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Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson
(March 21, 1880 January 20, 1971)

Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" AndersonHe was an American actor, writer, film director, and film producer, who is best known as the first star of the Western film genre.

Early life
Anderson was born Maxwell Henry Aronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, the sixth child of Henry and Esther (Ash) Aronson, natives of New York. His family was Jewish. He lived until age eight in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, then moved with his family to St. Louis, Missouri.

At 18, he moved to New York City. He attempted a career in vaudeville and the theatre and supplemented his income as a photographer's model and a newspaper vendor. In 1903, he met Edwin S. Porter, who gave him work as an actor and occasional script collaborator.

In Porter's early motion picture The Great Train Robbery (1903), Anderson played three roles. After seeing the film for the first time at a vaudeville theater and being overwhelmed by the audience's reaction, Anderson decided the film industry was for him. Using the stage name Gilbert M. Anderson, he began to write, direct, and act in his own westerns.

In 1907, he and George Kirke Spoor founded Essanay Studios ("S and A" for Spoor and Anderson), one of the predominant early movie studios. Anderson acted in over 300 short films for the studio. Though he played a wide variety of characters, he gained enormous popularity in a series of 148 silent western shorts, becoming the first cowboy star of movies, "Broncho Billy."[6] Spoor stayed in Chicago running the company like a factory, while Anderson traveled the western United States by train with a film crew shooting movies. Many of these were shot in Niles, a small town in Alameda County, California, southeast of San Francisco, where the nearby Western Pacific Railroad route thru Niles Canyon proved to be a very suitable location for the filming of Westerns.

Writing, acting, and directing most of these movies, Anderson also found time to direct a series of "Alkali Ike" comedy westerns starring Augustus Carney. In 1916, Anderson sold his ownership in Essanay and retired from acting. He returned to New York, bought the Longacre Theatre and produced plays, but without permanent success. He then made a brief comeback as a producer with a series of shorts with Stan Laurel, including his first work with Oliver Hardy in A Lucky Dog (filmed in 1919, released in 1921). Conflicts with the studio, Metro, led him to retire again after 1920.

Anderson sued Paramount Pictures for naming a character "Bronco Billy" in Star Spangled Rhythm (1943) and for depicting the character as a "washed-up and broken-down actor," which he felt reflected badly on him. He asked for $900,000, but the outcome of the suit is unknown.

Anderson resumed producing movies, as owner of Progressive Pictures, into the 1950s, then retired again. In 1958, he received an Honorary Academy Award as a "motion picture pioneer" for his "contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment."

At age 85, Anderson came out of retirement for a cameo role in The Bounty Killer (1965). For the last several years of his life, he lived at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Anderson died in 1971 at the age of 90, at a sanitarium in South Pasadena, California. Anderson was survived by his wife, the former Mollie Louise Schabbleman, and their daughter, Maxine. He was cremated and his ashes placed in a vault at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory Plot: Vaultage in Los Angeles.

Anderson was honored posthumously in 1998 with his image on a U.S. postage stamp. In 2002, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. For the past nine years, Niles (now part of Fremont), California, site of the western Essanay Studios, has held an annual "Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival."

Anderson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1651 Vine Street in Hollywood.

More History

History of Western Films & TV
Western Stars

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