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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Bill Hart, looking atypically dapper!

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William S. Hart ran across many popular and important people in his life, from childhood to his retirement from the screen. This may seem like a give-in, since he was an entertainer and spent his life in and around show-business, but surprisingly, many of his celebrity meetings had little to do with his film career. For example, when he was a boy, around the age of 15, he got a job as a messenger at the Everett House and the Clarendon Hotel in New York. Occasionally, he was given theatre passes as payment for his services, a tip that the young, starstruck lad enjoyed heartily. He saw many shows and some of the top performers of the day, but nothing would top one particular encounter. As one of his errands at the Everett House, he was asked to deliver a bouquet of flowers to Sarah Bernhardt-- first lady of the stage (right)-- who was currently opening at the Booth's Theatre! Though a youngster, he realized the gravity of the moment and how fortunate he was to be in the presence of a true star-- a star even before the days of cinema celebrity! After he handed over the flowers, the lovely and talented actress pinched the blushing boy's cheeks. He nearly swooned, and he certainly didn't wash his rosy reds for a long time. He treasured the moment for the remainder of his days.

After he got a little older, Bill realized that he too wanted to spend his life treading the boards, and he devoted the remainder of his adulthood to acting. During this time, he worked with many talented people, but none of them would go on to equal his acclaim nor fame after he left the stage for the screen. He did come across someone equally important to film history, however. In 1890, Bill got a gig working with Robert Downing's troupe on the play "Virginius." With him in the cast was Dustin Farnum (left), another man making a name for himself in the theatre world. The two got along well and had a definite, mutual understanding of the struggles of a starving artist. Soon after, Bill found success in his first Western role in "The Squaw Man." The success of this play led to the usual trend of similar storylines, with producers hoping to replicate "Squaw's" profits. As such, "The Virginian" was scooted into production, with none other than Dustin Farnum assuming the lead. Ironically, after Bill finished on "The Squaw Man," he would take his turn performing in "The Virginian" in 1907 at The Broadway Theater, which would solidify his new cowboy reputation. BUT, it would be Dustin who portrayed the lead in both plays when they were adapted into films by Cecil B. DeMille. Today, Dustin is rarely remembered at all if not for his participation in The Squaw Man-- the first feature length motion picture to be filmed in California (1914). The Virginian would quickly follow the same year. Perhaps it was Dustin's success in motion pictures (in some of Bill's favorite roles, no less) that turned the competitive Western star toward Los Angeles himself. Bill won that bet, as he became a much larger star than ol' Dustin ever did.

Bill solidified his place in Hollywood rather quickly. After living with his sister Mary Ellen in an bungalow at 534 Figueroa Street for several years, he finally laid down the cash to buy a property in Hollywood: 8341 DeLongpre Ave, (now a dog park). It was when he was living here, going about his normal, daily business, that he would bump into another up and comer. Bill was a hard worker, who used to boast of the fact that he worked 16 hour days for the majority of his life, getting little sleep and rarely taking vacations. As such, there wasn't a lot of spare time for Bill to just soak in his accomplishments and enjoy life. He took more pleasure in the quiet moments-- say, in reading the morning paper before trotting off to the studio in the morning. The boy who threw that daily paper onto his doorstep was none other than a young Joel McCrea (right), who would later go on to great acting acclaim himself. He must have at least chatted with Bill a time or two on his route, because after Bill left the screen for his ranch and Joel stepped into his stirrups, he was an occasional guest at La Loma de los Vientos.

It was while Bill was living here, out of the limelight and enjoying his retirement, that he made the acquaintance of another important American. While his guests were visiting on his luscious ranch, they were frequently annoyed by the same plane buzzing over their heads and making a racket. Eventually, the noise got so disruptive, that Bill decided to invite the pilot over for dinner in order to persuade him to tone down the intrusive flying. A meeting was set up, and Bill got a big surprise. Thus it was that Amelia Earhart (left) came to dine with William S. Hart. The two became fast friends, and the plane mishap was soon forgotten. Bill even gifted Amelia a buffalo skin coat, which was an artifact from the Indian wars. He must have really been taken with her, because Bill was known to be pretty possessive of such trophies and souvenirs.

But Bill wasn't the only person to have close encounters of the celeb kind. When Wallace Reid (right) and his lovely wife Dorothy--nee Davenport-- were carving out their careers in show-business in 1916, and doing a pretty good job, they purchased a house at 1822 Morgan Place. Later in his career, Wally would be a bit of a Hollywood mascot, popularly speeding around town in one of his cars or playing with his kids in the back-yard of his later mansion on DeLongpre-- right by Bill Hart. He wasn't quite as flashy at the Morgan Place address, but his presence would still disrupt the quiet street. Few people know that Wally was an accomplished musician who could learn to play any instrument by ear within mere moments of picking it up. However, his vehicle of choice, as it were, was always the saxophone. Late into the night, many of his neighbors would be graced with the sound of his melodious saxing... and many more would be irked by the incessant noise! One young neighbor belonged to the latter category, recalling in later years, after Wally's death, how he used to be constantly pestered by the sonorous tooting into the midnight hours when he was trying desperately to catch some sleep! Of course, Rudolph Valentino would later go on to take Wally's place as the leading Hollywood heartthrob, so in recollection he was perhaps glad that he had this strange musical encounter with him. Yet, at the time, he was a struggling actor living in a rented room across the street, and Wally's usual adorable antics weren't quite so cute!

Rudy ponders revenge... like a gentleman.

Charlie Chaplin is recalled as perhaps the most memorable performer of the silent film era. One of cinema's early champions, he elevated the possibilities of emotional communication through his visually superb, comically stupendous, and always heartfelt methods of storytelling. He became one of the first movie stars to consider his job both a privilege and a responsibility: he aimed to inspire and to make movies about people for the people. After finding success writing, directing, and acting in a series of shorts, he decided to sink his teeth into the next revolution of film: the full-length feature! When he began work on The Gold Rush (left), he had no concept of how great a phenomenon it was to become. Following on the heels of The Pilgrim and A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush was to become one of Chaplin's most successful films, if not its most remembered-- due to that dance of the rolls (a gag borrowed from Fatty Arbuckle, but that's another matter). Now aside from being a master filmmaker and perfectionist, Chaplin was also known for his taste in women, which tended toward the more youthful of the sex. Thus, when casting the lead female role in The Gold Rush, the vision of lovely ingenues that paraded through his office must have given him a great deal of pleasure. He was quite taken with one young girl-- a fifteen-year-old blonde of great beauty and humor. Carole Lombard was offered a screen test after a scout noticed her at the "May Day Carnival," of which she was representing Fairfax High School as its Queen. Carole was ecstatic about the audition! Charlie, on the other hand, was non-plussed by the fact that her mother, Bessie, had protectively come to the audition with her. Thus, no flirting was to be had. Carole lost the part to Lita Grey, who fulfilled Bessie's worst nightmares by soon becoming pregnant with Charlie's child. Grey lost the role due to her "condition," and it went instead to Georgia Hale.

Carole about the age Charlie first saw her. Good thing Bessie 
was there-- not that Carole couldn't take care of herself!

Spencer Tracy (right) was a serious actor and a serious man. A constant worry-wart, the mental masochist was often down on himself, haunted by visions of human mortality and his own personal flaws. This didn't stop him from being a friendly, charming guy, but it did give him a depth and pathos that was missing in the majority of the other hot-to-trot Hollywood men. Spence's personal torture also lent a great deal of gravity to his performances, none of which were superficial and all of which were carefully crafted and fleshed out human beings. Having worked his way long and hard up the Hollywood totem, Spence used his knowledge of life in general to appreciate his great success when it came, but he was also always stressed by the notion that it could all go away again. Due to this, he continued to work hard, almost never stopping for air, with the intention of keeping his family and extended family well provided for. One of the many experiences of his life that induced him to continue his consistent work ethic occurred while he was filming Quick Millions. He took notice of one of the extras in the crowd, who looked awfully familiar. That face... hadn't he seen that face in the flickers and emblazoned on magazine covers as "The King of the Movies?" Didn't that face belong to one of early cinema's greatest stars, writers, and directors? My God... It was indeed King Baggott!!! The sight gave Spence a start: my, how the mighty had fallen. Ironically, it was partially Baggott's alcoholism that spoiled his career-- a demon with which Spence could definitely relate. As a result, Baggott was relegated to uncredited roles and bit parts for cash. Spence put this humbling moment in his pocket, and never forgot that What Hollywood Giveth, Hollywood Taketh. As a result, Spence remained one of the top male leads in cinematic history, carrying the torch long after the majority of his contemporaries had bit the dust of retirement.

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