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February 25, 2014 > ItÕs Oscar Time!

ItÕs Oscar Time!

Submitted By Rena and David Kiehn, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

The honorary Oscar reads: ÒTo Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson Motion picture pioneer, for his contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment.Ó And on this Oscar night, Sunday, March 2nd, you can see it in person and get your photo taken with it at the silent film museumÕs party!

As the story goes, it was the first of April in the year 1912, when the town of Niles, population 1400, was invaded by a small army. The fifty-two members of the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company arrived by train. Twenty years before, the moving picture profession had been non-existent. By the time movies were made in Niles (what decades later would become part of Fremont), the movie industry was transforming the nation and the world with a universal language printed on film.

The people of Niles were well aware of this new medium. Many of the actors were recognized by sight, but one person was known by name: Gilbert M. ÒBroncho BillyÓ Anderson, the worldÕs first western movie star. He also wrote, produced, directed and edited most of his films.

George K. Spoor and Anderson were the ÒSÓ and ÒAÓ of Essanay, based in Chicago, Illinois. They began the company in 1907, but the harsh winters drove the ever-restless Anderson west in search of the perfect location. By the time he and his company arrived in Niles, they had already been responsible for more than two hundred films. By 1916, the western division in Niles had completed more than 350 one and two-reelers. Two years later when Essanay's main Chicago studio closed for good more than 2,000 films had been released under the companyÕs name.

The Essanay Studio launched the careers of cross-eyed comedian Ben Turpin, screen queen Gloria Swanson, leading man Francis X. Bushman, and film heavy / sometime director Wallace Beery. At the end of 1914, the company also signed an up-and-coming vaudevillian making waves onscreen at Mack Sennett's Keystone companyÉ Charlie Chaplin. Just a few months later, based on the success of the films he made in Niles, much like a rocket fired into the heavens, his fame quickly shot into the stratosphere and his worldwide superstardom eclipsed all other film celebrities for decades. He achieved lifelong acclaim, adoration and the notoriety that can also come with such vehement adulation.

When the Niles studio received a telegram at the beginning of 1916 ordering it to shut down, the doors were closed and locked. Two years later, the same fate met the original Chicago studio. It was the end of an era.

Flash forward thirty years at the 1948 Oscars, Hollywood celebrated some of the filmmaking pioneers: William Selig of his self-named studio, Albert E. Smith of the Vitagraph company and George K. Spoor of the Essanay studio.
Ten years later, and more than 40 years after his heyday, on March 26th, 1958,it was Gilbert ÒBroncho BillyÓ Anderson's turn for recognition and appreciation by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Chaplin, himself, would receive a long overdue honorary award in 1972 after a twenty year self-imposed exile in Switzerland.

Anderson (who locals now think of as our own ÒBroncho BillyÓ) was one of the small group of pioneers whose belief in a new medium, and whose contributions to its development, blazed the trail along which the motion picture has progressed, in their lifetime, from obscurity to world-wide acclaim.

And we have his Oscar!

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is hosting a free party on the big screen in our 100-seat auditorium at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd. on March 2nd at show time. We will have snacks and drinks available for a donation (popcorn and milk duds, of course!) And if youÕd like to snap a selfie holding the man in gold, you can for only a $10 donation per photo.

We are raising funds for a very special Chaplin film restoration project. In case you are wondering, our beloved Oscar was willed to us by a private donor and will make occasional Òguest appearancesÓ at special events, otherwise will be housed in a bank deposit box for safe keeping. So this is your chance to see him in person!

The Oscar Party starts at 5:00 pm. If you have any questions, please email or leave a message at (510) 494-1411 (email preferred as it is easier to return a response as we are all volunteers).

Free museum tours are available from 12 noon Ð 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Donations to keep our doors open and lights on (except when we are showing movies, natch!) are accepted and appreciated!

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