Monday, September 27, 2010

The woman who loved Hopalong Cassidy

During the summer I bought a DVD that featured three of the films made by George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Although I much admire Burns and Allen, my main reason for buying the DVD was “Six of a Kind,” a 1934 film from Paramount that also featured W.C. Fields and Charlie Ruggles and was directed by the legendary Leo McCarey.

After watching and enjoying “Six of a Kind” (which is perhaps most notable for the scene in which a sheriff portrayed by Fields plays a game of pool while recounting the story of how he became known as, um, “Honest John”), I consulted the indispensable Internet Movie Database to look up some of the film’s other, lesser-known actors.

A character named Goldie – the girlfriend of an embezzler – was played by someone named Grace Bradley. I looked up her bio and found that I had indeed seen her before.

And she turned up again earlier this month in “The Gilded Lily,” a 1935 Paramount film I wrote about earlier this month.

Grace Bradley died last week. Her married name was Grace Boyd.

I’d first seen her some years ago while I was flipping channels, killing time before going out somewhere.

I stumbled upon an Encore Westerns documentary titled “Hopalong Cassidy: Public Hero #1.”

Hopalong Cassidy was a big deal back in the 1950s, when I was growing up, though I don’t believe I’d ever seen a Hopalong Cassidy movie. But what the heck, I thought, this is as good a way as any to kill some time.

Turned out I was right, to put it mildly.

The documentary, narrated by Dennis Weaver, told the story of William Boyd, who played Cassidy. In the 1920s Boyd had been a big star, and off screen he was at least somewhat of a playboy with a taste for the high life.

Then his career went off course, through no fault of his own: An actor with the same name had gotten into some well-publicized trouble, and the confusion caused by this coincidence all but killed Boyd’s career.

He was eventually able to pick up the pieces when he got the part of Cassidy, and he also decided to clean up his personal life, too.

Eventually he met a young actress who’d had a crush on him ever since she was a 12-year-old moviegoer who’d seen him on the screen. According to The Orange County Register, he proposed three days after their first date, and they were together until he died in 1972.

That woman was, of course, Grace Bradley.

Boyd played Cassidy in a slew of movies, then took a big financial risk and bought the rights to the character so he could make his own movies. When TV came in, he cashed in big time.

The image of Boyd as Hoppy appeared on a lot of products – but it’s said that Boyd was very careful about which products he endorsed. For although he and Grace never had any children of their own, he felt a responsibility toward Hoppy’s fans.

I especially remember Grace because of her appearance in the documentary. She must have been at least in her late eighties.

The main reason I remember her and that documentary, and one of the reasons I highly recommend it if Encore Westerns ever repeats it, is one sequence in which she recalls the first time she and Boyd ever dated. In recounting this, she suddenly tears up.

I defy anyone to watch that sequence without getting teary-eyed along with her.

And although I still feel no great compulsion to seek out any Hopalong Cassidy movies, I can’t help wishing I’d known Grace and Bill, two classy people who lived an exemplary life of quiet dignity, unblemished by scandal or sanctimony.

If that isn't a winning scenario, I don't know what is.

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