Bill “Hopalong” Cassidy is perhaps one of the most popular fictional characters in American western literature history. Hoppy was created by a shy, quiet, Illinois-born writer named Clarence E. Mulford, who began his writing odyssey in the early 1900s.
Clarence E. Mulford Born in Streator, Illinois
Clarence Edward Mulford was born in Streator, Illinois, on February 3, 1883, the son of Clarence Cohansey Mulford and Minnie Grace (Kline) Mulford. In 1889 Mulford and his parents departed Streator and headed to Brooklyn, New York. Although young Clarence was only six-years-old at the time, the move to Brooklyn seemed like a journey in the wrong direction, for the future novelist’s attention was being drawn to what was happening in the West, namely cattle drives, homesteading and occasional skirmishes with hostile Indians.
Upon graduating from high school in New York, Mulford began a career in civil service. After reading Owen Wister’s classic western novel The Virginian, Mulford’s interest in the Old West was rekindled. So great was Mulford’s fascination with the Old West that he began compiling a personal library comprised of books and card notes dealing with all aspects of western Americana.
Clarence E. Mulford: Outing Magazine and Bar-20
In 1906 Mulford’s insatiable interest in the West led to his entering a short story contest sponsored by Metropolitan Magazine. Mulford’s cowboy entry tied for first prize and the civil servant-turned-author entertained high hopes of becoming successful in the western genre. Following his writing debut, Mulford had several western stories published in Casper Whitney’s Outing Magazine. The stories were eventually pieced together, edited and then packaged under the novel Bar-20, published by Outing in 1907.
With the appearance of Bar-20 – a title derived from the ranch where the man characters worked – many readers were introduced for the first time to Bill “Hopalong” Cassidy, described as Mulford as an “illiterate, tobacco-chewin’, hard drinkin’, able-swearin’ son of the Old West.”
In a later book titled The Coming of Cassidy and Others, published by the A.C. McClurg Company of Chicago in 1913, Mulford related the story of how Cassidy was wounded by a bullet in the thigh and thus acquired a noticeable limp and a colorful nickname. “And from this on,” wrote Mulford, “up to the time he died, and after, we will forsake ‘Bill’ and speak of him as Hopalong Cassidy, a cowpuncher who lived and worked in the days when the West was wild and rough and lawless; and who, like others, through the medium of the only court at hand, Judge Colt, enforced justice as he believed it should be enforced.”
Clarence E. Mulford Writes 28 Hopalong Cassidy/Bar-20 Novels
Following the debut of Bar-20, Outing published Mulford’s next novel titled The Orphan in 1908. “With the plains as a habitat, clumps of chaparral to hide in, cowboys to hunt him down and Apache bands to match his deadly aim, the Orphan, outlaw and terror of Ford’s Station, is the fascinating hero of this tale…There is plenty of wild west adventure which mingle with the dust and heat of the plains,” reported The New York Times (4/11/08).
In 1910 Clarence Mulford changed his publishing affiliation from Outing to the A.C. McClurg Company, headquartered in Chicago. Hopalong Cassidy, published in 1910, became the first Mulford book released under the auspices of McClurg. Mulford stayed with the Windy City company for 13 years, publishing during that time the following novels: Bar-20 Days (1911), Buck Peters, Ranchman (1912), The Coming of Cassidy and Others (1913), The Man from Bar-20 (1918), Johnny Nelson (1920), The Bar-20 Three (1921), Tex (1922) and Bring Me His Ears (1922).
Mulford’s novels, like the Old West itself, were violent in nature. Said the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican in a January 24, 1921, review of The Bar-20 Three: “This story would not improbably take any prize which might be awarded for the maximum amount of gun play, gunpowder, murder and sudden death.”
In 1923 Clarence Mulford once again switched his publishing affiliation, ditching A.C. McClurg in favor of Doubleday of New York. Black Buttes, published in 1923, became Mulford’s first book for Doubleday. His subsequent Doubleday titles were Rustlers’ Valley (1924), Hopalong Cassidy Returns (1924), Cottonwood Gulch (1925), Hopalong Cassidy’s Protege (1926), The Bar-20 Rides Again (1926), Corson of the JC (1927), Mesquite Jenkins (1928), Me an’ Shorty (1929), The Deputy Sheriff (1930), Hopalong Cassidy and the Eagle’s Brood (1931), Mesquite Jenkins, Tumbleweed (1932), The Round-Up (1933), Trail Dust (1934), On the Trail of the Tumbling T (1935), Hopalong Cassidy Takes Cards (1937) and Hopalong Cassidy Serves a Writ (1941).
Hoplaong Cassidy Movies
In 1924 the Fox Corporation purchased the screen rights to Mulford’s novel The Orphan and released a silent film that same year titled The Deadwood Coach, which starred America’s number one cowboy star at the time, the incomparable Tom Mix. By 1935 Mulford, tiring of the rigors of writing, met film producer Harry Sherman to discuss a deal concerning his Hopalong Cassidy character. Mulford and Sherman converged in a Brooklyn saloon and, after a few drinks, agreed to a contract (reportedly signed on a piece of toilet paper) which gave Mulford a 5% royalty on all future Hopalong Cassidy/Bar-20 films.
Soon after the contract was signed, Paramount Pictures released the movie version of Hopalong Cassidy on August 23, 1935, starring a former Hollywood extra named William Boyd in the title role. Interestingly, Boyd was not Sherman’s first choice to play Hopalong, as he preferred the actor in the role of Bar-20 ranch foreman Buck Peters.
The movie-going public found Hopalong Cassidy to their taste, with Paramount Pictures and United Artists releasing a total of 66 Hopalong Cassidy films from 1935 to 1948. Among the dusty entries were Hopalong Cassidy Returns (1936), Bar 20 Justice (1938), Hidden Gold (1940), Twilight of the Trail (1941), Hoppy Serves a Writ (1942), Mystery Man (1944), Hoppy’s Holiday (1947) and Strange Gamble (1948).
William Boyd: Hopalong Cassidy on Radio and Television
William Boyd (1895-1972), the white-haired actor who had shrewdly acquired the television rights to all 66 Hopalong Cassidy films, brought Mulford’s character to television on June 24, 1949. The television series originally featured 30- and 60-minute episodes edited from the original movies. The series, which ended its run in 1954, proved to be so popular that Boyd filmed an additional 52 episodes from 1951-52. The popularity of the television series led to the establishment of a Hopalong Cassidy radio series, which debuted over the Mutual Radio Network on January 1, 1950. The radio version of Hoppy ended in 1952 as television geared up as the country’s number one electronic medium.
Hopalong Cassidy proved to be one of the most frantic crazes of the 20th century.
William Boyd, who was perhaps a better businessman than actor, capitalized immediately on the popularity of Hopalong by licensing companies to produce a plethora of Hoppy items which were eagerly scooped up by youthful fans of the era. Comic books, toy six-shooters, puzzles, cowboy outfits, watches, bread labels, pocketknives, hats, penny banks, games, hair lotion, lunch boxes, cards, wallets, radios, records and you name it were just some of the Hopalong Cassidy items produced in the 1950s which bore the familiar logo “Copyright Wm. Boyd.”
The Hopalong Cassidy craze proved to be so popular that Life magazine felt compelled to report on the phenomenon in a June 12, 1950, cover story titled “Hopalong Hits the Jackpot.” Life was certainly not alone it its coverage, as Look, TV Digest, Quick, TV Guide and other magazines ran their own cover stories on the galloping Hoppy craze.
Clarence E. Mulford Dies in 1956
After signing the movie deal with Harry Sherman in 1935, Clarence Mulford became content with living in Fryeburg, Maine, and collecting his 5% royalty on the Hoppy/Bar 20 films. Mulford authored only two more Hopalong Cassidy novels, Hopalong Cassidy Takes Cards (1937) and Hopalong Cassidy Serves a Writ (1941), following the film deal.
With the retirement of Clarence Mulford in the early 1940s, Doubleday hired a young writer named Louis L’Amour to write four Hopalong Cassidy novels. Using the pseudonym Tex Burns, L’Amour delivered Rustlers of West Fork, Trail to Seven Pines, Riders of High Rock and Trouble Shooter, all of which were published by Doubleday in 1951. Louis L’Amour, of course, later became one of the literary giants in western fiction.
Clarence Mulford had married Eva Emily Wilkinson in 1920. She died in 1933. Mulford himself passed away on May 10, 1956, in Portland, Maine, following complications from surgery.
U.S. Television Office, Inc. now owns all rights to the 66 Hopalong Cassidy motion pictures and 52 original television episodes, having purchased said rights from the William Boyd Estate, William Boyd Enterprises, the Clarence E. Mulford Estate and the Clarence E. Mulford Trust. U.S. Television Office, Inc. also owns all rights to the published Hopalong Cassidy novels and short stories created by Clarence Mulford. Sagebrush Entertainment, Inc., located in Tarzana, California, is in charge of all Hopalong Cassidy licensing.
Hopalong Cassidy was truly one of a kind, cowboy fans…