Broncho Billy Anderson Overview:

Legendary actor, Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson, was born Maxwell Henry Aronson on Mar 21, 1880 in Little Rock, AR. Anderson died at the age of 90 on Jan 20, 1971 in South Pasadena, CA and was laid to rest in Chapel of the Pines Crematory Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

Early Life

Gilbert "Broncho Billy" Anderson was born Maxwell Henry Aronson on March 21st, 1880 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Both of his parents, Henry and Esther, were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who met while in New York. His father worked as traveling salesman while his mother stayed at home to look after Gilbert and his six other siblings. In 1888 the Aronson family relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. He eventually moved back to Pine Bluff in the late 1890s to work for his brother. After learning the in and outs of the cotton trade, the young Anderson realized the cotton industry just wasn't for him and decided on another profession: acting. So, he quickly picked up what little stage experience he could in the St. Louis and Pine Bluff areas before packing his bags and heading to New York at the tender age of just 18.

New York and Early Career

Arriving in the Big Apple with little experience and no professional connections, Anderson had trouble breaking into the acting world. After a few hungry months, Anderson finally began appearing in small vaudeville and theater venues. He also made additional money by working as a model and as a newspaper vendor. He was eventually persuaded to give a hand as motion picture "model" (in the early days of cinema, actors where often called "models" to distinguish them from the actors of the theater.) And in 1903 met filmmaker Edwin S. Porter, who hired Anderson as both an actor and script collaborator.

Now part of Porter's roster of actors, Anderson's career began to pick up steam. He made his film debut in 1903 as a messenger Boy in the short film The Messenger Boy's Mistake. That same year Anderson played three separate roles, Bandit, shot passenger and Tenderfoot Dancer, in the landmark picture, The Great Train Robbery. The film is now considered a landmark in filmmaking technique and story telling, telling a story a train robbery through the use of continuity, editing, and the stringing together of multiple shots to create a scene. After the film great success at theaters, Gilberts decided to abandon the world of the stage altogether and dedicate his efforts to the silver screen. While under contract with Porter, Anderson began to write and direct is own film, starting in 1905.

Essanay Studios and Broncho Billy

In 1907 Anderson founded his own film studios, Essanay Studios, with George Kirke Spoor in Chicago. The company was one of the earliest major studios in the area. They quickly hit the ground running, and began producing two to five short films per week. Although Anderson was perfectly happy in his position as the both the Head of Production and the Studio itself, he was forced back in front of the camera when one of the contracted actors refused to do a stunt. Rather than get a double, and risk breaking the illusion, Anderson fired the actor and cast himself in the role. He continued to act, as well as write, produced and direct much of the material he appeared. Anderson's work mostly consisted of Westerns and he worked tirelessly to cultivate his onscreen person of cowboy Broncho Billy.

He worked in Chicago until 1912, when he moved the production of his western to the west coast in Niles, California. Although Spoor stayed in Chicago, Anderson went full speed a heading Nile, and began pumping out westerns at a break-neck pace. Between 1908 and 1915, Anderson wrote, directed and starred in over 300 shorts, some sources say perhaps over 700, westerns, most of which starred him as Broncho Billy. The first official "Broncho Billy" film to be released was the 1910 short Redemption. With this, Anderson helped to establish the basic formula for the noble on-screen cowboy, helping to create the look, feel, and lore of the cowboy.


Although Anderson is mostly remembered for his work on the Western, he also helped some famous faces o their way to stardom during his tenure as the head of Essanay Studios. One of Anderson's biggest deals was negotiating a hefty deal to get Chaplin at their studios in 1914. Chaplin further developed his "tramp" character at their studio and made 15 shorts between their Chicago and Niles Studios.  It should be noted that Anderson made the deal without telling any of his patterns, a pattern that would eventually lead Anderson selling off his portion of the studio to Spoor by 1916. Other famous players to have passed through Essanay doors were Gloria Swanson, Ben Turpin, Wallace Beery and Harold Lloyd.

Later Career and Life

After leaving Essanay in 1916, he retired from filmic acting. Although he tried to enter the world of stage acting, he had little success. By 1920 Anderson retired from show business altogether. Despite his retirement, he refused to curb his spending habits and maintained his opulent and extravagant lifestyle. By 1925 his fortune from the film business was gone and Anderson went into hotel management. After remaining out of the public eye for over 20 years, Anderson sued Paramount Studios for the use of a character named Broncho Billy in their musical film Star Spangled Rhythm. He sued for liable; stating the character of was a has-been, broken-down actor that reflected badly on Anderson, since he and the character of Broncho Billy were undoubtedly linked. In 1958 he was awarded an honorary Academy Award for his  "contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment." He briefly came out of retirement in 1965, at the age of 85, for a cameo role in The Bounty Killers. Gilbert Anderson dies on January 20th, 1971 in South Pasadena, California. He was 90 years old. 

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. In addition, Anderson was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 1998. Anderson was never nominated for an Academy Award. However he won one Honorary Award in 1957 , motion picture pioneer, for his contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment .

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Honorary Award Oscar 1957

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Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson Facts
Appeared in the 'Alkali Ike' series beginning in 1912.

Daughter Maxine Anderson.

Profiled in "Back in the Saddle: Essays on Western Film and Television Actors", Gary Yoggy, ed. (McFarland, 1998).

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