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William Surrey Hart (December 6, 1864 – June 23, 1946) was an American actor, screenwriter, director and film producer, whose activity was developed in silent film.
His real name was William Surrey Hart , he was born in Newburgh, New York. His parents were James Howard Hart (1829-1902), of Irish descent, and Katherine Diédricht Hart (1833-1909), of German origin. William had two brothers and four sisters. After twenty years, Hart began his acting career in theater and did not consider acting in movies before 49 years of age.
Successful performer of the works of William Shakespeare on Broadway, he worked with Margaret Mather and other stars, and acted in the original performance in 1899 of the play Ben-Hur.
Hart was one of the first big stars of the western genre. Fascinated by the Old West, he acquired Billy the Kid’s revolver and was a friend of the legendary Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. He debuted in the cinema in 1914 and, after acting in supporting roles in two shorts, he achieved stardom with the first role in The Bargain. Hart was particularly interested in making realistic Westerns. His films stood out for their authentic costumes and props, as well as for their extraordinary interpretative skills, trained in the theatrical stages of the United States and England.
Starting in 1915, Hart started his own series of two-coil short westerns for producer Thomas Harper Ince, who achieved great fame. Many of Hart’s early films continued to be performed in theaters, with new titles, for a decade. In 1917 Hart accepted a lucrative offer from Adolph Zukor to be part of Famous Players-Lasky, which merged with Paramount Pictures. At that time Hart already made only feature films, and titles like Square Deal Sanderson and The Toll Gate became very popular.
In the early twenties, however, the kind of western that Hart played gradually began to fall out of fashion. The public was attracted by a new type of western whose best example was the Tom Mix films, in which they wore more colorful outfits and the action was more exciting. Paramount dismissed Hart, who made one last attempt to shoot one of his western, producing with his money Tumbleweeds (1925), a title distributed by United Artists. The film worked well at the box office, with an epic sequence of settlers looking for land, but Hart sued United Artists for the poor promotion of the film. After several years, in 1940 he ruled in favor of Hart.
After Tumbleweeds, Hart retired from the cinema to his ranch “La Loma de los Vientos,” in Newhall, California, which was designed by architect Arthur R. Kelly. In 1939 Hart intervened in his only sound title, a spoken prologue for a re-release of Tumbleweeds. This intervention supposed his goodbye to the big screen.
The Dawn-Maker (1916)
The Square Deal Man (1917)
The Money Corral (1919)
White Oak (1921)
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