Of the royals and entertainers who visited Australia in 1954 – Queen Elizabeth, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Ray and Gypsy Rose Lee among them – only the squeaky clean American cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy can claim to have been mobbed by thousands of children and their parents on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, and to have almost caused a riot.
At an official reception at the Sydney Town Hall that November, Hopalong’s car was rushed by fans, many of them dressed in cowboy outfits.
”It was pandemonium, all sorts of people gatecrashed the event,” recalls Melbourne academic Derham Groves, who is researching the fictional cowboy’s two-week charity tour in November of ’54.
Hopalong, aka William Boyd, appeared at the Moore Park Showgrounds where 60,000 fans showed up. He hosted a film screening at the Capital Theatre and a children’s party at the Trocadero Club. There were visits to several children’s hospitals and special needs schools, and Boyd laid a foundation stone at what is now known as Al Hikma College in Lakemba, all to raise funds for children afflicted with polio.
The Hopalong Australian tour drew similar if less deferential crowds as the Queen’s tour that March, says Dr Groves. Not until the Beatles 10 years later did Australia again witness such idolatry.
Dr Groves is a senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Melbourne with a special interest in pop culture. He came across this long forgotten episode of cultural history while researching a 1939 visit to Australia of the Chinese American actress Anna May Wong, and is seeking the personal recollections of fans, now aged in their 60s and 70s, for a book he is writing.
In Darwin, Boyd was greeted by Aboriginal stockmen, and was party to what Dr Groves believes was the first indigenous Welcome-to-Australia ceremony.
By far the biggest crowds Cassidy pulled were in Melbourne, where 100,000 people turned up to watch him ride a horse down Lonsdale Street. ”He must have been terrified. The street was chock a block with kids.”
The only hiccup during Hopalong’s tour was the seizure at Sydney Airport of Boyd’s pearl-handled Colt 45s, and his riding spurs, used as film props. The six shooters were returned to him on arrival in Melbourne.
Hopalong fans can contact Dr Groves at 03 8344 7167 or [email protected]
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.