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                                             The Story of Williatn S.  Hart

                                             by KATHERINE H. CHILD

                                                "While playing in Cle. veland [in 1913], I attended
                  illiam  S.  Hart not only got
                  that chance  to  make West-               a picture show. I saw a Western picture.
        W ern  motion  pictures,  he                        It was awful! I talked with the manager of
        made the best of it. In spite of their early
        popularity,  Western films  were,  as  Hart   the theater and he told me it was one of the best
        had seen, exercises in mediocrity. When
        Hart  came  to  California  in  1914,  he   Westerns he had ever had. Npne of the impossibilities
        brought  with  him  a  fresh  approach  to   or libels on the West meant anything to him-it was
        Western film making. He added authen-
        tic costumes and locales to a heretofore   drawing the crowds .... I was so sure that I had made
        popular,  highly  idealized  image  of  the   a big discovery that I was frightened that some one
        West  to  create a  truly original style for
        his films.  Much as the work of Frederic   would read my mind and find it out.
        Remington  and  Charles  Russell  has
        come to be emblematic of the West in the     Here were reproductions of the Old West being
        art world,  so does  the work of William   seriously presented to the public-in almost a bur-
        S.  Hart  symbolize  the  West  on  film.
        Though  he  was  not  the  first  Western   lesque manner-and they were successful. It made me
        actor/ film  maker  nor  the  last,  he  was   tremble to think of it. I was an actor and I knew the
        surely  one  of  the  most  important,
        achieving both commercial success and   West .... The opportunity that I had been waiting for
        artistic recognition for his films.
          William Surrey Hart was born in New-  _  years to come was knocking at my door. ... Rise or fall,
        burgh,  New  York,  sometime  between   sink or swim, I had to bend every endeavor to get a
        1862  and  1865.  There  is  some  contro-
        versy about the exact year of Hart's birth.   chance to make Western motion pictures."
        During his later career he gave his year of   William S.  Hart (My Life East and West, 1929)
        birth  as  anywhere  between  18 70  and
        1876,  but his death record and his civil
        service record both indicate that he was
        born in 1864. Hart was the eldest of eight   My  Life  East  and  West,  Hart  seems  to   Mrs.  Hart left Bill with her husband in
        children born to Nicholas and Roseanne   look back on this period of his life as  a   Minnesota and returned East for medical
        (McCauley)  Hart.  Two  brothers  died   great adventure. Many times the family's   care with the girls and the baby. Nicholas
        shortly after birth and another, Nicholas,   only  neighbors  were  Indians.  Nicholas   worked long hours and Bill was often left
        Jr.,  died as a small child. The other four   worked  with  Indians  whose  children   with little or no supervision. He enjoyed
        children  were  girls,  Frances,  Nettie,   were  often Bill's  playmates;  he  learned   very little success in school-he much
        Lotta,  and  Hart's  lifelong  companion,   to speak the Sioux language from  these   pref erred to spend his time riding horses
        Mary Ellen.                         children,  although he was by no means   or fishing.  He worked briefly with local
          Hart's parents were both of European   fluent.  He  also  gained  a  respect  for  In-  farmers,  but  always  returned  home
        descent. Nicholas was raised in England   dians and their culture that he never lost.   discouraged.
        and emigrated to the United States as  a   But times were hard,  and his father's   Nicholas  had  heard  about  the  swift
        young man, and Rose was born in Ireland   employment  was  always  uncertain.   streams  of  the  Dakotas  from  Indian
        and  raised  in  Newburgh,  where  she   When Bill  was  a  small  child,  Nicholas   friends, so he and Bill traveled to Kansas
        and  Nicholas  met.  A  miller  by  trade,   began slowly losing his eyesight, making   and the Dakota Territory in 1875 search
        Nicholas traveled from town to town in   it increasingly difficult  for  him  to  find   of the perfect millsite. Nicholas's Indian
        the  midwest  setting  up  millsites  for   work. A risky operation saved his sight,   contacts  enabled  them  to  travel  deep
        others.  He  was  always  in search of  the   but  he  was  separated  from  the  family   into  Sioux  Country  unmolested;  while
        perfect  site  for  his  own  mill where  he   for  an  extended  period.  In  turn,  Rose   father and son spent a great deal of time
        could  not  only  build  his  fortune,  but   succumbed to  a  series  of  ailments  that   with the Indians, their search for a mill-
        could at last make a home for  his fam-  necessitated her return to New York on   site was unsuccessful and they returned
        ily.  The  uncertain  nature  of  his  work,   several occasions.  Life in remote settle-  home to Orinoco, Minnesota.
        along with his  quick  tempe~  made the   ments was not easy on her,  and several   Christmas  of  1875  was  happy for  the
        family's  existence  a  precarious  one.   difficult childbirths with no one but an   Harts. Rose had recovered,  and the fam-
        Memories  of  childhood  poverty  were   Indian  midwife  to  attend  to  her  had   ily  was  once  again  united.  They  were
        never to leave Hart.                 taken their toll.                   not,  however,  to  settle  in one place for
          Nevertheless,  in  his  autobiography,   Shortly  after  Nicholas,  Jr.,  was  born,   long. Nicholas's former partner, a Sioux,

         20 / TERRA, Vol. 26, No. 2 · Nov./ Dec. 1987
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