Broncho Billy: Exploring a Genre

Broncho Billy’s Fatal Joke
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Carl Stockdale, Marguerite Clayton. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1914

Broncho Billy and the Rustler’s Child
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Brinsley Shaw, Eugenia Clinchard, Evelyn Selbie. P: P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1913
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

The Tomboy on Bar Z
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Virginia True Boardman, Jay Hanna, Brinsley Shaw, Fred Church. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

“In a 1909 issue of Moving Picture World, G.M. Anderson gave readers a glimpse into the world of filming westerns for Essanay. Since the company had yet to set up a branch in Niles, California, Anderson and a group of players would travel west to Colorado, California, Montana and even Mexico to film. Although the company made nature-based scenic pictures, like Wonder of Nature, Anderson also used these excursions westward to give a realistic, documentary-like feel to even his earliest Westerns. ‘We have some good stories to put on out there, stories written by authors whose Western stories are standard and of the best. Capable talent has been employed to interpret the stories and a score or more of real live cowboys are going to assist.’ He began to explore the genre further, experimenting with different scenarios and characters. The character of Broncho Billy wouldn’t become a theater mainstay until 1911, but once Anderson began to focus on the character of Billy, audiences took notice in a big way. The tradepapers and fan magazines dubbed him ‘The idol of small boys and girls, and big men and women;’ it was this universal appeal that made him the first Western star and one of the first and most popular photoplayers. He had to learn how to handle a horse, and although he was not a true cowboy, Anderson’s rugged good looks and tough but kind on-screen persona perfectly fit into the genre and the audience’s image of what a true cowboy would be. With Broncho Billy’s entrance, the ‘ridiculous stage cowboys’ were gone and the ‘typical puncher of the plains’ had taken their place. Even after Anderson sold his stock in Essanay in 1916, he remained very much tied to the Western genre. He made a handful of Westerns following his Essanay departure, but they failed to be as popular as his previous efforts. Newer cowboy stars had begun to rise in popularity – including William S. Hart, Tom Mix, John Ford and Harry Carey — and they began to take the form Anderson pioneered and expand it in ways he that couldn’t.”
Janelle Vreeland
Classic Movie Hub

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