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
was born Max Aronson in Little
Rock, Arkansas, the sixth
child of Henry and Esther Aronson, natives of New York.
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.
who was Jewish, is also claimed by Pine
Bluff, where he was raised until age eight.
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
In Porter's early motion picture The Great Train
(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
began to write, direct, and act in his own westerns.
he and George Kirke Spoor founded
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
shorts, becoming the first cowboy star of movies, "Broncho Billy."
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.
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.
returned to New
York, bought the Longacre
Theatre and produced plays, but without permanent
He then made a brief comeback as a producer with a
series of shorts with Stan Laurel
including his first work with Oliver
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
( ) 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
At age 85, Anderson came out of retirement for a cameo role in
The Bounty Killer
Billy Anderson died in 1971 at the age of 90, at the Motion
Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills,
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
Anderson was honored posthumously in 1998 with his image on a
. 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
has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1651 Vine Street in Hollywood.
- The Internet Broadway Database uses
the date Mar 10, 1883 and
the place as Pine Bluff, Arkansas
- Aronson in the United States
Federal Census, Pulaski County, Arkansas, 1880,
Enumeration District 143, p. 303 B.
- Space Age Musicmaker
- Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia, 5th Ed. New York
City: Harper Collins, 2005. p. 35-36.
- , p.162
- Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival
- Hollywood Chamber of Commerce