True West
Hartley Of The West Image Credit: True West
Hartley Of The West Image Credit: True West

Hartley Of The West

New England actress reflects on how she went to California and became a cowgirl.

I knew that it was something special; Sam (Peckinpah) was terrific, everybody was terrific, especially Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea—who I’d never heard of.” Before Mariette Hartley made her film debut as the female lead in Peckinpah’s 1962 masterpiece, Ride the High Country, she had no expectation of becoming “Queen of the West.” “We only had one movie house in Westport,” she said. “The first movie I ever saw was The Red Shoes, as a young ballet dancer. Then Olivier’s Hamlet and Henry V. I didn’t know anything about Westerns. My next-door neighbor had horses, and I would ride bareback.”

One day, “a wonderful, crazy directress, Claire Olsen, from Chicago rounded up the kids from Westport, and made us actors and actresses.” Four years with her led to two “with Eva Le Gallienne, who taught me Ibsen and Chekov.” At 15, “she handed me off to John Houseman of the Shakespeare Festival. So, I was passed on from one really great theatre person to another.”

Surprisingly, what led Hartley to Hollywood was not the film business, “but a bad marriage. He wanted more than anything to go to California; and I hated California.” The father of an actress friend steered her toward the William Morris Agency. In four days, she was meeting at MGM with Peckinpah. Three days later, the studio set up a screen test, she recalls, “and I said, what’s that? I


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