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High school, district named after film star William S. Hart

Posted: June 23, 2008 1:30 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2008 5:02 a.m.

William S. Hart.

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According to the school history on the Hart High School Web site, actor and director William S. Hart was very touched by the board of education naming both the school district and the first school after him - despite the fact that he had suggested the school be named after Civil War General John Fremont.

The district was actually originally given the title "Santa Clarita High School District," but the name was soon changed to honor Hart, local Western film star and community benefactor.

"Hart was considered the chief benefactor for William S. Hart High School, but my research doesn't show exactly what he did for the school," said Ayesha Saletore, administrator of the William S. Hart Museum. "I have heard stories about him donating the land, but I couldn't find any documentation of that."

Before Hart High School opened in 1944, using part of the existing Newhall Elementary School campus, students in the valley were bused to San Fernando High School for their secondary school education. The creation of the William S. Hart Union High School District gave local residents the right to establish their own schools for their children to attend.

Although cowboy actor Hart's affinity for Native Americans was well known, it apparently had no bearing on the new school's choice of mascot, the Hart Indians. According to the school Web site, students voted to select the mascot and the school colors (originally maroon and gray) in spring 1946, shortly before Hart's death on June 23 at the age of 81.

"When Hart was a young man, he often traveled with his dad in the Dakotas, and was around Indians at that time," Saletore said. "He was knowledgeable and could speak some words in the Sioux language."

While many other filmmakers, particularly those on the East coast, used actors made to look like Native Americans in their movies, Hart wanted to portray the West in all its gritty realism, and preferred to use actual Native Americans in his films, Saletore said.

"The Hart Indians is actually a very fitting mascot for that high school," she said.

Born on Dec. 6, 1890 in Newburgh, New York, Hart made his way east to New York City as a young man. While he is known as a Western film star, Hart actually began his acting career as a successful Shakespearean actor on Broadway in New York. He also played Messala in the original stage production of "Ben Hur."

Hart later moved to Hollywood and began directing and acting in his own productions. Nicknamed Two-Gun Bill, Hart went on to become one of the first great stars of the motion picture Western.

Hart's former property and ranch home, "La Loma de los Vientos," in Newhall now make up William S. Hart Park and Museum, which is operated by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Hart has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, in 1975, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

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