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June 26, 2012 > Broncho Billy Film Festival

Broncho Billy Film Festival

By Mauricio Segura

Like the iconic Charlie Chaplin and slap-stick genius Buster Keaton, Broncho Billy Anderson is a symbol of the silent film era. But more importantly for this area's cinematic history, he was also co-founder of Essanay Studios. A moment in the life, which as Paul Harvey would say, is 'the rest of the story.' His legacy lives on in the annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, celebrating its 15th anniversary this week.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1880, Gilbert M. Anderson was the sixth child of a middleclass Jewish family. By age 18, his dreams of entertainment stardom led him to a vaudeville career in New York City. Through hard work and positive connections, his big break came in 1903 when he was cast to play three separate roles - in Edwin Porter's "The Great Train Robbery." Moved by the audience's reaction to the film during its premier, Anderson concluded that film acting would be his career of choice, and began writing, directing, and acting in his own westerns.

In 1907, he and fellow filmmaker George Kirke Spoor founded Essanay Studios ("S and A" for Spoor and Anderson) in Chicago. Looking for a "western" location to shoot his films, Anderson and a trainload of actors and workers headed west to Fremont, California, and constructed studios in Niles. There, they filmed hundreds of silent films starring many of the day's top actors. Anderson himself took his persona as Broncho Billy to a worldwide audience, making him the most famous western star of the silent film era.

After selling his share of Essanay in 1916, Anderson retired from acting except for a few cameos through the years, the last in 1965 in "The Bounty Killer" at the age of 85. He passed away peacefully five years later, survived by his wife Mollie and their daughter Maxine.

The 15th Annual Broncho Billy Film Festival kicks off on Friday, June 29 and continues all weekend through July 1. Over 15 films accompanied by a live pianist will be shown, with an official opening day reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Fremont Bank Building. Along with the films, there will be short lectures about the history, studios, and stars that brought them to life. Needless to say, downtown Niles will be abuzz with activity during the weekend with plenty of eating, shopping, and of course, movie watching.

Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival
Friday, June 29 - Sunday, July 1
June 29: 8 p.m.
June 30: 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
July 1: 1 p.m., 4 p.m.
Niles Edison Theater
37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont
(510) 494-1411
Tickets: $8 - $12

Friday, June 29
8 p.m.
-"Atlantis" (1913, Great Northern Film Company)
-Preceded by shorts: "Arrival of Essanay in Niles" (2012, NESFM); "The New York Hat" (1912, Biograph) with Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore; "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" (1912, Biograph) with Elmer Booth and Lillian Gish; "The Tourists" (1912, Biograph) with Mabel Normand.
Tickets: Museum members $10, non-members $12

Saturday, June 30
12:30 p.m.
-"Silk Husbands and Calico Wives" (1920, Garson Studios) staring House Peters.
-Murray Glass, founder of the Em Gee Film Library (now part of the Niles Museum's film collection), in an interview by David Shepard will talk about his long career collecting, preserving and making films available for viewing.
Tickets: Museum members $8, non-members $10

3:30 p.m.
Essanay Niles Films (all made in Niles)
-"Broncho Billy's Narrow Escape" (1912, Essanay) with G. M. Anderson, Vedah Bertram, Arthur Mackley, Brinsley Shaw, Fred Church, Victor Potel, Harry Todd, Jack Roberts, Pat Rooney.
-"A Wife of the Hills" (1912, Essanay) with G. M. Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Brinsley Shaw, Vedah Bertram.
-"An Indian Sunbeam" (1912, Essanay) with Edna Sharpe, True Boardman, Fred Church, Brinsley Shaw, G. M. Anderson, Victor Potel, Spider Roach.
-"The Tomboy on Bar Z" (1912, Essanay) with Virginia Eames, Jay Hanna, Brinsley Shaw, Fred Church, Augustus Carney, Rollie Totheroh, Texas George Briggs, True Boardman.
-"Broncho Billy's Heart" (1912, Essanay) with G. M. Anderson, Fred Church, Arthur Mackley, Julia Mackley, True Eames Boardman, Audrey Hanna, Victor Potel.
Tickets: Museum members $10, non-members $12

7:30 p.m.
Ray Hubbard Award Presentation
-"Helen's Babies" (1924, Sol Lesser Productions) Baby Peggy, Clara Bow and Edward Everett Horton. -Preceded by shorts: "Twin Peaks Tunnel" (1917) documenting the digging of the tunnel from Market Street to West Portal in San Francisco; "The Shotgun Ranchman" (1912, Essanay, made in Niles) with Arthur Mackley, Julia Mackley, Audrey Hanna, True Boardman, Jay Hanna, Harry Keenan, Victor Potel; "The Prospector" (1912, Essanay, made in Niles) with Fred Church, Arthur Mackley, Evelyn Selbie, Audrey Hanna, Jay Hanna.
Tickets: Museum members $10, non-members $12

Sunday, July 1,
1 p.m.
-"Baby Peggy, the Elephant in the Room" (2011, Vera Iwerebor), a new documentary about Diana Serra Cary, known as silent star Baby Peggy, followed by an in-person interview with Diana Serra Cary by Larry Telles.
-"Brownie's Little Venus" (1921, Century Film Company) with Baby Peggy, Bud Jamison.
-"Little Red Riding Hood" (1922, Century Film Company) with Baby Peggy.
Tickets: Museum members $8, non-members $10

4 p.m.
-"Cleopatra" (1912, Helen Gardner Picture Players)
-Preceded by: "The Canyon" (2012, NESFM), the latest news on the progress of the new one-reel western in Niles which will be shot with a hand cranked camera.
Tickets: Museum members $8, non-members $10

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