I’m pulling notes together for a post about Paramount’s 1931 mystery chiller Murder by the Clock and found my paragraph about William Boyd, who plays police Lieutenant Valcour in the film, growing a bit too long.
If you you find yourself wondering Who’s that guy? or muttering That isn’t Hoppy! then you’ll quickly realize the need for clarification. The fellow shown up above is the Murder by the Clock actor who also appeared in City Streets (1931), Sky Devils (1932) and State’s Attorney (1932) and is best remembered as William “Stage” Boyd, not the younger William Boyd who soon leapt to fame and fortune as Hopalong Cassidy.
While Hoppy achieved a degree of fame eclipsing any need of explanation, poor "Stage" Boyd has had to be clarified in just about any mention he’s received over the past 80-85 years.This isn’t even Hoppy’s fault, he’d been receiving movie billing since 1920 and had already appeared in over thirty movies by the time his status jumped a peg when he starred in Cecil B. De Mille’s The Volga Boatman in 1926. The other Boyd had appeared in a handful of movies throughout the 1910s but, as his nickname implies, made a greater impression on the stage where he achieved his top stardom as Sergeant Quirt to Louis Wolheim’s Captain Flagg in Broadway’s original 1924-25 production of What Price Glory.
“Stage” Boyd came to the movies full-time in late 1929 and it was then that the promotion of the two different William Boyd’s led to confusion.
“Change my name? I should say not. I am William Boyd, my father was William Boyd, and my grandfather was William Boyd,” said the elder "Stage" Boyd in 1930. He continued: “I was playing leads in motion pictures in the east before the Hollywood William Boyd was ever heard of.”
Journalists of the period distinguished them by coining the “Stage” Boyd moniker for our William Boyd, who I’ve also seen referred to as William “New York” Boyd. The other Boyd, pre-Hoppy, was either William "Pathe" Boyd or, a little later, William “Movies” Boyd. On the screen, the elder Boyd was the short-term winner of this battle: He was billed simply as William Boyd while the younger, yet more experienced movie actor, became Bill Boyd, at least for awhile.
While the Bill Boyd credit appears as early as 1929, the younger actor only took it on full time beginning in 1931. Perhaps a little too late, as there was much confusion when “Stage” Boyd was arrested early in the morning that February 28 for hosting a “wild movie party” (*According to a March 4 news-clipping the younger Boyd had already begun going by the shortened Bill Boyd name full time).
"Stage" Boyd's arrest for possession of gambling paraphernalia, obscene pictures and liquor was front page material across the country. Headlines added news of party guests jumping out of windows to escape the police under the main item noting Boyd's arrest. The obscene pictures probably refer to some stag films as it's noted that police confiscated Boyd's motion picture projector and "films of nude subjects," along with roulette wheels, dice tables and over a gallon of liquor. That doesn’t sound like a heck of a lot, but Prohibition was still in force at the time.
“We had just completed a picture and I was entertaining a group of film friends,” Boyd explained.
Actors Walter Catlett and Pat O’Brien were also taken into custody, each charged with being intoxicated, but they were given suspended sentences and fined just $10 each. A couple of months after the party Boyd was fined $500 for violating the state dry law.
Some newspapers made the mistake of mixing up the Boyds and placed a photo of young Bill Boyd (Hoppy) alongside reports of “Stage” Boyd’s arrest. A large majority of papers reporting the arrest did so correctly and even included a paragraph distinguishing the two actors that both the Associated Press and International News Service went to the trouble of placing in their widely syndicated stories, but not this one:
Shown above is a clipping from one newspaper that goofed: Iowa’s Mason City Globe-Gazette. They edited the AP story down to just a few paragraphs, excluded the paragraph explaining which Boyd the incident actually involved, and were one of the few newspapers I saw that also included a photo—unfortunately the photo they selected was of the wrong Boyd. The Globe-Democrat ran a correction on page 2 of their Monday edition, but the innocent Boyd maintained that the damage was already done.
“Stage” Boyd continued to play supporting roles throughout 1932 and ‘33, and even received a bit of acclaim for his Bill Sikes in Monogram’s adaptation of Oliver Twist. Bill Boyd was active in action movies at RKO during those couple years, but both Boyds seemed to hit a downward arc in 1934.
“Stage” Boyd finished his career as Zolok in Super Serial Productions’ The Lost City, a March 1935 release. Billed as Wm. “Stage” Boyd in those credits, he died just a few weeks after its release, March 20, 1935, when blood transfusions failed to save him from the gastric hemorrhages that had hospitalized him.
I don’t know how widespread the error was, but this obituary from Ohio’s Circleville Herald still couldn’t keep its Boyds straight:
That same summer the surviving Bill Boyd starred in Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) in which he first played the character he would soon be synonymous with. “Stage” Boyd was quickly forgotten, all but a footnote to Hoppy’s tale, though the elder actor proves himself capable of strong character work for those who bump into him.
Just in case you'd like to watch Murder by the Clock (1931) before I post about it, it is available for viewing on YouTube HERE.
- ”Boyd Charged with Gambling.” Mason City Globe-Gazette 28 Feb 1931: 1. Web. Newspaper Archive. 16 Oct 2013.
- ”Death Takes Screen Actor.” Circleville Herald 21 Mar 1935: 1. Web. Newspaper Archive. 16 Oct 2013.
- ”The Locked Door.” The Daily Gleaner 30 Jul 1930: 20. Web. Newspaper Archive. 16 Oct 2013.
- ”Raid Film Star’s Home.” Kansas City Star 28 Feb 1931: 1. Web. Newspaper Archive. 16 Oct 2013.
- ”Police Officers Raid Gay Hollywood Party.” New Castle News 28 Feb 1931: 1. Web. Newspaper Archive. 16 Oct 2013.
- ”Two Bill Boyds.” San Jose news 4 Mar 1931: 18. Web. Google News 16 Oct 2013.
- ”William Boyd, Actor, Fined $500 for Booze Party.” Wisconsin State Journal 13 Mar 1931: 16. Web. Newspaper Archive. 16 Oct 2013.