Grace Bradley: More Than Mrs. Hopalong

Brooklyn born Grace Bradley (1913-2010) was a child prodigy whose piano skills got her a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music when she was only 12 years old. There, she also learned to sing and dance, making her a quadruple threat by the time of her Broadway debut at the age of 17 in the chorus of Ballyhoo of 1930, W.C. Fields’ last Broadway show. This was followed by The Third Little Show (1931) and a small role in a 1932 Vitaphone short called Tip Tap Toe starring Hal Le Roy.

By 1933 Bradley was performing regularly in nightclubs, modeling, and slated to appear in Strike Me Pink with Jimmy Durante when she was cast in her first feature film, the show business musical Too Much Harmony (1933) with Bing Crosby, Jackie Oakie, and Skeets Gallagher. Her role as a naughty chorus girl would be one she would often reprise. Her three dozen screen credits include roles in Six of a Kind (1934, her second project with Fields), The Cat’s Paw (1934) with Harold Lloyd, Redhead (1934, in which she is the female lead), the 1936 remake of Belasco’s Rose of the Rancho (1936), and Anything Goes (1936, again with Crosby). In 1937 she met and married William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), 20 years her senior, becoming his fifth and final wife. For a time, she continued to act in films like The Big Broadcast of 1938, and the William Bendix/ Joe Sawyer “Taxi” comedies Brooklyn Orchid (1942), The McGuerins of Brooklyn (1942), and Taxi, Mister (1943).

Bradley was a regular in these comedies, cast as William Bendix’s grasping wife, and second in the billing in the last two, so her career was doing okay, even if she wasn’t, ya know, Barbara Stanwyck. But she chose to retire, having finished out the second of two five year contracts at Paramount, so that she could devote her time and energy to promoting Boyd’s career, which was faltering. They gambled on buying up all of Hoppy’s old movies and made a fortune out of showing them on television, making personal appearances, and selling merch. Bradley was 97 when she passed in 2010.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,