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Clarence Edward Mulford was born on February 3rd, 1883 in Streator, Illinois.
Mulford created the world famous character Hopalong Cassidy whilst working as a 21 year old Brooklyn City Hall Clerk - almost as far from the American West as it is possible to get and still be in America.
For Mulford his city location, thousands of miles from any hint of the rugged wild west, was not a problem as much of the detail in the world he created and the characters who sprang to life from the pages of his work came from detailed research.
The landscape of Hopalong Cassidy and the folk from the Bar-20 Ranch are familiar to most people the world over. He is the identikit hero, the true American hero and the romantic mythology that helped springboard the novels into radio shows, dozens of feature films, TV series down the decades as well as comic books and that, of course, would keep the original novels and short stories in print.
However the character you see on screen is a sanitized version of what Hollywood, and the actor William Boyd, who played Hopalong, wanted you to see – a homogenised, clean living, ever dependable and reliable man. A role model.
In reading these books you’ll come across something altogether different. Here you will find the original Hopalong Cassidy; a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler who would sometimes pepper his sentences with ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ and was much closer to the characters of the real West even if his expletives seem mild today.
Mulford’s talents would soon extend beyond Hopalong to include other Westerns hero’s beginning with Johnny Nelson in 1920. From there he used his talents and growing reputation to help sales of his non-fiction on, of course, the American West as well as the great outdoors and motoring.
Following complications from surgery Clarence E. Mulford died in Portland, Maine on May 10th, 1956.
The development of Hopalong Cassidy from pulp fiction western character to film and TV star is a wonderful case study. By the time Hopalong was ready for the movies, in 1935, Mulford had almost finished writing about him.
In Hollywood they were just beginning. The actor William Boyd was to be auditioned as a sideman but instead he sought, and received, the starring role. The film was an instant hit. In all sixty six films were made by 1948. It was a phenomenal output but was fuelled by an audience hungry for more of their hero, for their own escape from the troubled times America found herself in.
Boyd could see that after so many films it must, at some point, end. But he could also see something else approaching as films disappeared into the sunset. That something was the black and white box that was beginning to grow in number throughout the homes of America. He now spent $350,000 to purchase the rights to Hopalong Cassidy including the books and films.
In 1949 he released the films to the infant television industry and so began the rise of Westerns as a staple of mid-century TV fare (this was also the time of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers). TV series quickly followed as well as radio shows.
Hopalong Cassidy was now in pretty much every living room in America even though his silver screen days were behind him.
To add to this branded merchandise was now launched on the unsuspecting pockets of American parents as their kids clamoured to be all things ‘cowboy’. Everything from watches to trash cans, cups, dishes, trading cards, comic strips and books and, of course, Hopalong Cassidy cowboy outfits.
Ironically from this Mulford became moderately wealthy even though the Hopalong that everyone knew was the safe and clean version promoted by a now very wealthy, and astute, William Boyd.