[KHTS] – Films featuring William S. Hart again found life on the big screen as the Friends of Hart Park presented the 20th Annual Silents Under the Stars fundraiser Saturday night in Newhall.
The sold out event attracted nearly 200 guests and volunteers at Hart Hall to enjoy music by Mild Bill and the Mild Cats, eat a barbecue dinner from Rattler’s, bid on items in the Western Silent Auction and view a quartet of films celebrating silent film star Hart.
Guests were also treated to a twilight tour of the William S. Hart Mansion and Museum.
Laurene Weste, president of Friends of Hart Park, said funds raised from the event will go toward the care of the animals at Hart Park and to install a movie theater inside of Hart Hall.
“We hope to equip it as a site for business conferences,” said Weste. “We also want to purchase a dance floor for the venue.”
The evening was devoted “Hart & Humor” and was hosted by “SCV In The Movies” hosts E.J. Stephens and Bill West.
The first short, “The Giddyap Kid,” was a parody of Hart’s 1915 silent Western “On the Night Stage” created for the pilot of the television show “Fractured Flickers.” Hosted by actor Hans Conried “the Giddyap Kid” was filmed in December, 1960 and transformed a serious Hart film to a comedy piece featuring a used-horse salesman.
“The Giddyap Kid” was the only “talkie” of the evening and was followed by Hart’s last film appearance in “Show People.”
“Show People” is a 1928 American silent comedy film directed by King Vidor that starred Marion Davies and William Haines. The film included notable cameo appearances, not only by Hart, but by many of the film personalities of the day, including stars Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert. In the clip Hart does a “quick draw” of a salt and pepper shaker to Fairbanks swashbuckling antics with a butter knife during a lunch scene at the Warner Bros. studio commissary.
The third offering of the night was a 17-minute short comedy film directed by and starring Buster Keaton. The 1922 movie, “The Frozen North” was a parody of early western films, especially those of William S. Hart.
In the film Keaton spoofs Hart’s demeanor, and in one scene where he puts up a picture of a cowboy (brandishing guns in each hand) in a window to dupe gamblers, the image is of Hart.
The evening concluded with the 1918 Hart feature “Blue Blazes Rawden.”
The dramatic silent film was directed by William S. Hart and stars Hart as tough lumberjack Blue Blazes Rawden.
The silent films were accompanied by live music written and performed by Ray Lowe.
Before the films were screened Lowe was presented by a certificate of appreciation by the Friends of Hart Park. It was presented to Lowe by Silents Under the Stars chairwoman Sharon Blowers.
West, a member of the board of directors for Friends of Hart Park, said this was the second year that the films were presented in digital format.
Previously film historian David Shepard would bring his Bell and Howell projector and the film being screened. However, Shepard said it was becoming too difficult for him to make the long drive to the Santa Clarita Valley from his home in Northern California.
“Last year was the first time we had this event without Dave,” said West. “We really miss him, he was the heart of this event. We have a standing offer to pay for his airplane ticket if he wants to attend.”
Despite Shepard’s absence organizers found a way to continue the event.
“We were scared to death, but we pulled it off,” said West.
Among the guests at the event were Charles Epting and Hadley McGregor of Huntington Beach who dressed in vintage style for the event. Epting sported a Buster Keaton style hat and suit.
He said it wasn’t his first time attending the event.
“I wouldn’t miss this evening,” he said.
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 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. (the year of his birth as been listed as either 1864 or 1870), 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 at his mansion high above Hart 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 required 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.