I have this wonderful coffee table book called HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS.
It is all about movie horses and was written by Robert Mitchum’s daughter, Petrine Day Mitchum.
Often, I’ll flip through it and look at all the photos and read whatever stories catch my attention. The other day, I read about William S. Hart who was one of the very first movie cowboy stunt riders (this was back in the early 1900s). Hart and his famous red pinto, Fritz, are credited with being the first heralded fan-based cowboy/horse duos and therefore set the trend of future cowboys and horse teams.
While I was reading the story about Hart, the article mentions a book Hart wrote to honor his horse. In that book, TOLD UNDER A WHITE OAK TREE, Hart uses the voice of his horse to narrate all the amazing stories of their incredible stunts. Fritz’s audience (his barn buddies) are enthralled by the wise horse’s tales.
Of course, I purchased the book!
TOLD UNDER A WHITE OAK TREE
OK, well, Hart’s book was written in 1922 and it is not politically correct for the current reader. So, if any of you feel like you might be offended by the vernacular of a cowboy in the early 1900s, then best not read this.
However, if you can get beyond that, the stories in TOLD UNDER A WHITE OAK TREE are really charming. In fact, I read the whole thing straight through – it isn’t long but I wish it was!
For me, what I loved about this little book was that the reader feels the emotion as Hart writes about his pure love and respect for this horse. Hart speaks of Fritz’s love for him but in reality, it must be the other way around since Hart actually wrote the words.
I think, if you worked your way around the politically incorrect verbiage, it would be a great storybook for kids to learn about horses, cowboys and their partnership.
Being from the movie world myself, I was especially interested to read first hand accounts about how they performed their incredible stunts!
Ai chi wowa! There is no way in the world ANY of those stunts could be done today – as they did them then. Oy. It is a miracle that no one was hurt. But, I guess that is why Hart loved his little Fritz so much… the horse never, ever let him down.
In the book, Fritz speaks about never having jumped through a window before and how the window was barely wide enough and tall enough for both he and Hart. Somehow, Fritz figures out what he is supposed to do and in one take, they not only jump through the window, but Hart ropes a few of the bar attendees and carries them through the window after them.
That was just one stunt… there are many more told with great love, respect and humility.
TOLD UNDER THE WHITE OAK TREE is illustrated (very detailed) by J. Montgomery Flagg who was known to be the highest paid illustrator of his time. I wonder if Hart and Flagg were friends. I mean… how do you get such a famous illustrator to draw fabulous works for your little book about your little horse?
If you are not familiar with the works of Flagg, I bet you are but just don’t know it… You all have seen his famous UNCLE SAM poster.
Anyway, I quite enjoyed the illustrations and only wished they were more legible. I’m guessing that the originals were not kept very well or damaged during the process… too bad.
Here is one of James Montgomery Flagg’s illustrations within the book. It depicts the stunt I mentioned above about the jump through the window while roping a few guys.
EXCERPT FROM HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS
Here is most of the story, that initially grabbed me, written in Hollywood Hoofbeats about William S. Hart and his famous red horse, Fritz.
PS: In the little book, TOLD UNDER A WHITE OAK TREE, Fritz speaks about his coloring and how he became red and that his forelock is a shock of red but that most audience members wouldn’t know that since the movies were in black and white…
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Darn it,now I have another book on the way..
Gotta watch some of the old Hart movies..
I live near the William S. Hart ranch and museum. Been there many times. I do not remember seeing Fritz’s headstone. I need to go back. Our local school district is named after Hart. He is a big name in our town. I also had the privilege of having a History Detectives( PBS) episode filmed in my home. I spoke to the cast, the crew and Milo Yellowhair who is a grandson of Two Lance who worked on films by Barton. Here is a link to the episode:
I enjoyed that so much. I was almost moved to tears at the last. I wish these would come out in Kindle form.