William S. Hart portrays three characters in Lambert Hillyer's "Three Word Brand" (Paramount-Artcraft 1921): a Western pioneer and his twin sons, one of whom is nicknamed
"Three Word Brand" because he doesn't talk much. We even see Hart opposite Hart on screen (as the two brothers) in an early example of special effects. (The film exists.)
Original publicity still No. L386-51, 8x10 inches, linen backed, from the (Vincent) Mercaldo Archive in New York.
The love interest on and off screen is Jane Novak, who was paired with Hart four times previously. Novak was 24 and in the process of a divorce in January 1921 when casting for "Three Word
Brand" was underway. Hart was 56. They planned to marry September 18, 1921, when her divorce would be final, around the time the picture would be released. During their engagement,
Novak visited Hart's De Longpre house and "also went with him to his [Newhall] ranch, where they rode horses. Bill was fond of Jane's [3-year-old] daughter, Mickey,
whom he called Bubbles, and the couple usually took the child to the ranch with them. 'Mickey loved horses,' Jane said. 'She never rode; she was too young for that.' Hart bought a little crib
for Bubbles and kept it at the ranch house for her naps" Davis (2003:155-156). (Note: Hart bought the Newhall ranch in 1918 and used the ranch house at the base of the hill.
He didn't build the hilltop mansion until 1926-1927.)
After filming of "Three Word Brand" wrapped in the spring of 1921, Novak left for a month-long New York vacation with Hart's sister, Mary Ellen. Hart pined for Novak and bombarded her with love letters.
Jane left "Bubbles" behind with her brother, Joe, and his wife, Ann. "While Jane was away," Davis writes (pg. 159), "Bill spent a great deal of time at his ranch, usually taking
Joe, Ann and Bubbles along."
What happened next was part of a pattern. Much later, Novak's daughter said she "was convinced that Mary Ellen was responsible for putting an end to her mother's brief engagement
to Hart" (ibid.: 163). By June 1921 it was over. "Three Word Brand" premiered September 25, 1921. In December, on the rebound, Hart, then 57, married 22-year-old Winifred Westover.
Mary Ellen would be blamed for the marriage lasting only a few short months.
Given the turmoil in his personal life, it would be another two years before Hart made another picture, "Wild Bill Hickok." It was his third-to-last.
The age difference between himself and his love interests just wasn't working anymore — on screen or off.
About 'Three Word Brand.'
From Koszarski (1980:140):
Produced by the William S. Hart Company; distributed by Paramount-Artcraft; New York premiere September 25, 1921; released October 16, 1921; ©October 16, 1921; seven reels (6633 feet).
Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Lambert Hillyer from a story by Will Reynolds; photographed by Joe August.
Print sources: LC; MoMA; Newhall; Historical.
CAST: William S. Hart (Three Word Brand/Governor Paul Marsden/Ben Trego); S.J. Bingham (George Barton); Jane Novak (Ethel Barton); Gordon Russell (Bull Yeates); George C. Pearce (John Murray); Colette Forbes (Jean); Ivor McFadden (Solly); Herschel Mayall (Carrol); Leo Willis (McCabe); The Twins (as themselves).
SYNOPSIS: Ben Trego, a Western pioneer, sends his twin boys to safety and stays to fight a band of Indians who surround his wagon. To make sure that the boys will escape, he blows the Indians and himself to pieces with his stock of gunpowder. When the boys grow to manhood they are both living in Utah, but are strangers to each other, having been adopted by different persons whose names they have taken. One of the brothers is named Marsden and is Governor of the state. The other is known as Three Word Brand, because of his economy of speech. He is part owner of a ranch, his partner being George Barton, whose pretty sister, on her arrival from the East, sees Brand giving a thieving cowboy a well-merited beating. Miss Ethel at once decides that she can never like her brother's partner.
The owners of the adjoining ranch put up a job to accuse George Barton of murder and he is thrown into jail. This is a scheme to get Barton out of the way, as he and Brand are against a crooked bill to have the water rights controlled by the state and the water supply put into the hands of the politicians. The Governor is being urged to sign the bill. Before doing so, he resolves to go to the valley and investigate the matter himself. Brand sees him, notes the strong resemblance between them and sets a scheme of his own in motion. He has his foreman keep the Governor in the wilderness for five days, and goes to the capital at Salt Lake City. Here Brand impersonates the Governor, kills the water rights bill and signs a pardon for Barton. In the meantime, the leader of a gang on the next ranch has shot the Governor, believing him to be Brand. When the ranch owner returns from the capital, the brothers learn the truth about each other, and Ethel decides that she is willing to become Brand's wife. [Moving Picture World, October 8, 1921]
REVIEWS: The main story follows the careers of the [Trego] brothers after they reach manhood, one brother being Governor of Utah and the other a plainsman whose taciturn mode of speech gives the picture its title. The strong resemblance between the pair offers the star an opportunity to shine in the vigorous melodramatic situations that he handles so well, and also to introduce considerable of his best brand of dry humor. ...[Edward Weitzel, Moving Picture World, October 8, 1921]
Although it hasn't been officially announced as such, the past week, as far as the Broadway picture theaters are concerned, might well have been called "Dual Role Week" what with Mary Pickford, James Kirkwood, Charlie Chaplin and William S. Hart all appearing in two parts in their respective productions, and Bill Hart goes the others one better by playing a third part, that of the father of twins. ... It's a real Western picture with fine backgrounds and atmosphere that goes with it ... some excellent silhouette shots have been obtained by Hart's cameraman, Joe August. And one shot of Salt Lake City with the snow capped mountains in the distance is great. The direction is first rate ... Hillyer has not wasted any time on unnecessary detail. It is all clean cut with no gaps nor slackening of interest. [Wid's, October 2, 1921]
About the Mercaldo Archives.
119-04 Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill 19, New York
104-42 104th Street, Ozone Park 16, New York
Click to enlarge.
Vicent Mercaldo, an Italian immigrant, was an early-20th-century Western historian and painter who collected a large number of documents, photographs and other memorabilia, especially concerning William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. His paintings and documents are featured in several Cody biographies, and his collected photographs reside in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and other museums. His original publicity photos of William S. Hart were acquired for SCVHistory.com in 2018.
Brooks Brothers Hobbyist
The New Yorker | August 20, 1955.
Did you know that the largest collection of Buffalo Billiana in private hands is in the private hands of Vincent Mercaldo, Brooks Brothers' head necktie cutter and patternmaker? We journeyed up to Mr. Mercaldo's apartment in Queens the other evening and found ourself in a living room containing a painting of William F. Cody on horseback, and another of Custer's last fight. Custer's hands were gloved, and each was holding a Colt revolver.
"I made a mistake there," said our host, who had painted both pictures. "A man can't shoot a revolver with gloves on. At least, Custer never did."
Mr. Mercaldo, a dark, intense man of 53 who was wearing tortoise-shell glasses and a blue and white polka-dot bow tie, began to collect memorabilia of Buffalo Bill and other Indian fighters long before he took to painting them.
"I was born in Marseille, of Italian parents," he said. "My father was a builder and architect. When I was 3, my mother became very sick, my father's fortune started shrinking, and my mother and I went to live with my grandfather in Naples while my father emigrated to the United States. One of my earliest recollections is Vesuvius in action in 1906, when I was 4."
Mr. Mercaldo and his mother came here to join his father three years later, and one of his earliest recollections of the United States is a poster in a store on Park Row advertising Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
"It made a tremendous impression on me," he said, "and this was strengthened by my father's saying he had seen Buffalo Bill in Rome. I began to collect Buffalo Bill dime novels — 'Buffalo Bill's Boy Pard,' 'Buffalo Bill's Cannon Cache,' 'Buffalo Bill's Sioux Foes,' and so on — and cut the pictures out. Later, I collected Wild West Show cigarette cards, and by the time I was in grammar school in Brooklyn, I was collecting photographs of Buffalo Bill and woodcuts of him, many torn out of books. For a while, I had an after-school job weighing the contents of pushcarts for a junk dealer. The carts contained a lot of books, and my pay was permission to tear pictures out of them. I must have over 500 pictures of Buffalo Bill. 1 never met him, but when I was 18, three years after he died, I went to see the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show in Coney Island and met Pawnee Bill, an old Cody associate. He gave me some photos of himself and Bill. Fifty-one of my pictures were used in Jim Horan and Paul Sann's 'Pictorial History of the Wild West,' and 38 are being used in 'Buffalo Bill and the Wild West,' a pictorial biography by Henry Sell and Victor Weybright that the Oxford University Press is bringing out this fall."
Buffalo Bill's admirer took us to his study, which is full of Wild West Show posters photographs of dance-hall girls — Big Nose Kate, Crazy Horse Lil, Big Minnie Bignon — and boxes and boxes of B.B. pictures and Wild West programs.
"Here's Buffalo Bill signing a contract with Pawnee Bill to become partners," he said. "Here's Bill and Prince Ludwig of Bavaria in Munich in 1890. Here's the original of the only photograph showing Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack, and Cody together."
"How about the tie business?" we asked.
"Oh, I went to work for a tie manufacturer in Brooklyn when I was 14," he said, "and eventually became head cutter. The firm folded in 1948 and I went over to Brooks. We make ties to order for Alfred Vanderbilt and Clark Gable and so on, but I don't really like ties. What I like is Buffalo Bill. I believe that in the field of Buffalo Bill there's no individual that can top me. In some things I'm better than the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress."
Mr. Mercaldo, who has a son of 15, three married daughters and eight grandchildren, seven of them little girls, introduced us to his wife, who handed us a drink.
"I don't really like Buffalo Bill," she said.
LW3425: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 2018 by Leon Worden.