William S. Hart was the strong, silent knight of the early Western. Middle-aged, dour, saddleworn. He generally rode a crooked trail until redeemed by the love of a good woman whom he would treat with the utmost chivalry.
His father was a miller who moved West when Hart was a boy, and he was brought up beside an Indian reservation, later becoming a cowboy in Kansas and learning to love the life he would one day put on the screen. At 15 he moved back East and began acting, mostly in Shakespeare, and working his way up to the role old Messala in Ben-Hur on Broadway by 1899.
In 1914 he made his first Western shorts for Thomas H. Ince and was soon directing his own features. As he joined Ince at Triangle and then switched to Famous Players Lasky and United Artists as an independent, his projects grew more expensive and sentimental, but no less Victorian.
The stirring Tumbleweeds proved his swansong, so poorly distributed by United Artists that Hart’s career was ruined. He retired to his ranch today a public museum – and wrote his memoirs.