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Mrs. Hart Wins Right to Screen.
Court Rules Paragraph Six is Severable Clause.
Los Angeles Times | January 20, 1925.
Mrs. Winifred Westover Hart, wife of William A. Hart [sic], may work in pictures.
The clause in her settlement contact with her husband, under which she agreed not to appear in motion pictures, was held to be an illegal agreement in restraint of trade, and a severable part of the much-argued document, in a decision handed down yesterday by Judge Stephens, who spent most of last week listening to testimony and argument in Mrs. Hart's action for relief.
Because the famous paragraph six of the contract, which contains the prohibition against her working in pictures, was held to be a severable part of the agreement, Mrs. Hart can still receive the benefits of the $100,000 trust fund which was set up for her as another part of the arrangement whereby the two divided their lives.
However, she may not be billed or otherwise advertised as "Mrs. W.S. Hart" or as the wife of William S. Hart. She may use her own name of Winifred Westover Hart as she wishes.
Nor Is the validity of the contract affected by the clause providing that in event of a divorce the principal of the $100,000 trust fund shall be paid over to her. It had been argued that this was against public policy, but Judge Stephens ruled otherwise.
Mrs. Hart broke into tears as the import of the decision became manifest from the reading from the bench.
"I am so glad — so glad," she said "Now I can go to work and earn enough money to maintain the kind of home for my boy that he is entitled to in proportion to the wealth and standing of his father. That is all I have been fighting for. It has been such a long, hard fight, but worth it."
Mrs. Hart, it is said, will re-enter pictures as soon as matters can be arranged. According to Mr. Carpenter, immediately prior to the filing of the recent suit she had several attractive offers to play in pictures but was advised by her attorney that she could not accept them until the contract with her husband had been ruled upon by the courts. At present, Mr. Carpenter said, Mrs. Hart has no definite plans for her return to picture work.
Hart was not in court when the decision was rendered. Judge Stephens' ruling followed arguments by Attorneys Ingle, Carpenter and Charles W. Fourl for Mrs. Hart and James G. Scarborough for Hart.
The much-mooted agreement provided that two trust funds should be set up, one of $100,000 for Mrs. Hart and the other of $103,000 for the benefit of William S. Hart Jr., the son of the pair, who was unborn at the execution of the contract. Paragraph six provided that Mrs. Hart should not work in pictures or permit herself to be photographed for advertising purposes, under pain of losing the income from the trust fund. It was further provided that in case either should obtain a divorce, the wife should receive the principal of the trust fund.
Mrs. Hart's action for relief from the inhibitions of paragraph six brought out one of the most unusual proceedings ever heard by the Superior Court here. She claimed exemption from one of the obligations of the agreement, and at the same time asked continuance of its benefits. The situation hinged upon intricate points of law and logic, and was extensively argued.
Hart took the attitude yesterday that the decision is a decisive victory for him, but that he would appeal to make it complete.
"When Mrs. Hart testified I did not strike her or use physical violence against her, and when Judge Stephens ruled that he found no evidence of collusion in the trust agreement, a twenty-ton weight was taken from my shoulders," the actor declared.
"I consider the decision a victory for me because Mrs. Hart is not allowed to use my name, even if she does return to work," he continued. "As a matter of fact, I will appeal immediately and my wife will find herself in exactly the same position as she was before the action was begun. My lawyer has told me the judgment will be suspended as soon as I file an appeal, and that it may be two years before the State Supreme Court can get to this case. In the meantime, Mrs. Hart will not be able to work. Moreover, I think her chief film value would be derived from the use of my name.
"As long as I rested under a cloud due to reports spread over the country that I had struck and abused my wife, and tried to force her to get a divorce, I would say nothing that might be derogatory toward the mother of my boy," Hart stated.
"But in this case, a purely legal matter, I'll talk my head off if you want me to," he said.
Hart signified his intention of carrying the mailer to the United States Supreme Court if the decision goes against him in the higher State courts.
"I feel that I have been exonerated of all the awful charges made against me, which is a lot, but I want my victory to be complete," he said.
If reservations can be secured, he will leave Wednesday for a long-deferred pleasure trip to New York, Hart declared.