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William S. Hart was born in New York in 1864, as the U.S. Civil War was coming to a close. He spent some time out West, but mostly lived in New York, working some as a postal clerk. Almost all screen cowboys who followed Hart have had strong western backgrounds, growing up on ranches, and participating in rodeos, but not Hart. He became interested in stage acting, and In 1899 he created the role of Messala in the first stage production of "Ben-Hur", and later the role of Trampas in the first stage production of "The Virginian". In 1913 or 1914 at the age of 48 or 49 (information is sketchy) he made his first movie and he began directing most of his movies, and within a few years was producing them as well. The movies were usually set in the West, but not always "westerns" in the modern sense, but almost all were elaborate moralistic melodramas, with tales of romantic betrayal, and long journeys by the hero to get vengeance and redemption. He WAS a big man with a very craggy face and he looked like a western hero (his nickname was "Two-Gun"). His movies were extremely popular with the public in the late 1910s. By 1925 Hart had made around 75 movies, and he was now 60, certainly quite old for a screen cowboy. The public was tiring of his movies, and there were new younger western stars who had been in circuses and Wild West Shows (Tom Mix, Buck Jones, and Hoot Gibson) and they had far better cowboy abilities. Besides, Hart was involved in both a messy divorce AND a paternity suit, and that publicity was not helping him. Hart made one final film, Tumbleweeds, in 1925, and then retired. Hard passed away in 1946 at the age of 81, and he donated his large estate to the City of Los Angeles. His mansion is now a museum and has been preserved with its original fixtures and furnishings intact and the surrounding land is now a park.
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