Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> WILLIAM S. HART
"The Testing Block"
William S. Hart


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THE TESTING BLOCK
William S. Hart 1920

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Lantern Slide

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Lobby Card

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Publicity Photo

Magic lantern slide for "The Testing Block" (1920), a William S. Hart production that was partially shot in Newhall.

Hart plays Sierra Bill, an outlaw who falls in love with a traveling violinist, Nelly Gray (Eva Novak). In this lantern slide, the smaller image of Hart at left is admiring the poster tacked to the tree; it reads, "The Queen of Music."

Directed by Lambert Hillyer, who directed most Hart films of this period, "The Testing Block" is set in the Sierras and uses several woodland locations including the Calaveras Big Trees (which became a state park in 1931). At least one location was in Newhall — a cabin on the ranch of Babcock Smith, whose land Hart would purchase less than two months after the Dec. 26, 1920, theatrical release of this film. (After his retirement in 1925, Hart built his retirement home on the property.)

Co-star Eva Novak's film career spanned from 1917 to 1966; she is best remembered for having been paired with Tom Mix 10 times.


William S. Hart
Biography by Friends of Hart Park

When William S. Hart began his film career in 1914, he initiated a fresh approach to Westerns that continues to influence the genre today. Although Western motion pictures were already very popular, for the most part they were exercises in mediocrity, filled with "impossibilities or libels on the West," according to Hart in his 1929 autobiography, My Life East and West. But in the course of appearing in or producing more than 60 movies over an eleven-year span, William S. Hart created a film style that revealed a more authentic vision of the Old West. At the same time, he made a major contribution to film history by developing and embodying the prototype of the frontier hero. Fame, artistic recognition, and wealth were Hart's rewards.

A Childhood in the West

William Surrey Hart was born in Newburgh, New York, probably in 1864. During his boyhood, his family traveled extensively in the Midwest as his father searched unsuccessfully for the ideal site to build a gristmill and make a permanent home for his family. Young Bill was raised in a pioneer atmosphere; he had contact with Indians, ranchers, and cowboys and learned Indian sign language and a little of the Sioux language from his playmates. He gained a respect for Indians and their cultures that he never lost.

Hart's First Career

The Hart family returned to New York while Bill was in his early teens, and it was there that he developed an interest in the stage. By 1900 he had appeared in productions from New York to San Francisco to Montreal. He received critical acclaim for his own production of The Man in the Iron Mask and his creation of the role of Messala in Ben Hur.

Hart's first Western role was also in a stage production: in 1905, he was cast as "Cash" Hawkins in The Squaw Man. His subsequent stage roles were primarily Western and included the lead in an enormously successful production of The Virginian.

Two Gun Bill

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 motion pictures." Hart obtained parts in several Westerns and collaborated in writing screenplays, and his film career was launched.

As a filmmaker, Hart drew on his childhood experiences, insisting on using realistic costumes, locales, and situation. The public loved "Two Gun Bill" and his movies, and he obliged the fans with one success after another. He became one of Hollywood's top actors and most successful directors.

La Loma del los Vientos

Some of Hart's Westerns were shot on and around a ranch in Newhall, California. In 1921[1] he purchased the property from Babcock Smith. After completing Tumbleweeds (1925), his final film and one of his finest, Hart commissioned Los Angeles architect Arthur Kelly to design a magnifient Spanish colonial-style mansion, which Hart christened La Loma de los Vientos (Hill of the Winds) and occupied in 1927.

Hart filled his home with treasure reflecting his interest in the West, including Navajo textiles, Indian costumes, guns and weapons, and Western paintings and sculptures. In his retirement, he became active in the operation of his ranch and deeply involved in Santa Clarita Valley community affairs.

He wrote more than a dozen novels and short stories as well as his fascinating autobiography, My Life East and West.

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. Crisadoro, and James Montgomery Flagg, visited the ranch or corresponded with Hart.

The Hart Legacy

True to the spirit of 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." When he died in 1946, 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.

Today, the Parks and Recreation Department of Los Angeles County operates and maintains William S. Hart Park, which includes hiking and nature trails, a large picnic area, a campground, an exhibit of farm machinery, an assortment of live animals including a herd of bison, and approximately 110 acres set aside as a wilderness area.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angles County is responsible for the interpretation of the historical portion of Hart's bequest, which includes his home and its contents and several other buildings. The Friends of Hart Park and Museum, an active group of local citizens, provides volunteer support services.

La Loma de los Vientos stands today not only as a tribute to William S. Hart but as a valuable and edifying museum. Hart's personal effects and movie paraphernalia are displayed in his home along with Indian artifacts and Western American art that he amassed. These materials form a major resource for understanding the American West as it was perceived in the early part of the century.

1. Note: Original piece from Friends of Hart Park said 1925.

Hart biography ©Friends of Hart Park • Used by permission.


LW2308: 9600 dpi jpeg from original slide purchased by Leon Worden.
HART CATEGORIES:
• Stage Career
• Hart Films
• Publicity Photos
• Hart as Author
• WWI War Bonds
• Hart Mansion
• Hart in Retirement
• Personal Life
• Hart in Artwork

WILLIAM S. HART FILMS

WATCH FULL MOVIES
Keno Bates, Liar (1915)
Knight of the Trail (1915)
The Ruse (1915)
The Cradle of Courage (1920)
White Oak (1921)
Tumbleweeds (1925/1939)
ALSO:
Farewell to the Screen, from Tumbleweeds Re-release (1939)


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Biography
(Mitchell 1955)

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Biography
(Conlon/McCallum 1960)

Essay: The Good Bad Man (Griffith & Mayer 1957)


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Film Bio, Russia 1926

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The Disciple 1915/1923

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The Captive God 1916 x2

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The Aryan 1916 x2

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The Primal Lure 1916

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The Apostle of Vengeance (Mult.)

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Return of Draw Egan 1916 x2

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Truthful Tulliver 1917

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The Gun Fighter 1917 Theater Invoice

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Wolf Lowry 1917

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The Narrow Trail 1917 (mult.)

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Riddle Gawne 1918 x2

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"A Bullet for Berlin" 1918 (4th Series)

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The Border Wireless 9-29-1918 Rialto Premiere

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Branding Broadway 1918 x2

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Breed of Men 2-2-1919 Rivoli Premiere

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The Poppy Girl's Husband 3-23-1919 Rivoli Premiere

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The Money Corral 4-20-1919 Rialto Premiere

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Square Deal Sanderson 1919

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Wagon Tracks 1919 x2

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Sand 1920 Lantern Slide Image

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The Toll Gate 1920 x3

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The Cradle of Courage 1920

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The Testing Block 1920: Slides, Lobby Cards, Photos (Multiple)

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O'Malley/Mounted 1921 (Mult.)

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The Whistle 1921 (Mult.)

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White Oak 1921 (Mult.)

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Travelin' On 1921/22

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Three Word Brand 1921

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Wild Bill Hickok 1923 x2

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Singer Jim McKee 1924 (Mult.)

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"Tumbleweeds" 1925/1939

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