“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts,” those words, written by William Shakespeare, were probably never uttered on film by William S. Hart. Known as a famed silent-film actor in the beginning of the century, what most people don’t know about Hart is that he was also a classically trained Shakespearean actor. During my visit to the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, I was able to step back in time during a tour of the William S. Hart Museum.
Located in the western town of Newhall, California, William S. Hart Park serves as the stomping grounds for the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. While attending the annual festival I hiked up to the William S. Hart Museum to take a free tour of the silent film stars former home and ranch.
“Bill was an animal lover and a famous film star,” said Margi Bertram, Administrator at the Hart Museum. “But by one measure, fan mail, his favorite horse, Fritz, could be considered more famous, since he received twice as much fan mail as Bill. Many of which included a sugar cube for Fritz!”
Hart was a great art collector and owned western pieces from the likes of Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell, among others. He also collected and displayed many Native American artifacts, as well as some of the movie props from the 1920’s. In addition, the park is now home to a herd of American Bison.
“He is worth remembering because in a time when the movie business considered animals disposable, Hart insisted that all animals on his movie sets be treated humanely,”noted Bertram.
Besides being an animal lover, one of the things I like about Hart is that he appreciated his fans even in his after life. When he left his home and the surrounding property to the county of Los Angeles as a museum, he stipulated that there would never be a charge to tour his house. He said that his fans helped to build his house and ranch.
Friends of the Hart Museum offer guided tours (the only way to visit the museum) on the hour and half hour during the Museum’s hours of operation. The tours are handicapped accessible. See website for details.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that William S. Hart’s best friend was Will Rogers? If you tour the museum, you’ll see a bear rug on the living room floor. Hart did not believe in sport hunting. He thought it was a mortal sin. He and Rogers had many heated debates about the topic, but always remained good friends. For additional insider tips follow @nancydbrown on Twitter, as well as @ridinghorseback.