HART, William S.

HART, William S.
   After Broncho Billy Anderson, William S. Hart was the second great Western star, and he had an influence on the genre far beyond the silent era. Born in New York, Hart set out early to travel the West and learn from the quickly fading frontier. Returning to New York, he began his acting career at age 19 and quickly developed a reputation as a Shakespearean actor; legend had it that his middle initial stood for Shakespeare (it actually stood for Surrey). Roles on the New York stage included The Virginian and Trail of the Lonesome Pine, but what brought Hart his break was his role as Messala in the stage version of Ben Hur. In 1907 he reprised the role on film. By 1915 Thomas Ince was putting Hart in his Westerns, and Hart made the move from New York to Hollywood with Ince’s company. Eventually, he directed and oversaw all production of his own films. Fritz, his faithful cowpony, was part of Hart’s team from the beginning in The Bargain (1914). Hart’s own experiences in the West motivated him to portray an authentic West with real cowboys, not the streamlined version of the West he saw in films being made at the time. Gritty reality was what he pursued, and what one notices today when watching an old Hart Western is the dark interiors lit by flaming lamps (easily and often ignited) and dust all over the streets and exterior scenes. Hart tried as often as practical to have actors with real experience, so he hired Native Americans to play Indians, and he sought out real gamblers, dance hall girls, and prostitutes.
   Hell’s Hinges (1916) is usually considered Hart’s finest film, certainly his most complex. Though it is an early film, Hell’s Hinges displays the persona that Hart would carry throughout his work—that of the good badman. He nearly always played a character who at the beginning of the film was considered an outlaw, a desperado, or, as in Hell’s Hinges’Blaze Tracy, just a flat-out bad man. Yet no one is so depraved that he or she cannot be redeemed. And in a Hart film, redemption for the hero is found at the hands of a beautiful woman. Blaze Tracy’s salvation comes not from the preacher but from the preacher’s beautiful yet virtuous sister, Faith Henley (Clara Williams). In The Toll Gate (1920), Black Deering’s (Hart) redemption comes at the hand of a child and his mother. The desperado on the run knows that if he stays to rescue a child from drowning he will be caught. He saves the child and the mother pledges her gratitude to him just as the posse arrives. Tumbleweeds (1925), Hart’s last film and probably his most ambitious, takes place during the Oklahoma Land Rush. Scenes from the wagons, horses, and settlers racing across the prairie were raided for stock footage countless times throughout the ensuing decades.
   Hart was a visionary filmmaker, exercising complete control over all his productions, and he had as his goal to promote a philosophy in the essential goodness of humanity. He did this by portraying a dark, grim picture of the frontier as a force that can destroy or build character. Each of his films developed from early scenes of tension to increasingly more violent scenes, culminating with a final shootout. The gunplay was much more realistic than would be seen in Westerns for many decades, and the violence was pure; it redeemed the hero and it redeemed the world of the film. For Hart, the masculine code of the Westwas a definitive code of behavior. No deviation from the code was ever acceptable.
   Historical authenticity was Hart’s trademark. He had lived in the West. He knew what the real old West was like, or so he claimed. Wyatt Earpand Al Jenningswere consultants on his films. His cos tumes were what real cowboys wore—sparse, dirty, and practical. Occasionally he wore a frock coat that was dispensed with early on. Pants held up by braces were unglamorously stuffed into the tops of scuffed working boots. Beneath his gun belt he wore a Mexican sash, the belt itself slung low with huge revolvers protruding outward. But above all else was the William S. Hart grim look of determination that defined his character. Underneath a large black hat with high crown and wide, flat brim was that sparse, lean face with parallel lines and the most forbidding facial features of any of the later Western stars. Westerns in the succeeding decades went in several directions. Streamlined B Westerns dressed up the West in strange and utterly inauthentic ways. Classic Westerns asserted the glorious American ideals of Manifest Destinyand masculine supremacy. Hart’s dark vision, though, reemerged in the late classic Westerns of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher as well as in the alternative Westerns at the end of the century.
   Hart never tried to move from the silents to the talkies. By the time of his last film in 1925, his popularity was being eclipsed by Tom Mixand a new breed of cowboy stars. But in 1935 Hart finally talked to his fans. The occasion was the re-release of Tumbleweeds, the silent picture showing once again in theaters to fans now accustomed to sound. At his Newhall ranch in California, Hart filmed a prologue in which he addressed his fans directly. He came forward walking Fritz, paused, and then began his thank you to his fans of old. As Hart introduced the film, he reasserted his basic vision of the redemptive powers of the West. Then he waved goodbye as he and Fritz walked away over the horizon.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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  • William S. Hart — William Surrey Hart, 1918 Nombre real William Surrey Hart Nacimiento 6 de diciembre de 1864 Newburgh, estado de Nueva York, Estados Unidos …   Wikipedia Español

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  • William S. Hart — Infobox actor name = William S. Hart caption = William Surrey Hart, 1918 birthname = William Surrey Hart birthdate = December 6, 1864 birthplace = Newburgh, New York, U.S.A. deathdate = June 23, 1946 (aged 81) deathplace = Newhall, California,… …   Wikipedia

  • William S. Hart — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Hart. William S. Hart …   Wikipédia en Français

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