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Hats Off to Hopalong : Widow Saw to It the Dress Was Western, the Mood Nostalgic at a South Coast Medical Benefit Saluting Her Husband's Life

October 05, 1995

On their wedding day--three weeks to the day after they met in 1937--Grace Bradley wore a floral printed chiffon dress and flowers in her hair, and William (Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd dropped the cowboy duds in favor of a dark business suit.

From that day until his death from a brain tumor in 1972, Grace and "Hoppy" were only apart two days. His 100th birthday and their 35-year marriage were celebrated Saturday at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom to benefit South Coast Medical Center.

The invitation for the Winners Circle Charity Ball called for Western black-tie attire. Grace Boyd, 82, who has been a longtime volunteer at the Laguna Beach hospital, wore a black outfit she designed: a long, suede, fringed skirt with a matching stole wrapped around her waist, a silver-studded belt, a sequined top and a bolero with silk tassels.

Along with her other jewelry--a rhinestone and pearl choker, a diamond necklace and earrings made from rhinestones--Grace wore a St. Christopher medal of carved gold and pearls. On the back, inscribed in her husband's handwriting, was, "Thank you my darling for 'Hoppy.' " Boyd gave her the pendant in the early '50s. The Monarch Beach resident says her husband credited her for his success as the cowboy star.

William Lawrence Boyd was a leading man in Cecil B. DeMille silent movies in the '20s but became a household name in the '30s and '40s when posses of kids and their parents would attend Saturday matinees to see the silver-haired hero protect the Bar 20 Ranch on Topper, his white horse.

He made 66 Hopalong Cassidy movies between 1935 and 1948, which ran on NBC in the '50s. The response was so great, he made 40 shows for TV that ran from 1952-54.

Grace says she loved Boyd since she was a 12-year-old in Brooklyn. In the mid-'30s, she was a dancer in Manhattan when Paramount called her to Hollywood for an audition. When she met Boyd in 1937 through a mutual friend, she was 23 and still living with her mother, and he was 42 and a four-time divorce.

They married on a Saturday in Beverly Hills, honeymooned on his 40-acre ranch outside of Malibu and traveled to Lone Pine on Sunday so he could complete filming a movie.

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Boyd retired from movies in 1953, and the couple spent summers in Dana Point the last 13 years of his life. Grace continues to be active at the hospital where he died, teaching tai chi.

The 300 guests who attended Saturday's event saw a rare showing of the original Hopalong Cassidy film, "Hop-A-Long Cassidy," which was released in 1935, as well as 100 pieces of Hoppy memorabilia from the private collections of Dave Brobeck and US Television, which owns the rights to Hopalong movies and TV shows.

On display were magazine covers, posters and books about the character, as well as a life-size photograph of the couple taken at their ranch in 1937. They are seen wearing matching outfits Hoppy bought for their first Christmas together.

Guests also saw a range of kitschy Hoppy items--night lights, lunch boxes, watches, wallets, pencil boxes, kitchen knives, dinner plates, cards and a windup Hoppy on a rocking horse. Some nostalgic guests reflected on their childhoods while examining the Hoppy pajamas, play guns, holsters and cowboy boots.

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But for the event at the Ritz-Carlton, they wore contemporary Western wear, not well-worn vintage stuff. Some of the men sported tuxes with Western stylings, such as a sheriff's badge, bolo ties, silver collar tips, cowboy boots and hats. Like Hoppy, the good guys wore black.

The women were Westernized too in bright reds, purples and blues. Calf-length skirts met polished boots, and Western-motif jewelry came in turquoise and silver, and shaped like cactus and coyotes.

Winners Circle president Carole Bowman wore a fitted velvet jacket with silver buttons, and white and coral seashells on the collar and sleeves along with a broomstick black skirt and leather cowboy boots from Out of Sante Fe in Fashion Island Newport Beach.

Since it began in 1982, the Winners Circle Support Group has raised more than $1.75 million for South Coast Medical Center. The event's estimated proceeds of $60,000 will go toward remodeling the emergency department and buying equipment.

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