The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004 Page: 622
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
man who loved his horse, Fritz, more than he loved even his two wives. In part
this was due to the fact that for most of his adult life he had only one close confi-
dant, his very possessive sister, Mary Ellen Hart.
Though Hart claimed to be a true son of the Wild West, he was actually born
in Newburgh, New York, about 1864. His father, a millwright by profession, was
always on the move pursuing a dream of becoming a prosperous owner of a mill
that was all his own. Thus his family was often peripatetic or left alone to await
his success that never came. Young William Hart, who often traveled with his fa-
ther through Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and
the Dakotas, regarded his early life as a grand adventure, though on numerous
occasions they had barely enough to eat, and the family sometimes traveled by
prairie schooner, or on mule back. When they lived at Orinoco, Minnesota,
young Hart came to know the Sioux Indians who became his playmates, and he
began his lifelong process of learning their language and the sign language of
the old frontier. He considered himself "a Western boy." And he always main-
tained this role, which he associated with that of an heroic, honest, "straight
shooter," despite the fact that the western character was often represented by
"outlaws, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, gamblers, grizzled prospectors, rowdy
cowboys and veterans of the Seventh Cavalry." In short, his whole life was gov-
erned by the myth of the frontier West.
As a young man, Hart lived the life of an impecunious actor who, like his fa-
ther, traveled a great deal and played many different parts, slowly rising to suc-
cess, but often disappointed, which accounts for his melancholy outlook on
contemporary life, an era that was fast replacing the Old West that he loved.
From the time he first saw a shabby western in Cleveland, Hart knew he could
do better. It was to be "the picture business" for him. When he reached Los An-
geles he began appearing in westerns produced by Thomas Ince, who was the
first to create an integrated Hollywood studio. In the Santa Inez canyon in Santa
Monica, Ince's "studio" included experienced cowboys and Indians, macho west-
ern paraphernalia, horses, and, of course, all the movie equipment he needed,
as well as Bronco Billy Anderson, the very first cowboy star. The first picture that
Hart appeared in was His Hour of Manhood (1914), a dreadful two-reeler in
which he played Pete Larson who, as Davis describes him, was "a brute who mis-
treats his wife, engages in foul play, and is hunted down by a posse and killed."
From that low point Hart's career blossomed, based on his reputed knowl-
edge of the West, his authentic look and sets, his hell-for-leather riding, his two-
gun shooting ability and, most of all, the moral figure of a bad man redeemed.
The steely intense glint in his narrowed eyes became his trademark in such films
as Hell's Hinges, The Return of Draw Egan, and The Gun Fzghter. During the late
teens and through the early twenties, Hart and his films never ceased to draw
handsome leading ladies, crowds, and praise. But by 1925, with Tumbleweeds, he
was done. Hart had been fifty years old when he started his saga of western pic-
ture making. In eleven years he had made sixty-seven films.
His story is indeed a saga of early Hollywood film-making, and Ronald Davis
tells it well in fascinating and human detail.
University of Texas at Austn
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004, periodical, 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/m1/700/: accessed December 11, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.