William S. Hart was one of the first great stars of the silent screen motion picture western. (read oh, so carefully to find a chance to win my May 1st release Wildflower Bride-I just got my author’s copies and I’M SUPER EXCITED AND IN THE MOOD TO SHARE!)
Westerns with their classic situations – the fight in the saloon, the faithful horse, the dude who goes west, the sheriff who cleans up the town, the showdown, the trip west in a covered wagon — what are now considered film clichés were first introduced to film audiences in 1914 with the arrival of William Surrey Hart.
Hart was a stage actor until the age of 49. At that age, after a long career of playing Shakespearean theater in the United States and England, he headed for Hollywood and silent films. And—get this—he made 65 films in the next eleven years. How’s that for productive, huh?
When he got to Hollywood, Hart was disgusted by the “pretty boy” Westerns that were currently being produced. He began directing and acting in his own productions. His films reflected his rugged vision of the West. Hart often used real Indians, gamblers, prostitutes, and saloon entertainers in films.
The themes of his films generally relied upon a “transformation,” where the love of a good woman, a “Sunbonnet Sue” tamed the wild man and transformed him into the man of virtue we knew him to be all along. And now, aren’t we all still in love with that formula in romance novels, huh?
Sometimes the roles were switched: Hart as the noble cowboy who tames the bad girl. Often the bad-woman-turned-good redeemed herself by dying for her man, stepping in front of him to take the bullet. How come the man gets to be transformed but the woman has to die? Huh? Ask yourself that?
But by the late ‘teens, Hart, now sixty saw his career wane in popularity. Hart’s age and unwillingness to tamper with the formula was supplanted by Tom Mix, with his “action and excitement spiced with a boyish sense of fun.” Westerns began catering to an increasingly younger audience, and Hart faded from view.
Disheartened, Hart retired from the screen, only to try one last comeback in 1925 with, Tumbleweeds. The film was only a minor success. Hart retired from films, making one last public appearance in 1940 with a sound prologue to a re-issued Tumbleweeds. Just listen for a few minutes to William S. Hart in the clip below. He has a fantastic voice. You can easily believe he was trained in Shakespearean theater.
William S. Hart, the Western matinee idol of the silent screen died June 23, 1946 in Los Angeles. On April 17, 2010, the United States Postal Service will release a series of four stamps, Cowboys of the Silver Screen. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tom Mix, and William S. Hart
And now here’s your chance to get your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Book #3 in the Montana Marriages series, Wildflower Bride. Have you ever seen a silent movie? I’ve seen clips. Usually a charging train, belching smoke, scary piano music in the background. Simple question, yes or no. If it’s yes, tell me about it.