Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Artist James Montgomery Flagg writes about William S. Hart.
Impressions of His Character; Descriptions of Hollywood Home and Newhall Ranch.



Flagg: Fritz 1922


Flagg's KisselKar 1924


Flagg Presents Portrait 1924


Flagg Writes About Hart 1925


Letter 1926: Flagg Dissatisfied with Portrait


Letter from Hart to Flagg 1945

Webmaster's note.

Flagg's most famous work. Click to enlarge.

Artist James Montgomery Flagg drove west from New York in the middle of 1924 on invitation of William S. Hart. The box-office star had previously commissioned Flagg to illustrate one or more of his books; now Flagg was to paint a portrait of Hart astride his pinto pony, Fritz. (This portrait, which hangs in the Hart Mansion in Newhall.)

Flagg wrote about his cross-country adventure — and in 1924, when you forgo the iron horse for your own flivver, it really was an adventure. Flagg's resulting book was published in 1925 under the title, "Boulevards All the Way — Maybe!" and subtitled, "Being an Artist's Truthful Impression of the U.S.A. from New York to California and Return, by Motor."

Most of the tome expounds on the trip itself and the fleabag motels that dotted the West. The sections where Flagg discusses Hart appear below. Page numbers are shown. The portrait discussed in Chapter X, and its unveiling at the Ambassador Hotel, is the one mentioned above. Flagg painted the "Hart part" at the actor's Hollywood home and came to Newhall to paint the "Fritz part."

[149] Arrived at Los Angeles twenty-one days from New York; subtracting three days for the Grand Canyon trip, that makes eighteen days across. ... [151] Bill, big fine Bill Hart, came in the next day to see us, and to take us out to Hollywood to dinner at his house. We were to stay a few days in Los before going to stop with him for our two weeks' visit.

[152] When we returned to the hotel Bill arrived in his big car to take us out to DeLongpre Boulevard for dinner. He snorted and said he never dressed except when they made him do it to get into some restaurant in New York. [153] Bill's chauffeur, Joe, is an ex-soldier, and a whale. And he can drive a car. I tell you this who am the best driver in the world.

Joe has a peculiar type of head, hawk nose and prognathous jaw, like D.W. Griffith, Burgess Johnson and Norman Hapgood. He is lazy and good-natured, altho they do not always go together. His is the kind of laziness that will take the most awful trouble to help somebody on any kind of a job but his regular one! Of course he is married and, of course, he likes to stay out all night sometimes and if he takes particular pains to win at a Japanese game of chance at the Beach, and comes home with his arms full of aluminum frying pans, boxes of cereal and egg beaters, he cannot understand why that does not appease his wife! He calls Bill, Bill, but not to his face.

Bill Hart has a charming, moderate-sized white house in Hollywood, surrounded by a large garden. His sister, Mary, an ash blonde, quiet, invalided thro a motor accident, lives with him alone with their [Japanese] servants. But any size house smaller than the Penn station would be tight across Bill's shoulders. Indoors cramps his style. I had the impression always as I saw him about the house that he was like a trapped lion, biding his time until he could get out in the open where he could breathe and stretch himself. [154] Bill wouldn't make a very good N.Y. interior decorator! He might use one to stir his coffee or as a pipe cleaner.

When he called for us at the hotel and brought us out for our visit, he had to show us his treasures, even as the [Japanese] boy was carrying our bags upstairs. He was as enthusiastic as a boy about these trophies of many years, most of them presents from "fans." His own room was full of saddle blankets, tobacco pouches and tomahawks that were formerly taken every spring to the safe deposit vaults of prominent Indian families in the West. He had elaborate saddles and a glass case full of small arms, from the pair of baby derringers that packed a pass to the pearly gates when carried by some notorious Bret Harte gambler of the old days, to the battered gun of Kit Carson's. There was Al Jenning's holdup gun, and a famous bad man's Colt with notches cut deep and viciously in it which had been the most treasured prize in the possession of a small town in Arizona until Bill passed thro one night when he was on Liberty Loan business during the war. [157] The townsmen woke him up at about two A.M., made him dress, and said they figured to see him ride an outlaw horse on the railroad tracks as long as he was going thro the town and professed to be able to fork a cayuse. He rode that horse, and the whooping cowpunchers gave him this gun as a reward. This collection of guns he has willed to the Smithsonian — when he "kicks off," he said. In a little case in a dark corner, he had the smallest statue I ever saw. With the aid of a reading glass I saw that it was a perfect likeness of Bill in his cowboy outfit in a spirited pose with two guns in action — and the figure was one and three-quarters inches high and carved out of a billiard ball.

On the living room walls he had a number of paintings, including one thriller by Russell, the Cowboy Artist, a friend of Bill's, whom he introduced 'to the world in the East. My innate modesty is all that prevents me from saying there were several of my illustrations for Bill's stories framed and stuck up there. Each time I walked out of the living room I tripped over a tiny buckskin tepee, an Indian doll house, that was on the floor.

[158] In his own room Bill took a tiny pair of brown moccasins off the edge of a picture frame and said with a twisted smile, "That's all I have of my son." That and a photo of a lusty blonde baby of six months with a little toy gun in each hand, whooping like a cowhand come to town to spend his months' wages. And it was laughably like Bill himself, long upper lip and all.

Being with Bill all day and far into the nights for two weeks gave me the opportunity to see what manner of man he was. I had always been one of his most devoted friends from a distance, and had long wanted to paint him on horse back, outdoors and life size, which I did. He, of course, is one of the best known and best loved people in the world; nobody knocks Bill. And he is the hero of millions of youthful hearts. As one sees him in the flickers, so is he in real life. Not that he is outwardly the same, he does not parade around in cow clothes with six guns, but dresses like other men. What he portrays on the screen — a fine, clean soul, simple, dogged, strong, passionate in his likes and hatreds, a keen sense of humor, a lover of animals — it is all there. [159] At the time I visited him fate had dealt him two fairly raw deals, and there was a cloud over him that made it hard for him to keep the bitterness from his thoughts. But he remained the same chivalrous, upstanding American, who put his own happiness and apparent honor second to his compassion for the weaker sex.

While he does nothing to attract public attention, in fact avoids it sedulously, he is human enough to get a boyish delight out of being recognized wherever he goes, and being hailed affectionately as "Bill" by all kinds and conditions of people.

He takes the West seriously, and is one of the best informed men in the country on its melodramatic history. When he shows you picture of the old western life, you see things as they really were, carefully studied and meticulously correct in atmosphere and spirit and detail, authentic pictures of a bygone heroic day in our history. And he has a justifiable pride in his past work. Bill has a ranch about thirty miles away from Hollywood at Newhall, where he drove every other day with a crate of carrots and a package of liver. [160] He keeps his horses, dogs and cats out there. Since his old bull dog has died, he has not felt like having a house pet. It was fun to see Fritz, the real name of his paint horse, the famous killer that was his sidekick in nearly all his daredevil adventures for the screen, toss his head in the air a couple of blocks off when he saw Bill get out of his car with a bunch of carrots in his hand. Then he would canter up, followed by the other horses, and 'Lisbeth, the giant mule. The cats, meanwhile, began miouwing around for their liver. 'Lisbeth was huge and gentle, but in her gentlest at first speed I'll bet she could walk thro the big limousine without noticing it much. There was a good-sized main ranch house built of redwood and several cottages and log cabins scattered over the hills. A marvelous spot for a bunch of, say, a dozen honeymoon couples.

We went to a rodeo in a cloud of dust one afternoon at Newhall, and Bill, who had been posing all the morning for me, was in his sage brush business suit without chaps. Of course, he knew all the contestants, who clamored for him to ride some of the sunfishers. But he wouldn't. [161] As a matter of fact, I don't believe he is crazy about riding for all his expertness, just does it as a part of his job. And, of course, he is temperamental.

One night Bill and I took a long ride to the beach, and had dinner at the Ship, a famous restaurant built on sloping decks as in a saloon aboard ship. Bill hadn't been there for some time, and when we came out he was disgusted, not with the dinner, which was excellent, but because he had remembered it as a gay carnivalistic resort. "Why, —! There were respectable families there with their children!" he stormed. I may mention in passing that Bill cusses fervent, frequent and fluent, but it is not offensive.

[162] One of the trick show places near Hollywood is the Magnetic Hill road which winds in and out of canyons. They take the stranger there, let him read a sign board telling the world that Magnetic Hill is controlled by some ancient Indian spook, then they put the gear in neutral and the car apparently rolls up hill! [163] All bunk, of course, and merely an optical illusion. But it's a good trick, and fools almost everyone. I liked sitting up late with Bill Hart listening to his recollections and stories when the rest of the house was asleep.

He inspires confidence. With Bill you could go anywhere, with the sneaking hope that ruffians would attempt to waylay you just to see him annihilate them. But most men out West are only too proud to get a friendly nod from him. I suppose I this all sounds more or less like hero-worship. Well, it is.

A number of times when Bill and I were about, word would get around at once that he was present. Stout, perspiring mothers would rush p to me as I wore a sombrero, dragging pop-eyed offspring by the wrists, and saying, "Are you Mr. Hart — I have long-admired-you-on-the-screen-could-you-get-my-son (or daughter) into-the-movies—?" I would thereupon point to Bill, and he would be in for it.


When we started with the portrait he bought five or six new Stetson's for me to choose one for the picture, explaining that he couldn't keep these five gallon lids long, as he had to give them away to friends. I had to paint Bill and his horse separately, as the restive little rascal wouldn't stand still a minute. With Joe's help we rigged up a barrel on a packing case in the hottest spot in the garden, put a saddle on it, and there, looking ferocious, sat Bill with a gun in each hand. The bad man he was supposed to be looking for in the Arizona desert, was really Wally Reid's little son and a playmate, peeping over the hedge in the garden, fascinated.

[165] Bill's expression was quite a strain, and as he would throw himself on the grass during rests he would say, "You know that expression isn't really me; it tires me out!" He was acting the part in his mind as well as posing!

After ten days of work in the extreme heat, the picture was finished and we carried it in to Stendahl at the Ambassador who took all his other paintings from his gallery to show Bill's grandly at a reception. Bill appeared in the outfit he was painted in and allowed people, including the beautiful Katharine McDonald, with whom he used to shoot craps, to make a fuss over him.

Tommy Meighan and his wife were at the Ambassador the day of Bill's party and told me of the work of a dying girl who had remarkable talent and begged me to spare a minute to come up to their rooms where they would show me an example of the poor child's work. When I got up there, Tommy said there was no such girl, he simply wanted to give me a drink of ice water!

Hart poses at his Hollywood home for Flagg's 1924 "The Bounty Hunter." Photo as published in the 1999 Powwow book. Click to enlarge.

Johnny Baxter, the Wild Irishman of Los Angeles, and his wife took us all down to their house after the reception which had included Jack Dempsey, all dolled up in soup-and-fish, with his sweetheart by his side.

[166] Baxter, soon as we reached his house, displayed a case filled with all makes of rifle in the known world and nearly every kind of musical instrument. Upon each of the latter he played a horrible tune and laughed like an imp at himself. He is a mad sportsman, trying his hand at everything from yachting to polo and writes dreadful ballads about each game which he insists upon my illustrating because he knows that is the only reason he can sell them.

Mrs. Baxter brought in a sleepy cherub for our admiration while Bill disapproved of waking the wondering bambino. Bill was a little bored at first because our host was talking so much, but when the Bubbling Baxter warmed up and told an exciting story of a yacht race, Bill thawed out and was his old self again.

Of course, the one person in the Baxter family who had unalloyed talent was the quiet wife. There were some remarkably well done water colors of hers in a back room. She had abandoned that for raising cherubim and from my fleeting glance at those beautiful children I believe she was wise!

[167] A lot of people think Bill is an Easterner because he was born in New York State. He was taken to Idaho as a baby and grew up there in the real West and since childhood has known horses and cattle like Lord knew Taylor, Damon knew Pythias, and Weber knew Fields. His first appearance in New York was in a walking part: he walked the well-known Mr. Durland's horses around in Central Park at fifty cents a morning and lived over a grocery.

Later, when he had made a hit as Cash Hawkins in the Squaw Man he became a friend of Ethel and Jack and Lionel Barrymore. They wanted to take him around to parties but first they visited Brooks Brothers with him to get dinner jacket and fixings.

The first time he got into the new duds was the occasion of a ball at Jackson Gouraud's. He went to the address given him and found what he thought was an apartment house. He rang the bell and asked the man who waved him to the elevator to let him off at Mr. Gouraud's floor. "The Mahster's floor, sir," replied the footman. Gouraud's face showed disappointment when his eyes took in Bill's clothes. [168] "O," said he, "we were hoping you were coming in those other clothes!" Bill was flabbergasted and was on the point of leaving but Gouraud managed to placate him, explaining they had all hoped to see a real cowboy. He offered to send to the theatre for Bill's stage outfit and Bill consented with the inward determination to get back at Gouraud during the night in some way or other. The party was both late and gay and Bill was asked to do some fancy six gun shooting. He did — to the extent of $35,000 worth of ceilings and objets d'art which Gouraud was good sport enough to laugh off and say it was worth it!

I must tell you Bill's experience in the old days in Winnamucca, Nevada. He was traveling with a small theatrical company that had stayed over in this dump, Winnamucca. After dinner he wandered into the dance hall and saloon, the one lively spot in the settlement. It was run by a good looking woman who was about a twenty minute egg — had to be to run a joint like that. Bill began talking with her and learned that she needed a bartender for the night. Bill laughingly volunteered to play the part and went behind the bar. [169] He didn't know much about mixing drinks but there was no call for anything, except whiskey and glasses. There was a sort of corral in front of the bar to fence off the drinkers from the dancers.

The lady-manager called everyone to order and introduced Bill as a real sure-enough Western barkeep. Great applause. They all thought it was true because he didn't take off his hat, a sure sign of the genuine article. A small, stocky, middle-aged man stepped up later and bought a drink. He and Bill started talking and the stranger said he had heard the sheriff was looking for him so he dropped in. It seems that he was the largest ranch owner in the county, had killed a man recently in self defense and defied the sheriff to lay a hand on him. He took a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle out of his pocket, showed Bill a cut of a well-known gunfighter. Alongside of the portrait was a pistol target with the bullseye riddled. This was the man's brother and a sample of his shooting. There was a stir in the hall and a big heavy man came in, walked slowly up to the bar beside the small man and ordered a drink. [170] Just then a cat leapt up on the bar and sat purring, under Bill's chin. Bill, wondering when something would explode, stroked the tabby and continued chinning with the ranch owner. He acted as if there were nothing at all unfriendly in the air, smiling and stroking the cat under the noses of the two enemies who were evidently hypnotized into impotency by the curious mental suggestion of that smoothing of the animal's fur! The psychological moment passed and nothing happened, the sheriff wandering back into the hall when he had finished his drink.

Later in the evening Bill relinquished his job and on his way to bed he dropped into a lunch counter shack for a bite to eat. He glanced up at the big clock and sang out to the counter man, "Why don't you keep your old clock right? It's twenty minutes slow!" As he spoke, a quiet although forceful looking man slipped onto the stool next to him and said in a purring voice, "Stranger, that clock is exactly correct!" Bill looked at him and recognized the sure-shooting brother of the little ranchman!

Bill was not totin' a gun. He looked at his watch again and then at the clock with the most astonished expression. [171] "You're right," he agreed. "It certainly is absolutely correct — to the tick!"

He forgot all about his midnight lunch and hurried out of the restaurant as quickly as possible. He must have been quite young in those days.

Bill says there is only one really bad town left in the country — and it is over the border in Mexico, Mexicali. There is a rip-roaring gambling and dance hall, a counterpart of the worst of the old, wild days, where they have one hundred and fifty dance girls and eighty-five "feel de zhwah" who are not allowed on the dance floor but mind their own business in eighty-five little huts outside. If a dance girl is caught working at any other vocation than dancing she is promptly marched outside the town and told not to return. There is every gambling device known; they run several shifts of croupiers and faro dealers and there is a bartender every four feet behind a long, long bar! The management pays the Mexican government (whatever that is) the equivalent of $45,000 a month for protection which is in the form of uniformed police. [172] Can any little boy or girl tell me what would happen if New Yorkers woke up some morning and found Mexicali over near Jersey City'?

Bill and I went over to Los Angeles one morning to see Jack Dempsey acting in his movies. They were shooting some comedy scenes in a theatre and we found Jack in his dressing room making up. He was stripped and he certainly is built like a young gladiator. It was amusing to see the stage hands, dressers and trainers fawning at him and trying to avoid his playful jabs. Even one of his playful short arm jabs is worth avoiding.

There is an amusing phase of outdoor movie shooting on location which is called Kangaroo Court, known also as "chapping parties." No one, from producer or star down to the humble extra, is immune. It is a form of justice meted out to offenders against the peace of the camp, a survival of a more serious practice of frontier days. In the early times, for example, if a man was caught abusing his horse or committing any breach of the range law, the Kangaroo Court dealt with him and in many cases he was worked over into a good cowpuncher.

[173] With the movie people it is more or less of a comedy altho the findings of the Court are irrevocable. The Court meets usually at night after the day's work is done, altho a special session can be called at any time if the case is urgent enough. There is a judge, a prosecuting attorney and an attorney for the Defendant, a marshal and a sheriff.

An attorney can easily become involved for contempt of court. Seven licks is the average penalty. The convicted one is forced to his hands and knees and held there by a man appointed by the Court. Then the executioner, with plenty of room to work in, swings a pair of "chaps" with a full, round swing which culminates in a sharp impact with the least dignified portion of the culprit's physique!

When they carry out the letter of the law the punishment is much severer as the "chaps" are first soaked in water. This soaking is called "drawing" a pair of "chaps," and the man who can do it properly is considered quite an artist. Even women are not immune from this treatment. A hardy race these movie people!

With unquestionable motives I gave an Irish Terrier pup to Bill as a parting gift. I named him Surrey, using Bill's middle monicker [sic]. [174] He turned out to be more of a "parting shot!" He gave Bill more to worry about than all his other troubles put together.

I learned after our departure that Surrey practically demoralized Bill's household. He wired me that the gardener had put in a requisition for four hundred feet of new garden hose; the cook and butler had given notice; all his personal clothes were chewed up and he had left the top, or a portion of the top, of his straw hat and one sock — but that Surrey was feeling fine! And I had meant so well by my little present! Still later Bill wrote me that dog poisoners were at work in Hollywood and that little Surrey, the playful, had been poisoned but he had given him castor oil at once and the "vet" had pulled him thro.

A party of those pale flesh-colored worms called reformers came to Bill's office one time and the spokesman said his society had had their attention called to Bill's cruelty to animals. If you know Bill you know such an accusation is the height of absurdity. He is, when unjustly accused, a dangerous gentleman. He rose slowly at his desk, white with anger, and said, "If any one of you will step forward and make that accusation personally, I will kill him where he stands." [175] They all tiptoed out of the office as rapidly as possible!

The day we left on the return trip, Bill drove with Joe ahead of us for about sixteen miles to show us the best way out of the environs of Hollywood, like a pilot taking us down the harbor, and we said goodby at a crossroads.

Shortly after this, a young feller working at a filling station noticed my New York license plate and, addressing his buddy, he pointed to the plate and yelled, "Noo York! That cert'ny looks good t' me, Tom — a REAL town!" He asked if I drove all the way out and his eyes were wistful with nostalgia; said he lived at 86th Street and Broadway! I saw more homesick easterners in California!

• Stage Career
• Hart Films
• Publicity Photos
• Hart as Author
• WWI War Bonds
• Hart Mansion
• Hart in Retirement
• Personal Life
• Hart in Artwork



Charles M. Russell Portrait 1908


Flagg: Fritz 1922


Flagg Presents Portrait 1924


Flagg Writes About Hart 1925


Letter 1926: Flagg Dissatisfied with Portrait


Russian Sheet Music 1926


Billings Statue 1927 Mult.


Wax Museum 1962


Italian Star Card 1971


City Hall 2000

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