This year, my A to Z theme is one I’ve had in mind for quite some time, stars of the silent era. My focus is on lesser-known people (by contemporary standards), not the really big names most people are familiar with.
Arthemus Ward Acord (17 April 1890-4 January 1931), widely considered the first real cowboy star, was born in Glenwood, Utah to Mormon parents, Valentine Louis and Mary Amelia (née Petersen). Art was drawn to the Western lifestyle from a young age, working as a ranch hand and cowboy.
Art also worked for the Miller Brothers’ travelling 101 Ranch Wild West Show, where he met many other people who went on to become Western actors. He was one of the few people to ride famous bucking horse Steamboat (who inspired Wyoming’s license plate) for the full eight seconds.
In 1909, Art began working with the Bison Company. He entered the movies as a stunt performer in 1910, quickly rising to an uncredited extra. Within a few years, he was playing lead roles. Sadly, all but twenty of Art’s 100+ films are believed to be lost.
In 1912, Art won the World Steer Wrestling Championship at Oregon’s Pendleton Round-up. Four years later, he regained his championship. In so doing, he defeated his friend and fellow Western actor Hoot Gibson.
Art served in the Army for 18 months in WWI, earning a Croix de Guerre for his bravery. When he returned to the movies, he continued to be very popular and prolific.
Art’s career went into decline due to a drinking problem, and he only appeared in one talkie, as an extra. Art also had problems with failed marriages, divorcing thrice. He went back to performing in road shows, but he lost his job, and got into a number of bar fights. Sadly, in 1928, an explosion in his home seriously burnt him and threatened the loss of his eyesight.
After being arrested for bootlegging, he headed to Mexico to try to resurrect his career. Art only appeared on the stage a couple of times, and wound up working in the Gasper Mines. At age forty, he died in a hospital in Chihuahua. Art told his doctor he’d taken poison with the intent to kill himself.
The owner of the Gasper Mines bore out Art’s story, saying he’d taken enough cyanide to kill 2,500 men. The autopsy and official account, however, claimed Art was stabbed in a bar fight and had an enlarged liver due to chronic alcoholism. Many of his friends spun yet a different story, claiming Art was murdered by a Mexican politician when he found out Art was having an affair with his wife.
Art’s body was sent back to California and buried with full military honors in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.