TRAIL (Paramount, 1939), and then left because of a salary dispute or some disagreement with Pop Sherman. Hayes immediately signed on with Republic Pictures as the sidekick to Roy Rogers and Bill Elliott ... and that's when he took on the nickname of 'Gabby'. The brief comedic replacement was Britt Wood, the downhome comic with the big hat, who really wasn't too bad as the third member of the trio. Ultimately Wood was let go, and veteran screen comedian Andy Clyde arrived, and his first appearance was in the very good THREE MEN FROM TEXAS (Paramount, 1940). Clyde continued as Hoppy's sidekick through the end of the film series in 1948. Les Adams found an interesting tidbit --- on Monday, May 20, 1940, Film Daily reported that William Boyd had broken his leg while on location filming for DOOMED CARAVAN, but production would continue with Boyd's leg in a plaster cast. Continuing the musical chairs, Hayden exited after completing the 1940-41 releases and went over to Columbia Pictures to help western hero Charles Starrett. Soon after, he was given his own oater series at Columbia. With Hayden gone, Hoppy's new assistant was Brad King, who was OK, but definitely not an Ellison or Hayden.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Who was that other masked man?For one season, in 1952, Clayton Moore was replaced as the Lone Ranger on the popular television series.For 52 episodes, John Hart dashed across the television screen as the man behind the mask.Below is a story about John Hart that I wrote in February of 2001 for the Longmont, Colorado, Daily Times-Call newspaper.
John Hart was also that masked manBy Joe SouthernThe Daily Times-CallContrary to popular belief, the Lone Ranger is not dead.Clayton Moore, the actor who played the character on television in the 1950s and who is most associated with the masked man, passed away in 1999. But there is another actor who played the Lone Ranger on TV who is very much alive and well - a man who is now the lone Lone Ranger.John Hart played the part from 1952 to 1954 on 52 episodes of the show while Moore held out in a contact dispute.Today Hart, 83, is retired and living with his wife in Warner Springs, Calif.With the exception of Klinton Spilsbury, who played the title role in the 1981 big screen flop "The Legend of the Lone Ranger," Hart is the last in a long line of men who donned the mask since the character debuted on WXYZ radio in Detroit on Jan. 30, 1933."I've dined out on it forever," Hart said recently in a telephone interview.While Hart has done numerous television and film projects, he is often most remembered as the "other" Lone Ranger."It's never bothered me at all," he said. "I went on and did 'Hawkeye' and did other things."His counterpart, however, took to the mask and played the role to the hilt."He (Moore) decided to be the Lone Ranger and he made it his job and he did it very well," Hart said.Prior to temporarily replacing Moore, Hart made two guest appearances on the show as one of the heavies opposite the masked man.After the show ended in 1957, he made two cameo appearances as the Lone Ranger on television, once on an episode of "Happy Days" in the 1970s and later in 1981 on "The Greatest American Hero."Hart's last connection to the legendary masked rider of the plains came in 1981 in the last Lone Ranger movie ever made."I worked on 'The Legend of the Lone Ranger.' I played an old editor of a Western country paper," he said.While his character was hanged by the bad guys early in the film, Hart's involvement lasted well beyond the bit part."The guy who played the Lone Ranger was such a disaster," he recalled. "Having been the Lone Ranger they got me into doing all his press conferences and stuff."Working in the lead role on the television series was enjoyable for Hart.He said he made a lot of friends through it and forged a close relationship with Jay Silverheels, who played the faithful Indian companion, Tonto, throughout the series and the two theatrical releases that followed. He was with Silverheels shortly before he died in 1980 following a series of strokes."He was a sweetheart of a person," Hart said.Work on the television series was challenging. The 52 episodes Hart did were all shot in a matter of weeks."We worked six days a week, every other week. We worked Monday through Saturday. The scripts ran 30-some pages ... We shot every (episode) in two days."I'd have anywhere from 15, 16, 17 pages of dialog to memorize. I'd get up at 5 a.m. with a cup of coffee to start memorizing my lines," he said.Being a real cowboy in his younger days, Hart was able to do things that Moore and others couldn't do, especially with the great, white horse Silver."I was very attracted to the horse, Silver. He was half Arabian and half American saddle bred," he said.He said Silver was very jumpy and difficult to ride."Clayton wouldn't ride him, the radio guy (Brace Beemer) wouldn't ride him ... I took him when I know I had the part. I took him out and rode him for a few days ... When we started shooting he was very friendly. I wore spurs, but I didn't have to spur him," he said.In revealing another little-known tidbit about the show, he said Silver and Tonto's horse, Scout, didn't get along."They hated each other, it was really funny. We'd pull up and have some dialog and the horses would start nipping at each other and dancing around," he said.To compensate for that, the saddles were placed on sawhorses for close-up scenes. "Then, they'd bring in the real horses and we'd ride out," Hart said.One of the biggest mysteries of the old '50s television show is why Hart replaced Moore in the middle of the series. Some sources say George W. Trendle, who created the character, fired Moore because he was becoming too closely associated with the Lone Ranger.But Hart subscribes to the more widely held belief that Moore, in a dispute with producer Jack Chertok, held out for more money."I have no idea (why Moore came back)," he said. "I had long been gone and happy doing other things. Clayton was bound and determined to be the Lone Ranger. I'm sure it was over money ... He (Chertok) was the cheapest guy I ever worked for."In addition to "The Lone Ranger," Hart has appeared or starred in many movies and television shows. He wore the hero's mask in "The Phantom" and had lead roles in "Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans," "Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy," and "The Adventures of Captain Africa."On television, he made numerous appearances in "Rawhide" and also showed up on such programs as "Sky King," "Sgt. Preston," "Dallas," "The Addams Family," "Leave it to Beaver," "Perry Mason," "Bat Masterson" and "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," to name a few.His first film appearance was in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Buccaneer." He went on and did several projects with DeMille."He took a liking to me and kept me on the show," Hart said.He has worked with several old Hollywood greats, including Lon Chaney Jr., who was his sidekick in "Hawkeye," and Olympian/actor Buster Crabbe."Buster and I were old friends. I knew him before the '32 Olympics," he said.He also recalled the time he had a "nice scene with Elizabeth Taylor."He said he considers his work as Hawkeye to be his favorite part."The stories were good, the thing was a wonderful show," he said.But only 39 episodes were made, despite the show's popularity, because of a dispute between the producer and the advertisers.In more recent years he has written a cookbook called "Cowboys in the Kitchen." He also sells autographed pictures for $20 each (plus $4 shipping) and is preparing to offer silver bullets and lassoes. He said he makes very few public appearances anymore ("I'm 83 and my knees have gone to hell") and is enjoying his family in retirement