Silent Western film star William S. Hart rode onto the silver screen Saturday night and enthralled an audience of more than 200 guests at the 21st Annual Silents Under the Stars fundraiser at his former ranch in Newhall.
The event, which benefits Friends of Hart Park, was held at Hart Hall and included music by Disneyland’s Mild Bill and the Mild Cats, a barbecue dinner from Rattler’s and the chance to bid on items the Silents’ silent auction.
Guests were also treated to a twilight tour of the William S. Hart Mansion and Museum.
The highlight of the evening was the screening of Hart’s first feature length motion picture, “The Bargain.”
“The Bargain” is a 1914 American Western film starring Hart, and in 2010, it was added to the National Film Registry.
The film stars Hart playing a character that would become his trademark – the “good bad man.”
In the picture, he plays “the notorious Jim Stokes, The Two-Gun Man” and is badly wounded following a botched hold-up. He falls in love with his nurse, and the two are wed. “The Bargain” also features beautiful location photography in Arizona’s Grand Canyon.
‘You Asked for It’
Prior to the feature presentation, “SCV In The Movies” hosts E.J. Stephens and Bill West introduced the film and a clip from the television show, “You Asked for It.”
In the clip, host Jack Ward Smith visits the Hart Mansion and Museum and interviews Western actor Joel McCrea, a friend of Hart’s. The two discuss Hart and his films and take a tour of the mansion. The show, shot in the late 1950s, shows the view from the top of the mansion at the pristine Santa Clarita Valley below, devoid of the current clusters of tract homes and businesses.
“You Asked for It” was a human-interest television show that originally aired on TV from 1950 to 1959 and featured segments produced from reader requests.
On Saturday, special guest Wyatt McCrea, grandson of Joel McCrea, spoke to the crowd about his late grandfather and his friendship with Hart. He also spoke about his grandfather’s desire to emulate Hart’s generosity when he donated parts of his McCrea Ranch in Ventura County for public use.
Friends of Hart Park
Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, president of Friends of Hart Park, said funds raised from the event will go toward the care of the animals at the park and to install a movie theater and seating inside of Hart Hall.
“We are growing into a phenomenal group of people who support Hart Park,” Weste said. “Bill Hart would never have believed what Newhall has become. What a gift it is to have 200 acres of open space in downtown Newhall.”
Weste said funds from the event should allow for the long-anticipated installation of a theater in Hart Hall, as well as equipment to transform the venue into a site for business conferences.
“This should put us over the top,” said Weste. “We’re excited to complete this project.”
Silents Under the Stars chairwoman Sharon Blowers said this year’s event featured more than 90 silent auction items including artwork and baskets filled with coupons for trips, entertainment tickets, gift certificates, Western memorabilia and a special gift basket from U.S. Rep. Steve Knight featuring a congressional cookbook and a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol on the Fourth of July.
“All the money made from the silent auction goes directly to Hart Park to support the animals and to improve buildings,” Blowers said. “This is a great cause.”
Blowers said the Silents Under the Stars committee started work in April.
“It is a long and tedious job,” she said. “It is an amazing committee.”
“The Bargain” was accompanied by live music performed by Ray Lowe. This was Lowe’s 11th year providing the music to accompany a Hart film at the event. For past showings, Lowe would often write an original score after viewing the film.
“I had read about the film in an anthology book The Friends of Hart Park gave me a few years ago, so I got an early start,” Lowe said. “Then I found the perfect piece of music, so the main theme this year I did not write. I found it at church.”
Lowe said the music was originally published in 1835 in a Southern Harmony hymnal.
“In the 1835 hymnal, it said this tune is called ‘Pilgrim,’ and it was attributed as ‘traditional,’” he said. “I don’t know how long it takes for a tune to become old and labeled ‘traditional,’ but if it is at least 20 years, then the theme I am using for this film would be at least 100 years older than the movie, and the movie is 100 years old.”
Lowe said that as always, he had “a lot of fun” working on the project.
William S. Hart
William Surrey Hart began his film career in 1914 when he was at or near age 50, and over the course of the next 11 years he appeared in or produced more than 60 movies. He was embraced by the public as the prototype of the frontier hero. Born in Newburgh, N.Y., in 1864, Hart and his family traveled extensively in the Midwest during his boyhood. He was raised in a pioneer atmosphere and had a lifelong respect for the American Indian culture.
Many items in Hart’s collection of authentic Indian artifacts are on display in his mansion on the hill above the park in Newhall. At Hart’s death in 1946, he left his Newhall mansion and grounds to the county of Los Angeles for the establishment of a park. A condition of his will stipulated that no entry fee be collected.
For more information about the Friends of Hart Park and the Hart Mansion and Museum, visit www.friendsofhartpark.org and www.hartmuseum.org.