Edward H. Bohlin (1895-1980), known as "the saddlemaker to the stars" is still considered one of the most extravagant western outfitters. Born in Sweden, Bohlin apprenticed as a cowboy in Miles City, Montana, renowned as the horse trading capitol of the world. After years of actual cowboy experience, Bohlin began making his own western gear. And, with an education from the Art Institute of Minneapolis behind him, he opened his first saddle shop in Cody, WY selling leather, clothing, chaps, saddles and other cowboy necessities. Among his Cody neighbors was the Irma Hotel owned by the legendary Buffalo Bill. It was in this setting that Bohlin first established his fancy cowboy style, creating his trademark silver buckle sets and other luxury accessories.
Two years after the Cody opening, Bohlin's career path took a fortuitous turn and the saddle shop was closed. Traveling to the West in the early 20s as a show performer, Bohlin came into contact with many of the Western luminaries of the time. While on tour in Los Angeles performing as a rope trickster, he encountered Tom Mix who took a fancy to Bohlin's unique outfitting.
Tom Mix invited Bohlin to his film studio and purchased various items including the boots that the designer was wearing, and encouraged him to stay on and set up shop in Los Angeles. In due time, he established the shop that would remain for the next decade within one city block of its original location at 1550 Cahuenga.
The Hollywood Novelty Leather Shop became one of the greatest outlets for the design and distribution of Western clothing, gear and accessories. One of Bohlin's first jobs was supplying the chariot harnesses for the original 1926 production of Ben Hur, as well as The Ten Commandments and apparel for The Days of Daniel Boone. During the early Hollywood production boom, Bohlin hired the saddlemaker John Fowler, who would develop a reputation as one of the finest silver saddle makers in the West.
Among his star-studded clientele, Bohlin serviced Hopalong Cassidy, Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Monty Hale, Will Rogers and Gene Autry. He would later outfit such celebrities as Clark Gable, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. His star-studded roster also included two future presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Regan. Bohlin was one of the first to capitalize on Hollywood's growing fascination and appreciation with the American West.
Bohlin's extraordinary talent lay in his ability to design unique decorative forms, raising the aesthetic appreciation for fine leather goods. In so doing, he transformed the perception of the working saddle from a functioning piece of gear into a work of art. His artistic achievements, coupled with his marketing savy, made Bohlin's creations among the most coveted and provacative western objects in the world.
Literature: J. Nottage, "Saddlemaker To The Stars," Los Angeles, 1996.
G. Pittman, "A Cowboy-turned-master Silversmith For The Most Famous Cowboys Of His Time And Film's Cowboy Elite," Los Angeles, 1997.