Back in the black and white fifties, shortly after we got that first 12-inch television set, which was squeezed into a big cabinet alongside a record player that popped out when you opened a door, the first network Western appeared on broadcast TV: Hopalong Cassidy, and it was a sensation, a phenomenon of mass marketing. Not until Roy Rogers and Davy Crockett hit the screen did so many businesses make so much money off we little tykes. They had Hopalong cap guns and holsters, Hopalong watches, Hopalong bicycles, and the first kid's tin lunchbox depicting a hero.
Hoppy (only his friends could call him that), played by William Boyd on TV and in 66 feature films, got his unusual nickname in an early Western novel when he got shot in the leg. In the original novels, he was a whisker-stubbled, rag-wearing bad-ass with a moral mission, like Bruce Willis with a hangover, but they cleaned him up and gave him a dude outfit for the show, where he drank only sarsaparilla, reputed to be a healthy soft drink that could fight all kinds of ailments including venereal disease, similar to the original Coca-cola.
In the photo above, you can see the result: a trio of Hopalongs, complete with Hopalong T-shirts and sidearms. I'm the big guy on the left, followed by Raymond then Jimmy. You can tell by our trigger fingers that Jimmy had not yet made the connection between a trigger and shooting a gun, but he sure could shoot.
A lot of gunfights took place in that house. It was the only Wild West we had to tame, to rid the territory of bank robbers, cattle rustlers and horse thieves, get them behind bars if not dead on the range. The sound of gunfire shook the house as we imitated the sound coming from the single, over-driven speaker of that antique TV, more like the sound of a steam locomotive, tchoo tchoo tchoo, since we had never actually heard a real gun fired. The only variation was when one of our imaginary bullets bounced off a rock, tchoo-ptching. We ran, hid, jumped, shouted, and climbed all over the terrain, which included huge boulders (couch and armchairs), giant cactus (floor lamp), and we even charged up to the high plains (the stairs), where we plotted in the bunkhouse (our bedroom) for the assault on the bad guys.
We watered our horses down at the creek (the kitchen sink), got some grub and quenched our own thirst with tall glasses of water laced with multiple spoonfuls from the sugar bowl, which later elicited a reprimand from parents brandishing the empty bowl. But, thus re-charged in the kitchen, we once again rode rough-shod through the rooms, urging our invisible mounts into a gallop with whoops and hollers.
Meanwhile, our older sister, Loretta, barricaded herself in her bedroom to tear her hair out--when she wasn't begging our parents to have us all publicly hanged in the center of Deadwood Gulch. We had gotten glimpses of that forbidden feminine sanctuary by crowding shoulder to shoulder on the threshold and craning our necks, jaws open at the sight of the mind-boggling neatness of the place, but, in front of the closed door, with periodic screams coming from the interior, we "figurred" it was nothing less than a damsel in distress, probably a pretty schoolmarm who needed protection from the kidnappers. We posted Jimmy to guard the door because he was the easiest to order around, although he would have difficulty staying focused when he heard the gunfire down in the canyon.
After a few hours of combating evil, my mother would call us back to civilization--dinner, where Loretta could take advantage of mandatory table manners to beg our parents to get us under control as she stared with equal disgust at her three younger brothers and the canned peas on one side of her dinner plate.
"Okay, boys," I'd say, holstering my gun--always in charge of the Hopalongs, "Let's get some grub."