The Radio and the Actor
BY JACK GRAY
The image of Hopalong Cassidy on his white horse has been around for so long that it is almost an American icon. The popularity of Hopalong from the 1930s through the 1950s and even beyond made him a natural to be incorporated into the design of a radio in this period of the medium's greatest growth. Jack Gray brings us that story, and, as his A.R.C. ad says, he has now made replacement panel foils for the radio available. (Editor)
The Arvin Model 441-T or "Hopalong Cassidy" radio, originally priced at $16.95, was manufactured in 1950 using two styles of embossed, paper-backed, aluminum foil fronts. One "Hoppy" front shows his horse Topper rearing with both forelegs in the air, as shown in Figure 1. The other style, shown in Figure 2, has Topper with one foot on the ground and the other in the air. The Topper with two legs in the air version was the earliest design and was ordered by Arvin on February 22, 1950.
However, this front design had not been reviewed and approved by William Boyd, the actor who had bought the rights to the Hopalong Cassidy character after having played the role in several films. My information indicates that Boyd felt that this pose could be considered animal cruelty, and he had the design redone.
Figure 1. The original foil-faced cabinet front shows Hoppy's horse Topper with both forelegs in the air.
The revised design foil with Topper standing with one foot in the air was approved by Boyd and was ordered by Arvin on August 21, 1950. Having followed sales of these radios for several years and having personally restored quite a few of them, I believe that there is little difference in scarcity, value, or desirability between these two styles today.
William Lawrence Boyd was born in Cambridge, Guernsey Co., Ohio, on June 5, 1895. He moved with his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1902, and to California around 1918.
By the 1920s, William Boyd had already starred in several silent films. He made his first cowboy feature in 1931 and his first Hopalong Cassidy movie in 1935. It was "Hoppy," derived from the novels and pulp stories by C.E. Mulford, who would come to define the Ohio native's career. Always dressed in black and decked out with silver spurs, he rode his trusty horse "Topper" and became the leading character in many "B" movies.
Figure 2. This modified design showing Topper with only one foreleg in the air was produced at William Boyd's request.
The "Hopalong" moniker came about due to Cassidy's being injured in a shootout. In Hop-A-Long Cassidy (Paramount,1935), the first film of the series, Boyd/Hoppy is recovering from a gunfight, and is asked about his wound. His response is something like "I'll manage to hop along."
In 1937, William Boyd married Grace Bradley (his fifth wife), and at the same time, he acquired a new white stallion. He asked his new wife to name the horse. At the time, Grace was reading a series of books by Thorne Smith, and the series was called "Topper." Thus, Grace asked Bill to name the horse after her favorite book, and that's how Topper got his name.
William Boyd and Grace remained married until his death in 1972 at the age of 77. Grace is 93 and lives in southern California. She participated in the 16th annual Hopalong Cassidy Festival in Cambridge, Ohio, in May 2004. I found that she had logged on to her "My Space" blog today (1/28/2007), while I was writing this article.
Boyd bought the rights to the Hopalong Cassidy character in 1948. He released edited versions of the films (totaling more than 100 by the time he retired) to the then young medium of television, first through KTLA in Los Angeles and then nationwide through NBC. Additional new episodes were shot as well, with Hoppy's popularity increasing all the while.
Figure 3. The "new old stock" foil designs available from Jack Gray.
Hopalong Cassidy sagas were also on the radio from 1950 to 1952. A long-running Hopalong Cassidy comic book series, published by Fawcett, added to this marketing success story.
In fact, Hopalong Cassidy merchandising was more than successful and varied in scope. Pajamas, bicycles, watches, toy guns, cowboy hats, cowboy outfits, candy bars, pocket knives, bread, butter, cookies, milk, other food products, toothpaste, wallpaper, and literally thousands of other items were produced for his adoring public. My research shows that Hopalong endorsed some 2,400 items, many of which are still being marketed today.
Foil Fronts Available
I have recently purchased the remaining new old stock of the foil fronts in both styles originally ordered and used by Arvin in manufacturing the Hopalong Cassidy radios. Since they are relatively thin aluminum pressings, the majority of the existing Hoppy radios have become damaged or have pieces missing from the foils.
The paper-backed 441T foils, either style, may be ordered at $125 each, shipping included, from me at the address below.
(Jack Gray, 1162 Broadmoor Dr., Napa, CA 94558. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jack Gray received a BSEE in Electrical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and served in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Electronics Technician. He has been actively collecting and restoring radios as a hobby for over 30 years.