Hopalong Cassidy Vs. The Venutian YmirA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
When I was twelve years old, my backyard was narrow and thin, with grass spouting between clumps of dirt, a long strip like a rural prop propeller plane landing, one strip between similar narrow yards on either side. The backyard stretched back to a shed that held tools and bikes and who knows what the hell. Beside the shed and behind it were trees -- trees that survived winters, trees whose roots bulged from the earth. In the yard, a single tree grew in the grass and dirt clumps, twenty feet away from the shed and the woods, a lone tree; thin, sparse, as if from a different place and time.
No one knew that Hopalong Cassidy's Bar 20 resided in the dirt area surrounded by trees at the side the shed. No one knew that my Venutian Ymir strode near that lone tree in sparsely grown grass. No one knew it was two different places, two separate times, linked by film reality.
My Venutian Ymir was made of red and purple clay, the colors smudged into each other. My thumbs scrushed the clay colors together. I loved his multi-hued colors. I had only ever seen the Ymir in black and white, but in my head, he was red and purple and blue, all blending beautifully. He had a tail, just like, to my twelve-year-old mind, the tail on Ray Harryhausen's Ymir in 20 Million Miles to Earth. This may not be an accurate evaluation. The twelve-year-old Don might not have said it, but in his head, it was exactly right!
I had built the Bar 20 ranch house out of stones and rocks and twigs. I had the entrance to the spread built with a gate that had a swinging peeled bark of wood with the Bar 20 initials carved into the smooth inside texture where the wood had weathered from the tree.
Hoppy and the boys were cowboy figures of plastic, on plastic horses that held a single iconic pose.
Every day, after school, the story of Hopalong Cassidy Vs. The Venutian unfolded in that back yard.
It was an epic serial, played out on the grass and in the dirt and under the trees.
I sprawled on my stomach; I scrambled bent over like a hunchback, moving the riders back and forth. I lovingly held the Venutian Ymir as he surveyed the cowboys' frantic movements.
There were bad guys threatening the Bar 20 gang, Hoppy and Lucky and Windy and the rest. The Ymir viewed it all. And when guns erupted, and battles between good and bad cowboys with definite names and identities clashed, the Ymir was often in the thick of the bloodshed.
I was twelve years old.
The bad guys especially died bloody deaths. Twelve-year-olds already know about bloody deaths, even if the deaths on TV are bloodless. Imagination soars here.
The Ymir just wants to be alone, a prehistoric Garbo, voiceless to his needs. The cowboys don't know that, caught up in their vast antagonisms.
Except for Hoppy.
Because Hoppy is intuitive, because he knows the creature is not the enemy, that the scheming killers and byzantine motives of the corrupt town officials and the crazed angry mob of townspeople who want to butcher the Ymir are the true villains of the piece.
Hoppy doesn't need words to understand that the Ymir will also die needlessly. He knows this without words spoken.
As the days ensue, as the story progresses under late sunny days of spring, events escalate. And finally, it is Hoppy who must save the Ymir. The Ymir has saved Hoppy earlier from ambush and torture.
Hoppy must find a place where the Ymir can live, and those who would slaughter him will never find him. Hoppy finds that sanctuary, because that is what he would do.
Really, because that's the way the twelve-year-old story teller wanted it. He wanted the Ymir free to roam and exist. And for Hoppy to stand tall and right. In my twelve-year-old mind, neither Hoppy nor the Ymir could die.
That was many a year ago. Today, many people don't remember Hoppy or the Ymir. But DVD has brought them back to those who do remember.
Here I am dressed up as Hoppy for a Halloween event in the '70s, during my time period of working as an editor at Marvel. Those are the same six-guns I wore into Central Park at night to play guns with Alex Simmons. I suspect there might be real trouble if we did that these days. But hey! It was the '70s! As a kid, I never would have been audacious enough to even think of myself as Hoppy when I was playing cowboys. Remind me to tell you of how Hoppy (William Boyd) broke the Alabama race lines in 1951. Yes, you read it right. 1951.
Here is the cover from Hopalong Cassidy #1, with Captain Marvel stating his choice in cowboy heroes. Remind me to tell you some time about the quarter of a million people lining up on 42nd Street during winter February winds just to see William Boyd (who stayed in the outfit until midnight because he did not want to disappoint the fans). This was for the opening of the Hopalong Cassidy comic strip drawn by Dan Spiegle for the Daily News. How often did that happen, that big a crowd for opening day of a comic strip, that kind of star not abandoning his fans?
The kid growing up in Rhode Island, loving William Boyd and Hopalong Cassidy, and playing out the western saga with his clay-sculpted Ray Harryhausen Venutian Ymir, would never have believed he would get to sit beside Grace (Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy) Bradley Boyd during the Western Channel's premiere of the cowboy in black's documentary.
I miss your wisdom, your luminosity, your spirit, you.
Copyright © 2014 by Don McGregor
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