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Old West on screen at Hart Park

Fundraiser: Friends of Hart Park offer film double feature at sold-out event

Posted: August 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Composer Ray Lowe scores the music for Silents Under the Stars, a fundraiser for Friends of Hart Park.

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Under the silvery light of a full moon, the celluloid exploits of long dead cowboy film stars flickered to life before a sold out audience of silent film fans.

The crowd munched on popcorn as Tom Mix in “The Great K&A Train Robbery (1926)” and William S. Hart, in “The Saga of William S. Hart” (1958), proved why they were among the top box-office attractions of the past.

The event, the annual fundraiser for Friends of Hart Park, attracted more than 200 guests to Hart Hall, adjacent to William S. Hart Park in Newhall. Guests listened to a bluegrass band, enjoyed a barbecue dinner, toured Hart’s mansion and watched the silent-film double feature.

Silent film
“We’re going to have a double feature this year,” said City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, president of the Friends of Hart Park. “For the first time, we’ll show a Tom Mix film as well as a William S. Hart film.”

Film historian David Shepard, of Northern California, made the long trip to the Santa Clarita Valley with his vintage Bell & Howell projector to show the films.

“We are so grateful that David Shepard is here with us,” Weste said. “He keeps these films alive so we can enjoy them.”
Robert Birchard, noted author and Tom Mix authority, signed copies of his book “Tom Mix, King Cowboy,” and spoke about both films.

“It’s great to see Tom Mix and William S. Hart on the same bill,” Birchard said.

Ray Lowe, of Chatsworth, provided the musical accompaniment to the two silent films.

Lowe scores and improvises music to follow the action on the screen. 

“I’m not sure if this is the seventh or eighth year I’ve done this,” Lowe said. “There was a lot of variety this year in the movies. It was very exciting to work on this project.”

Silent auction
The fundraiser also offered guests a chance to bid on a large number of unique silent-auction items.

Among the most unusual was a glass vial of battery oil produced by Thomas Edison and used by railroads on the batteries that powered crossing arms and lights.

Antiques, baskets, merchandise and gift certificates were also offered in the silent auction.

Funds raised from the event will be used to add more functionality to Hart Hall by adding a movie theater to the venue, said Weste.

“We’ve already improved the acoustics, now we’re going to add the ability to show movies at the hall with special shades, sound and projection equipment and theater seats,” Weste said. “We’ll be able to host corporate events, as well as the weddings and meetings we have now.”

Weste said Los Angeles County will soon begin a project to transform the front of Hart Park, replacing the current chain-link fence with decorative wrought-iron and adding a marquee.

“It’s going to drastically change the front of the park,” Weste said. “You won’t even recognize the entry to the park.”
Mansion tours

For many attendees, the event began with a tour of Hart’s mansion, “La Loma de los Vientos” — which means The Hill of the Winds.

The mansion, finished in 1928, as well as the 260-acre grounds of the William S. Hart Park, were willed to the people of Los Angeles County when Hart died in 1946.

Hart, who made more than 65 silent films, retired to Newhall after ending his film career with his final film, “Tumbleweeds,” released in 1925.

Hart’s art
Guests were able to view the living, dining, kitchen and guest quarters at the mansion, as well as the many pieces of art by James Montgomery Flagg and Frederic Remington, as well as Charles Cristadoro sculptures and original paintings and sketches by Charles Russell. Artifacts from various Native American cultures were also on display.

A white hat belonging to Tom Mix and a black hat belonging to Hart were on display in the mansion’s living room, reflecting the divergence of film styles. Mix, was considered to be a glamorous Hollywood-type cowboy and Hart has been widely viewed as presenting a more “realistic” film view of the West.

Fun event
After the tour of the mansion and museum at the top of the hill guests returned to Hart Hall to listen to bluegrass music from the All Digital String Band.

A barbecue buffet dinner from Rattler’s was followed by the film double feature.

The audience applauded and cheered their cowboy-film heroes, as horses galloped across the screen and gunplay raged fast and furious.

As always, the good guys won, the bad guys were defeated, and a few hours were spent in a more innocent time.

“This was a great event,” said Vanessa Wilk, of Saugus, who was a first-time attendee with husband, Scott. “We had so much fun, we’ll be back.”

For information about the Friends of Hart Park visit www.friendsofhartpark.org. William S. Hart Park and Museum is located at 24151 Newhall Ave. in Newhall. Tours of the William S. Hart Mansion and Museum are free and are held Wednesday through Sunday, with the first tour starting at 11 a.m. and the last tour starting at 3:30 p.m. Visit www.hartmuseum.org or call (661) 254-4584.

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