Sometime in the 1950s, I remember donning my Hopalong Cassidy black hat, wrapping my official Hoppy kerchief around my neck, and threading the kerchief through the shiny tin “longhorn” ring to hold it in place while I headed back to elementary school after the Christmas break.
What a sight I must have been. A pair of six-guns with genuine white plastic handles weighed down my pants from each hip. In fact the guns, loaded with caps, caused me to have to tug up on my jeans every few steps. It’s a sad reality today, that a kid going to school dressed that way would cause the school to be placed in instant lockdown, while the Department of Social Services would be immediately notified. Every teacher at the school would go home and tell a spouse about the crazy kid who terrified the classrooms that day. How times have changed.
But all we were doing, in our innocent bliss, was the best we could to emulate our heroes. These heroes, you see, were none other than the straight-shooting cowboys who starred in the afternoon TV shows in those early days of television. Cowboys like the Lone Ranger and his pal Tonto, Wild Bill Hickok and Jingles, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, and my favorite, Hopalong Cassidy, taught us about treating people fairly, and how to deal squarely with the villains of the world. Somehow in those days violence, though almost always present, was never graphic. A bullet didn’t cause blood, and the heroes always recovered quickly.
“I’ll be alright, Sam. He just winged me.”
And sure enough – once the hero’s arm was placed in a sling, the recovery was fast and certain. Within a week, the hero would be drawing his shooting iron as fast as a lightning streak, blasting the guns out of the hands of scoundrels before they could even aim.
Hopalong Cassidy, in the earlier films, was a tough and reckless character, quick with his fists and his guns, and his speech reflected the rough dialect of the western range. But, as the movies progressed, the later Hoppy, always portrayed by William Boyd, became more refined, and used less of the backwoods vernacular. Though his sidekicks would often use colloquial speech, Hoppy’s “ain’t’s” disappeared. It was as if the producers of the show and Boyd began to understand and respect the influence that the Hopalong Cassidy character had on the young people in the audience, and purposefully provided a more positive role model. Needless to say, partly because of the young audience and partially because of a time of more strict oversight by censors, Hoppy would never, ever consider using profanity.
The people who inhabited the old West – at least according to many of the western movies – were divided into three groups. There were a large segment of lawless thieves and crooks who didn’t have time to hold down a job because they were constantly devising schemes to cheat and rob honest people. These honest people were usually the hardworking rancher families who toiled from sunup to sunset, but who didn’t have a clue as to how to protect themselves from the lawless. And the third group was the “good guys,” still another bunch who didn’t hold steady jobs, but who stayed busy rescuing the naive ranchers from the lawless.
Hoppy’s job each week was to protect those who were unable to protect themselves in this virtually lawless western prairie, and try to teach the lawbreakers a lesson that may help them to “see the light” one day. True, most of these crooks were obstinate reprobates who would only show up in another week or two attempting to cheat some other poor, innocent rancher, but their continued misdeeds simply provided more work for Hoppy and his sidekicks.
As far as my classmates and I were concerned, William Boyd was Hopalong Cassidy. No other actor ever portrayed the cowboy who had the ability to ride his horse, Topper, for days and days over the dusty range and arrive as clean as if he had been riding down a paved boulevard in an air-conditioned limousine. But, to a ten-year-old, that was not even something to be noticed.
In the late 1940s, Boyd sold the ranch, literally, and bought the exclusive rights to Hopalong Cassidy. His new company, Hopalong Cassidy Productions, proceeded to make 12 more Hopalong Cassidy movies for a grand total of 66, and sold episodes to radio and – in an incredible example of perfect timing – the new-fangled television. In addition, he sold licensed memorabilia such as watches, ring-hooks for kerchiefs (wish I still had mine!), dishes, lunchboxes, and on and on. Of course these items are worth far more today than anyone ever dreamed of in the ’50s.
Even now, DVDs featuring the Hopalong Cassidy movies continue to be popular. Considering that many of the early fans are reaching retirement age, the Hoppy films, now 60 to 70 years old, have had a lot of “staying power.”
I have to wonder how many of the blood-strewn, profanity-laced popular movies of today will be able to make that same claim.