William S. Hart (1864-1946) was one of the great early cowboy stars. A scant year after Cecil B. DeMille traveled to Hollywood to shoot The Squaw Man (1913), Bill Hart teamed up with Thomas H. Ince to shoot a series of Western two-reelers, many of which hold up well today. There was a sense of moral compass about Hart’s roles that registered with silent film audiences—that is, until flashier actors like Tom Mix started eating into his popularity in the 1920s. By the time that happened, Hart was in his sixties and getting a little long in the tooth.
Today, Martine and I made our annual pilgrimage to the William S. Hart Museum in Santa Clarita, which we had been doing for upwards of seventeen years. There is something about La Loma de los Vientos (“The Hill of the Winds”) that has always appealed to us. Part of it is the attraction of Hart himself. Part of it is that I knew William S. Hart, Jr., who used me on several occasions as a guest lecturer in tools for site location in his classes in real estate at California State University at Northridge. And part of it is that the house is a beauty.
Living at his hillside retreat in Santa Clarita, Hart made friends with Western legends like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. He also knew Will Rogers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Marion Russell, and other notables of the day. After his marriage to actress Winifred Westover fizzled after a few short months, Hart lived alone with his sister Mary-Ellen, his son William Jr. being raised by the estranged mother. I got the feeling that, in his last years, Hart lived mostly on the second floor of his comfortable house, where, after his film career, he wrote Western-themed books.
I love the second-floor living room/screening room in the museum. Ther’s a 35mm projection booth in the back, capable of filling a large screen that one one time hung from the horizontal rafter by the two south windows.