was the original silent screen film cowboy. He
personally crafted the role of the western storybook
hero, fashioned as he lived, ever forthright,
well-mannered, honest, humble, - "The White Hat"
was the character he portrayed in his first 2-reeler
film, His Hour of Manhood (1914). Over the next
decade, with an output of 87 films to his credit,
William S. Hart retired in 1925, producing, directing,
and starring in the role of "Don Carver" in
United Artists' Tumbleweeds. Even when cast as
the villain, his character managed to retain most of the
William Surrey Hart was born in Newburgh, New York, on
December 6, 1864, one of seven children of Irish and
German ancestry, born to James and Katherine Hart.
During his boyhood, his family traveled extensively
throughout the Midwest (Dakota Territories) as his
father searched unsuccessfully for the ideal site to
build a gristmill (for grinding grain), where he would
make a permanent home for his family. Consequently,
young Bill was raised in pioneer atmospheres, where he
had personal contact with Indians from many tribes, as
well as an assortment of ranchers and cowboys. The
youngster learned Indian sign language and even a little
of the Sioux language from his playmates. He gained a
respect for Indians and Indian cultures that he retained
throughout his long and productive life.
While Bill was in
his early teens, the Hart family returned to New York,
and it was there that he developed his interest in the
stage. He took as job as a postal clerk in New York
City, and in 1888, he began to study acting. He received
critical acclaim for his own production of "The Man
in the Iron Mask", and in 1899, he created the role
of "Messala" in the original stage production of
"Ben Hur" .
By 1900 he had appeared in productions from New York to
San Francisco, as well as Montreal.
first Western role was in 1905, when he was cast as
"Cash" Hawkins, in a stage production of "The
Squaw Man". After that experience, he tried to limit
his subsequent stage roles to Westerns, resulting in
excellent reviews for his lead role in the enormously
successful production of "The Virginian" in
Hart's extraordinary acting ability was honed from
performances on Shakespearian theatre stages,
throughout the US and England. While touring with
the company of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine"
in 1914, Hart decided to move to California to make
Western films. In his autobiography, he wrote,
"I was an actor and I know the West - I had to
bend every endeavor to get a chance to make Western
After his relocation to Hollywood, Hart obtained parts
in several Westerns and collaborated in writing
screenplays, and his new Western film career was
William S. Hart went on to become one of the first great
stars of the motion picture western.
was particularly interested in making realistic western
films. Despite his limited range of acting roles, he
directed, often produced, and even scripted, many of his
W.S. Hart films are noted for
as well as film locations.
1915 he signed a contract with Thomas Ince and joined
"Triangle Film Company".
Two years later he followed Ince to "Famous
and received a very lucrative contract from Adolph
By the early twenties, Hart's career began to dwindle.
Film fans had tired of Hart's straight-laced, "Snow
White Western Hero". And then, to make matters
worse, "Our Hero" was named in a widely publicized
paternity suit. Though the case was later dismissed, the
widespread publicity surrounding the suit emphasized the
hypocrisy of the situation and Bill Hart's impeccable
reputation was forever tainted.
1921, Hart purchased a ranch house and surrounding
property (260 acres) in Newhall, north of Los Angeles.
He commissioned famed Los Angeles architect Arthur Kelly
to design a magnificent 22-room Spanish colonial style
mansion, which Hart christened
Loma de los Vientos"
(Hill of the Winds).
He filled it with Western art, including Navajo
textiles, Indian costumes, guns and weapons, and Western
paintings, sculptures, Native American artifacts, and
early Hollywood memorabilia. Some of Hart's later
Westerns were shot on and around the Newhall ranch, and
in 1927, he permanently moved to his majestic retirement
home where lived until his death in 1946.
Hart's popularity had waned as the film public began to
be attracted to “larger than life” (i.e. "less
authentic") Western stars, such as Tom Mix and Hoot
Gibson, Fans embraced the new, looser interpretation of
the "Western Hero" over the Victorian moralizing of
his retirement, Bill became active in the operation of
his ranch and deeply involved in Santa Clarita Valley
community affairs. In fact, the local high school was
dubbed "William S. Hart High School", in his honor. Bill
remained busy in his retirement, writing more than a
dozen novels and short stories, including his
fascinating autobiography, "My Life - East and
Hart's reputation as a Western figure put him in contact
with other prominent personalities of the day. Western
enthusiasts, such as Will Rogers and Wyatt Earp, and
important artists, including Charles M. Russell, C. C.
Cristadoro, and James Montgomery Flagg, visited the
ranch or corresponded with Hart.
to the spirit of the Western heroes he had portrayed on
screen, Hart was humbly grateful to the fans who had
supported his film career.
"While I was making pictures, the people gave me
their nickels, dimes, and quarters.
When I am gone, I want them to have my home."
Bill Hart died in 1946, at the age of 81, he left the
bulk of his estate to the County of Los Angeles,
stipulating that his house and the ranch property were
to be used as a museum and public park. When he
bequeathed the 265-acre estate to Los Angeles County he
also stipulated that it was for the enjoyment of the
William S. Hart is buried with family in Greenwood
Cemetery, in New York