William Boyd (actor)
Boyd in Chicago (circa 1950)
June 5, 1895|
Belmont County, Ohio. U.S.
|Died||September 12, 1972
Laguna Beach, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||complications from Parkinson's disease and heart failure|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery|
(m. 1917–1921; divorced)
(m. 1921–1924; divorced)
(m. 1926–1929; divorced)
(m. 1930–1936; divorced)
(m. 1937–1972; his death)
Boyd was born in Hendrysburg in Belmont County, located 26 miles east of Cambridge, Ohio. He was reared in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the son of day laborer Charles William Boyd and his wife, the former Lida Wilkens. Following his father's death, he moved to California and worked as an orange picker, surveyor, tool dresser and auto salesman.
In Hollywood, he found extra work in Why Change Your Wife? and other films. During World War I, he enlisted in the army but was exempt because of a "weak heart". More prominent film roles followed, and he became famous as a leading man in silent film romances, earning an annual salary of $100,000. He was the lead actor in Cecil B. DeMille's The Volga Boatman (1926) and DeMille's extravaganza, The King of Kings, helping Christ carry the cross as Simon of Cyrene and also in DeMille's Skyscraper. He then appeared in D.W. Griffith's, Lady of the Pavements (1929).
Radio Pictures ended Boyd's contract in 1931 when his picture was mistakenly run in a newspaper story about the arrest of another actor, William "Stage" Boyd, on gambling and liquor charges. Having been reckless with his money, Boyd was broke and without a job, and for a few years he was credited in several films as "Bill Boyd" to prevent being mistaken for his actor namesake.
In 1935, he was offered the supporting role of Red Connors in the movie Hop-Along Cassidy, but asked to be considered for the title role and won it. The original Hopalong Cassidy character, written by Clarence E. Mulford for pulp fiction, was changed from a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler to its eventual incarnation as a cowboy hero who did not smoke, swear, or drink alcohol (his drink of choice being sarsaparilla) and who always let the bad guy start the fight. Although Boyd "never branded a cow or mended a fence, cannot bulldog a steer", and disliked Western music, he became indelibly associated with the Hopalong character and, like rival cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, gained lasting fame in the Western film genre.
The films were more polished and impressive than the usual low-budget "program westerns." The Hopalong Cassidy adventures usually boasted superior outdoor photography of scenic locations, and "name" supporting players familiar from major Hollywood films. Big-city theaters, which usually wouldn't play westerns, noticed the high quality of the productions and gave the series more exposure than other cowboy films could hope for. Paramount Pictures released the films through 1941, then United Artists handled them from 1943.
Producer Harry "Pop" Sherman wanted to make more ambitious epics and abandoned the Hopalong Cassidy franchise. William Boyd, determined to keep it alive, produced the last 12 Cassidy features himself on noticeably lower budgets. By this time, interest in the character had waned and, with far fewer theaters still showing the films, the series died a quiet death in 1948.
Boyd insisted on buying the rights to all of the Hopalong Cassidy films. Harry Sherman no longer cared about the property -- he thought both the films and the star were played out -- and regarded Boyd's all-consuming interest with skepticism. Boyd was so single-minded about his mission that he sold or mortgaged almost everything he owned to meet Sherman's price of $350,000 for the rights and the film backlog.
In 1948 Boyd, now regarded as a washed-up cowboy star and with his fortunes at their lowest ebb, brought a print of one of his older pictures to the local NBC television station, and offered it at a nominal rental, hoping for new exposure. The film was received so well that NBC asked for more, and within months Boyd released the entire library to the national network, where they became extremely popular and began the long-running genre of Westerns on television. Boyd's desperate gamble paid off, making him the first national TV star and restoring his personal fortune. Like Rogers and Autry, Boyd licensed much merchandise, including such products as Hopalong Cassidy watches, trash cans, cups, dishes, Topps trading cards, a comic strip, comic books, cowboy outfits, home-movie digests of his Paramount releases via Castle Films, and a new Hopalong Cassidy radio show, which ran from 1948 to 1952.
The actor identified with his character, often dressing as a cowboy in public. Although Boyd's portrayal of Hopalong made him very wealthy, he believed that it was his duty to help strengthen his "friends" – America's youth. The actor refused to license his name for products he viewed as unsuitable or dangerous, and turned down personal appearances at which his "friends" would be charged admission.
Boyd appeared as Hopalong Cassidy on the cover of numerous national magazines, including the August 29, 1950 issue of Look and the November 27, 1950 issue of Time. For Thanksgiving in 1950, he led the Carolinas' Carrousel Parade in Charlotte, North Carolina and drew an estimated crowd of 500,000 persons, the largest in the parade's history.[better source needed]
Boyd had a cameo as himself in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 circus epic, The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille reportedly asked Boyd to take the role of Moses in his remake, The Ten Commandments, but Boyd felt his identification with the Cassidy character would make it impossible for audiences to accept him as Moses.
Boyd was married five times, first to Laura Maynard and then to actresses Ruth Miller, Elinor Fair, Dorothy Sebastian and Grace Bradley. A son, by third wife Fair, died aged 9 months. Following his retirement from the screen, Boyd invested both his time and money in real estate and moved to Palm Desert, California. He refused interviews and photographs in later years, preferring not to disillusion his millions of fans who remembered him as their screen idol.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1734 Vine Street. In 1995, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The inner sleeve of the original American Pie album by Don McLean featured a free verse poem written by McLean about Boyd along with a picture of Boyd in full Hopalong regalia. This sleeve was removed within a year of the album's release. The words to this poem appear on a plaque at the hospital where Boyd died.
At his death in 1972, he was survived by his fifth wife, actress Grace Bradley Boyd, who died on September 21, 2010, on her 97th birthday.
- William Boyd at Find a Grave
- Obituary Variety, September 20, 1972.
- Hall, Joan H. (1996). Through the Doors of the Mission Inn. Riverside, CA: Highgrove Press. pp. 113–116. ISBN 0-9631618-2-2.
He found a part-time job at the Mission Inn and enjoyed showing the guests some of the scenic sights in Riverside.
- "Kiddies in the Old Corral" Time, 27 November 1950.
- "Tele Topics" (PDF). Radio Daily. June 13, 1950. p. 7. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Pp. 328-330.
- Reed, Robert. "Bubble gum cards brought big fun in their day", Antique Trader, July 16, 2008.
- Carolinas' Carrousel Parade history (accessed 2014-03-29).
- Galveston Daily News, September 14, 1972, p. 8
- Boyd, Grace Bradley and Cochran, Michael (2008) Hopalong Cassidy: An American Legend Gemstone, York, Pennsylvania, ISBN 978-1-60360-066-8