William S. Hart 18701946

Unidentified photographer
Gelatin silver print, c. 1917

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Having worked on cattle ranches as a young man growing up in the Midwest, actor William S. Hart brought a degree of authenticity to his roles as a western cowboy and an outlaw. An accomplished stage actor on Broadway, Hart moved to California in 1913 to act in The Bargain, the first of more than thirty western-themed movies in which he starred.

Hart wanted his films to be as realistic as possible, and he insisted on performing his own stunts. In many of these works, crooked government officials interfere with the business of settling the frontier—a not-so-subtle commentary on contemporary western politics. By the mid-1920s, movies with more action, younger actors, and less symbolism eclipsed Hart’s films.

This portrait of Hart holding a revolver and wearing a Mountie-style hat and scarf captures the classic cowboy image that he popularized during the 1910s and 1920s.