Friday, December 19, 2008
BILL HART SAYS OLD PLAYS OWED SUCCESS TO PLAYERS, AND NEW ONES ARE NOT SO
The big difference between the show business of today and yesterday, as William S. Hart sees it, is mainly in the actor. And it's principally that success, as now measured, carries dollars and cents as the yardstick. The dollar has replaced the satisfaction and pride, now practically extinct, which arose from the knowledge of giving a good performance and which was the measure that was once used, says Hart.
And this fact, in turn, is due to another - the disappearance of the road and its companies, opines William S. "There is no stage in America today," he declares, "because the incubators that bred actors, the stock companies and the road shows, are things of the past." Hence, he says, the desire to have approval gauged by the reaction of audiences, to hear someone say, "That was the best performance you ever gave," has become nearly extinct. Hart maintains that he is prouder of the fact that Lew Wallace complimented him on his portrayal of "Messala" in "Ben Hur" thirty-one years ago than he is because he can write a good-sized check today.
Regardless of what the field may have been years ago, silent pictures or the stage, Hart feels that both actors and managers used to feel a greater pride in the artistic outcome of their plays and films than currently. The work was taken far more seriously then from the production angle.
It was in 1914, after 12 years of legit trouping that Hart made his first picture. He was one of the earlier stage players in Hollywood period. There's a big gap between the salaries of those days and contemporary wages, but in the first year of his picture work Hart explains this did not exist. It was in 1925 that the salary ascent started and kept going until the recent slashing points out the former film star.
A parallel of the old and new is that pictures have always provied a better money break for actors than any other phases of their work. In 1914, Hart states, he was getting the highest sum he ever received as a legit performer, $175, which in turn was just half his top vaudeville stipend. His film earnings of course made those amounts look silly.
Hart looks at things from only one aspect, that of the actor. And he does so with pride. The horseback riding he did when working, and which he still does on his Santa Clara Valley ranch, have made that physically possible. Hart emphasizes that soundless pictures depended considerably on a players acting ability. However, with mikes hanging over every studio actors head today, a great deal depends not so much on the trouper's voice but on the technicians, he maintains. A turn of a doohicky, Hart believes, can either make a voice cow or flea-like. In which sense this actor maintains sound was also partly a bad break for actors as well as a good one period.