The son of a day laborer, William Boyd moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he was seven. His parents died while he was in his early teens, forcing him to quit school and take such jobs as a grocery clerk, surveyor and oil field worker. He went to Hollywood in 1919, already gray-haired. His first role was as an extra in Cecil B. DeMille’s Why Change Your Wife? (1920). He bought some fancy clothes, caught DeMille’s eye and got the romantic lead in The Volga Boatman (1926), quickly becoming a matinée idol and earning upwards of $100,000 a year. However, with the end of silent movies, Boyd was without a contract, couldn’t find work and was going broke. By mistake his picture was run in a newspaper story about the arrest of another actor with a similar name (William ‘Stage’ Boyd) on gambling, liquor and morals charges, and that hurt his career even more. In 1935 he was offered the lead role in Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935) (named because of a limp caused by an earlier bullet wound). He changed the original pulp-fiction character to its opposite, made sure that “Hoppy” didn’t smoke, drink, chew tobacco or swear, rarely kissed a girl and let the bad guy draw first. By 1943 he had made 54 “Hoppies” for his original producer, Harry Sherman; after Sherman dropped the series, Boyd produced and starred in 12 more on his own. The series was wildly popular, and all recouped at least double their production costs. In 1948 Boyd, in a savvy and precedent-setting move, bought the rights to all his pictures (he had to sell his ranch to raise the money) just as TV was looking for Saturday morning Western fare. He marketed all sorts of “Hoppy” products (lunch boxes, toy guns, cowboy hats, etc.) and received royalties from comic books, radio and records. He retired to Palm Desert, California, in 1953. In 1968 he had surgery to remove a tumor from a lymph gland and from then on refused all interview and photograph requests.
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