Homes of the Western Stars — Bronco Billy Anderson
September 26, 2011
HOMES OF THE WESTERN STARS
BRONCO BILLY ANDERSON
special guest blogger
THE FIRST WESTERN COWBOY STAR
Max Aronson was born in 1880 in Little Rock (Pulaski County). His parents were Henry, a traveling salesman, and Esther Aronson. The Aronsons had seven children. Most of the children were born in Texas, but Max was born in Arkansas.
PINE BLUFF, ARK.
Aronson moved to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) in the 1890s to work for his brother in law, Louis Roth, who had married Aronson’s sister, Gertrude, and who worked as a cotton broker.
717 WEST SECOND STREET – PINE BLUFF, ARK.
Anderson lived during the last decade of the nineteenth century
1902 – 1907
NEW YORK CITY
He left Arkansas around the turn of the century for New York, where he became involved with the old Vitagraph Company, a theatrical group.
From 1900 until 1926, Aronson produced, directed, or appeared in more than 600 motion pictures—everything from the one reelers, movies that consisted of approximately 400 feet of film, to full-length motion pictures that consisted of approximately 2,000 feet of film, produced later in his career.
By 1902, Aronson was in New York and, in 1903, was cast in Edwin S. Porter’s film, The Great Train Robbery,a classic silent western. In his early films, he played various roles under the name G. M. Anderson, as in the movie Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman for Vitagraph in 1904, the first film Anderson directed.
1907 – 1909
Key developments in the Chicago cinema
Anderson moved to Chicago to produce films. There, he developed the idea that the public would pay to see good western movies, and the era of “cowboy” films, that is, films based on marketing the name of the cowboy, began.
For a short time, he produced films in Colorado, but William Selig, an early movie producer for whom Anderson was working, could not see the advantage of western scenery in their releases. Anderson’s contribution was to develop the western film and the techniques he devised, including the “long shot,” “medium shot,” “close up,” and “reestablishment scene,” have become standard techniques present even in modern westerns.
Back in Chicago, Anderson partnered with George K. Spoor, a theatrical booking agent. The two of them established Essanay Studios in 1907, the name being derived from a phonetic spelling of their initials, S and A. Anderson married Molly Louise Schabbleman in 1908, and the couple had one child, Maxine.
From 1908 to 1915, Anderson made 375 westerns. The most famous of these was the Broncho Billy series. Anderson read a story in the Saturday Evening Post about a character called Broncho Billy. He liked the idea of a series character and developed Broncho Billy into a franchise of films which were extremely popular with the American public.
Founded in 1907 as the Peerless Film Manufacturing Company but eventually renamed Essanay after the initials (S and A) of its founders, George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson—turned out about 2,000 shorts and features between 1907 and 1917.
Anderson had worked as a janitor at the Thomas Edison Studio when he was chosen to play an outlaw in the first western ever made, The Great Train Robbery. The first characters of Spoor’s and Anderson’s surnames translated into “S” and “A.”, hence the name Essanay.
Filming a “Broncho Billy” film in the Chicago Essanay studio
DECEMBER 30 – NILES, CALIFORNIA
Cinema’s cowboy hero G.M. Anderson is about to assume a new personna in the name of Broncho Billy, based on the character in a Peter B. Kyne story, Broncho Billy and the Baby, the film will be called Broncho Billy’s redemption. The burly Anderson is already one of the cinema’s bright new stars. Born Max Aronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, in March 1882, he was briefly a travelling salesman before trying his luck as an actor in New York using the stage name Gilbert M. Anderson.
In 1913, the Essanay Studios, a state-of-the-art studio was built in Niles at a cost of $50,000. A complete row of bungalows were constructed for the actors and the crew to live in. Two of the cottages still exist today.
Niles was selected by G.M. Anderson because of its mild climate, almost perpetual sunshine, and the unspoiled scenery of Niles Canyon (currently route 84 between Fremont and Interstate 680). Essanay made some 300 westerns in and around Niles. Charlie Chaplin made at least five silent movies in Niles, including The Tramp.
Charlie Chaplin lived in Niles for three months but accepted a more lucrative pay from Mutual in 1916. With the departure of a big star like Chaplin, Spoors bought G.M.”Broncho Billy” Anderson out, Essanay’s fortunes declined sharply and the studio eventually closed its doors in 1917.
G.M. Anderson fell in love with the perpetual sunshine and rolling hills of Niles and moved his crew here to make his silent westerns in the scenic canyon.
For about four years, Anderson produced, directed and starred as his “Broncho Billy” character which was the mould for all future western characters to come. He was the western trendsetter for the cowboy studded chaps, terrorizing a town with his swaggering gait, an outlaw with a sympathetic heart who always managed to take the bad guys out.
Anderson became a very rich movie star, bought a legitimate theater, began promoting boxers, and was running the Niles baseball team. By 1915 he had hired the biggest movie star of them all — Charlie Chaplin.
Niles Canyon Road.
This is the picturesque Niles Canyon Road today. It was here that more than 300 Broncho Billy westerns were filmed, replete with train robberies and chase scenes along the oak-studded hills of Niles Canyon.
This is a scene of one of the silent westerns shot in 1915 with Broncho Billy leading the posse, kicking up dust along Niles Canyon Road.
350 westerns were shot in Niles. Out of which approximately 140 Broncho Billy films were made in addition to 109 Snakeville comedies, starting in 1913 when the Niles Essanay studio opened.
1206 NORTH KINGSLEY DRIVE – LOS ANGELES
Was living here
Anderson was living in San Francisco and managing an apartment hotel on O’Farrell Street. In 1941 he moved to Los Angeles. In 1950 he and his daughter Maxine tries to get a Broncho Billy series together for television, but nothing came of it. In his later years he was living on Social Security and some money from Maxine, who ran her own successful casting agency.
He returned to the screen briefly in 1967, 47 years after he made his last silent film, to make his first talking picture—”The Bounty Killer”—with Buster Crabbe, Richard Arlen and Dan Duryea.
The confusion about his death location is because of where he’d been staying, the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills. In 1970 he was moved to their convelescent home in South Pasadena because of his worsening condition, an invalid near death, and that’s where he died. It’s listed on his death certificate, which I’ve seen. That document didn’t provide his correct birth year, though, it was listed as 1884, thereby further confusing the issue. Nor was his parents listed; those spaces where marked “unknown.” The information was provided by his daughter Maxine. Obviously she didn’t know him that well.
THE BRIERWORN CONVILESCENT HOSPITAL
1625 MERIDIAN AVENUE – SOUTH PASADENA
He’d been living here, where he died in 1971.
CHAPEL OF THE PINES CREMATORIUM – LOS ANGELES
HIS ASHES ARE HERE IN STORAGE.
Bob Siler grew up in Burbank, not far from Universal Studios and Warner Brothers where they made his favorite monster movies. A long-time fan of Westerns, he still has a hard time believing that the great John Wayne could die. Bob has created many lists detailing where the famous and infamous lived, are buried, and the cars they drove. He has recently completed this list of Western Stars homes after many years. Burbank Bob now resides in Portland, Oregon.