He's Enough of a Spittin' Image for the Judges, and He Can Ride

Times Staff Writer

Lawrence Snow can't scrounge up much time for watching movies, let alone for frivolous stuff like look-alike contests for silent film stars.

But Sunday, the lanky, leather-skinned cattle rancher from Caliente was chosen as the best double of William S. Hart, a legendary Hollywood cowboy whose 70 films helped entrench Westerns as an audience-pleasing staple before the talkies.

Snow, 63, said he'd heard of Hart but never saw any of his films. He entered the contest only after his wife, Wendy, sent in photos of the soft-spoken rancher, whose hands are scabbed and scratched from "riding through the brush."

"If they hadn't sneaked it past me, I'd of never been here," he explained. "I just don't fool around with that kind of stuff."

The contest was sponsored by The Friends of Hart Park, a volunteer group that guides tours through Hart's old 265-acre Newhall spread, now called William S. Hart Park. Hart died at 81 in 1946 and left the property, the site of many Westerns, to Los Angeles County.

For some fans of Hart films, Snow's stony-faced visage was the spittin' image of the screen star's later years. Snow wasn't so sure.

"Maybe close, but nobody can look exactly like somebody else," he remarked. "After I looked the competition over, though, I thought I had a pretty good chance."

Judges compared seven contestants, most clad in cowboy hats, bandannas and boots, to a scowling portrait of Hart leveling a pair of six-shooters. It was, perhaps, a reminder of Hart's many roles as the no-nonsense bad guy who turned over a new leaf when the heroine won him over.

Snow, who said that Sunday was his first trip to Newhall since attending a rodeo in 1934, said he'd try to view a Hart movie now, though he doesn't care much for most Westerns because they lack authenticity--"there's so much phony stuff out there, like how they sit on their horses."

Actually, Hart, a stage actor trained in Shakespearean roles, was known as a stickler for detail. His films, such as "The Sheriff's Streak of Yellow" and the classic "Tumbleweeds," were regarded as technically accurate representations of horsemanship and life on the range.

Joe McNinch, a friend of Hart's and one of three contest judges, said Snow was chosen because his long, serious face and height (6-foot-3) recalled Hart in the actor's 60s and 70s.

'Helluva Sense of Humor'

"He was an honest, serious man like the pictures show, but let me tell you, he had a helluva sense of humor," McNinch said.

Among others, the judges gave a close look to Robert Hart of Saugus, a "kissin' cousin" of Hart who said his parents took him to his late relative's stomping ground as a child.

"I remember his picture and having that serious look. Something about his eyes are magnetizing," said Hart, 30, a welder who has done some acting as a film extra. "When I look into those eyes, it's like looking into a mirror."

Snow will make another drive to Newhall from his 25,000-acre ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains, this time to ride in the park's float in a Fourth of July parade.

Winning also earned $100 for the rancher, who cracks a smile with ease.

"I'll probably use half of it for the gas to go home," he said.

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