Friday, January 11, 2013

How William Boyd turned Hopalong Cassidy into the first ’50s television craze

Hopalong Cassidy was already an established brand by the early 1950s, having appeared in books by Clarence Mulford. They were optioned for motion pictures starring Bill Boyd as Hoppy, beginning in 1936. The Hoppy of the movies was very different from the illiterate, tobacco-chewing cowhand described by Mulford, so the author took his money and in disgust at what had been done to his character washed his hands of the whole franchise.

By the end of the forties Boyd had mortgaged everything he owned to buy the rights to Hopalong Cassidy, which included 66 movies, plus the television rights, and then he created an empire. This 1950 Life article describes what he did and how he did it. I wouldn't doubt that Walt Disney, who was already a master of publicity and licensing, took careful note of Boyd’s success and duplicated it a few years later with Davy Crockett.

Boyd died in 1972, and by then the real success of Hopalong Cassidy was well behind him, but nowadays those licensed products that when new cost kids 49¢ or a buck are now high-priced collectibles.


DEMiller said...

Those that saw TV as the future did well. Lucille Ball struggled in the movies for decades doing bits on 3 Stooges films and what ever work she could get. Milton Berle would be totally forgotten if not for TV. Walt Disney saved his empire with TV. Hoppy was another one who saw the light.

Postino said...

I agree, Dave. It took people who understood the potential of TV who were the pioneers, and then everyone followed along.

What was interesting about the Hopalong Cassidy situation was that some agent long ago, before there was commercial television, added television to the rights clause of the contract with the original author and the studio. No one understood the implication but William Boyd did and it made him a fortune.