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Broncho Billy Anderson
Born Max Aaronson
March 21, 1880(1880-03-21)
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
Died January 20, 1971 (aged 90)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Other name(s) Gilbert M. Anderson
Occupation Actor
Years active 1903—1965

Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson (March 21, 1880 – January 20, 1971) was an American actor, writer, film director, and film producer, who is best known as the first star of the Western film genre.[1]


Early life

Anderson was born Max Aaronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, the sixth child of Henry and Esther Aaronson, natives of New York.[2][3] His younger sister, Leona Anderson, would achieve a degree of success in the 1950s as a novelty singer who specialized in singing off-key songs for comedic value.[4]

Anderson, who was Jewish,[5] is also claimed by Pine Bluff, where he was raised until age eight. He lived in St. Louis for the next 10 years, when he moved to New York City. He was a photographer's model and a newspaper vendor before appearing on the stage. He began in vaudeville, later working with Edwin S. Porter as an actor and occasional script collaborator.[6]


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."[7] 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, 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.[8]

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).


Broncho Billy Anderson died in 1971 at the age of 90, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[1] Anderson was survived by his wife, the former Mollie Schabbleman, and their daughter, Maxine. He was cremated and his ashes placed in a vault at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory 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."[9]

Anderson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1651 Vine Street in Hollywood.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Bronco Billy Anderson Is Dead at 88.". New York Times. 1971-01-21. 
  2. ^ The Internet Broadway Database uses the date Mar 10, 1883 and the place as Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  3. ^ Aronson in the United States Federal Census, Pulaski County, Arkansas, 1880, Enumeration District 143, p. 303 B.
  4. ^ Space Age Musicmaker
  5. ^ Kehr, Dave (2000-01-16). "The Actors Who Have Two Faces". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-12-13. "Consider the case of G. M. (Broncho Billy) Anderson, who may have been the first actor-director in the movies. Anderson was actually a Jewish kid from Little Rock, Arkansas (real name: Max Aaronson), who worked as a salesman and on the stage before being hired as an actor by the Edison Company." 
  6. ^ Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia, 5th Ed. New York City: Harper Collins, 2005. p. 35-36.
  7. ^ Kiehn, David. (2003). Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company. Berkeley, Calif: Farwell Books. ISBN 0-9729226-5-2. , p.162
  8. ^ Star Spangled Rhythm ("Notes") at the TCM Movie Database
  9. ^ Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival
  10. ^ Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

External links



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