William S. Hart was one of the first Western stars—one of the biggest movie stars of the nineteen-teens and ‘20s. But his earlier work was a little off the range.
In 1899, the Shakespearean-trained actor played the villain Messala in the Broadway run of Ben-Hur—which featured a chariot race with real horses running on treadmills. He later reprised the role in the 1907 movie version of the book (photo).
Hart didn’t start doing Westerns until 1914, when he was 49 years old. He turned an interest in the Old West into an amazing and lucrative career.