Where have all the cow­boys gone?

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - NEWS - Ted Tay­lor At Large Lis­ten to Ted Tay­lor Tues­days on from 8 a.m. to noon and Wed­nes­days 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on WRDV FM (89.3) or con­tact him at ted­tay­lor­[email protected]­cast.net.

In Jean Shep­herd’s clas­sic and fa­vorite hol­i­day book, then movie, “A Christ­mas Story,” the gift that lit­tle Ralphie wants more than any­thing else in the world is an of­fi­cial Red Ry­der BB gun. His mother, teacher and ev­ery­one else dis­suade him from this be­cause “you’ll shoot your eye out.” And then he gets it and al­most does.

But in the 1940s world of Ralphie (and many of us), cow­boys were the he­roes. They were the bea­con of good ver­sus evil, and if he got his ri­fle, he’d be able to pro­tect his fam­ily from the bad guys. Played in the movies by Wild Bill El­liott (his side kick, Lit­tle Beaver, was played by Bobby Blake), Red Ry­der orig­i­nated as a Western comic strip cre­ated by Stephen Slesinger and artist Fred Har­man. The comic, which served as the ba­sis for a wide ar­ray of char­ac­ter mer­chan­dis­ing, was syn­di­cated na­tion­ally in the Sun­day papers and then ran from 1938 through 1965.

On the cover of my au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel “The Glen­side Kid,” I am pic­tured in a Hopa­long Cas­sidy-like black cow­boy out­fit (at the ten­der age of 7). Ev­ery boy of my era prob­a­bly has a pic­ture of them­selves at­tired as a cow­boy. They were our idols, and we all wanted to grow up to be like them. We joined them most Satur­days at the mati­nees — places like the Keswick, Hi­way, York­town, Grove and Hat­boro movie houses.

Hopa­long Cas­sidy, you say; who was Hopa­long Cas­sidy? Por­trayed on the screen by sil­ver-haired ac­tor Wil­liam Boyd (and usu­ally dressed in black astride a white horse named Top­per), Hoppy rode the range in the first-run movie houses be­tween 1935 and 1948 (and then as Satur­day mati­nee fare for decades more) and on TV un­til the early ‘50s. A char­ac­ter cre­ated by western nov­el­ist Clarence E. Mul­ford, the movies adapted him from a hard-drink­ing rough­neck to a tee-to­tal­ing hero who saved, but never kissed, the damsels in dis­tress — or res­cu­ing a good man gone bad who needed his help.

Boyd was the first fa­mous TV western hero, and he be­came that icon out of ne­ces­sity. The last 12 Hoppy movies in the late ‘40s were bankrolled by Boyd him­self, but when the distrib­u­tors lost in­ter­est in his flicks — and he was run­ning out of money — he ap­proached NBC TV (in those early days they were all look­ing for pro­gram­ming) and con­vinced them to run a few of his films. They did, the films were a hit and Boyd was in busi­ness. He ac­quired the rights to all his films and then, for good mea­sure, though he was in his mid50s, suited up again and did four years’ worth of half-hour TV shows. Of course, he owned them, too. Born in Ohio, he joined the Army for World War I but was ush­ered out when they found he had a “weak heart.” The heart never was a fac­tor in the scores of rough and tum­ble ac­tion movies he filmed.

He started in films as an ac­tor in silent movies (he was born in 1895) and be­came a lead­ing man in the ‘20s. A case of mis­taken iden­tity (an­other ac­tor named Boyd was in all kinds of trou­ble with the po­lice) al­most cost him his ca­reer. But he got a chance to be Hopa-long (the orig­i­nal name) Cas­sidy, and the rest was his­tory.

Iron­i­cally, in 1952, Ce­cil B. DeMille ap­proached Boyd to star as Moses in “The Ten Com­mand­ments,” a ma­jor mo­tion pic­ture. Old Hoppy de­clined, say­ing peo­ple would see Moses but think of Cas­sidy. He was sure that his im­age was that dom­i­nant as a cow­boy. Next choice for DeMille, the leg­endary Charl­ton He­ston.

In the early Cas­sidy films, a young ac­tor named Bob Mitchum fre­quently ap­peared — some­times as a good guy, some­times as a bad­die. In a few early films, Ge­orge Reeves (later TV’s Su­per­man) was one of his side­kicks. Rus­sell Hayden, who played Lucky Jenk­ins, was his reg­u­lar part­ner, and Gabby Hayes or Andy Clyde pro­vided comic re­lief.

Speak­ing of cow­boys, I read re­cently that the Roy Rogers Mu­seum in Branson, Mo., had closed. Darn. It was a place I al­ways wanted to visit. Roy (aka Leonard Slye) was my all-time fa­vorite. Back ear­lier in my ca­reer, I trav­eled fre­quently to Cal­i­for­nia and al­ways said I’d visit the Rogers mu­seum (then lo­cated in Vic­torville). But I said it, never did it. They say Roy, him­self, would ride over to the mu­seum al­most daily (in a golf cart, not on his Golden Palamino Trig­ger) and greet vis­i­tors. Roy’s son, Roy Jr. (or Dusty, as we fans knew him), fre­quented the sec­ond mu­seum and fre­quently sang some of Roy’s songs there. Roy’s grand­son, Dustin, heeded Grand­pop’s wishes when he sold.

Roy, known as “The King of the Cow­boys,” had said that if the mu­seum stopped draw­ing peo­ple, stopped mak­ing money, they should close it and sell the ar­ti­facts. So they did. Roy’s horse (stuffed, of course) brought $266,000 when the things were sold. Also bring­ing good prices were Dale Evans’s (Mrs. Roy) horse But­ter­milk and their Ger­man shep­herd dog, Bul­let. Nelly Bell, his Jeep, went high, too. There was no truth to the ru­mor that Roy and Dale were stuffed and also on dis­play there.

Gene Autry was the other one of the big three stars — with Roy and Hoppy — and a shrewd busi­ness­man who was a multi-mil­lion­aire when he died (he owned the Cal­i­for­nia An­gels base­ball team, ra­dio and TV sta­tions and other things), pretty good for a guy dis­cov­ered as a rail­road tele­graph op­er­a­tor who could sing a lit­tle and play the gui­tar.

As kids, we looked up to those men and oth­ers — Johnny Mack Brown, Ed­die Dean, Don “Red” Barry, Lash LaRue, Charles Star­rett, Monte Hale, Alan “Rocky” Lane, Buck Jones, Ran­dolph Scott, Tex Rit­ter, Sun­set Car­son, Tim Holt and, yes, John Wayne. And there were so many more.

I hear that Red Ry­der BB Guns can still be pur­chased. Maybe some kid you know might want one for Christ­mas. Yippee ki-yay! Don’t let them shoot their eye out.

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