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"Broncho Billy" Anderson: The First Cowboy Star

�Broncho Billy� Anderson: The First Cowboy StarThe first Western star emerges in 1910.  He is Gilbert M. Anderson (born Max Aaronson).  He is a cast member and plays several roles in The Great Train Robbery (1903).  He is more a behind the scenes person that an actor.  Back in 1907, Anderson forms a partnership with George K. Spoor.  They name their new film production company Essanay (pronounced: S and A) after their last name initials. 

Essanay�s trademark is an Indian in feathered headdress.  Anderson and Essanay make a number of Westerns in Colorado.  They settle their film production unit in Niles, California.  It is here that in 1910 that he makes a film based on a story by Peter Kyrie called �Broncho Billy and the Baby�.  He names the movie Broncho Billy's Redemption.  Anderson looks for actors to play the title character, Broncho Billy.  He cannot find the right person, so he decides to play Broncho Billy.  The movie is a huge hit.  From then on, film audiences know Gilbert M. Anderson by the name Broncho Billy.

Fans make the cowboy image the first Western star.  His costume includes sheepskin chaps, leather gauntlets, twin pistols in holsters, a large neckerchief and a wide brimmed hat.  His manner around women is tacky but heroic and around men, he is belligerent.  Anderson, with his round nose and chubby figure, is a doubtful star.  However, his warmth and ill at ease good nature shines through and endears him to the public.

In the movies, Broncho Billy is not a real cowpuncher.  He uses the traditional cowboy image.  In addition to his cloths and hat, it is an easy nature, honesty and a like for action.  Because of having a cowboy's free and easy lifestyle, he is always ready for action.  Even if he gets the girl in a movie, (at the end of Shooting Mad we see him pushing a baby carriage down the street), he is always footloose again for the start of the next picture.  Even in its early days, Broncho Billy shows that the Western can take advantage of a character not tied down.  This rolling stone cowboy is going to be the foundation of the B-Western.

In these early films, Broncho Billy is not the only character to appear regularly.  In France, Joe Hamman makes a number of movies as �Arizona Bill� in 1911 and 1912 in such films as Les Diables rouges and Aux Mains des brigands.  In 1912, the Nestor Company produces half dozen films with a character called �Young Wild West,� who originates in Wild West Weekly magazine.  Up until 1913, Broncho Billy is by far the most consistent and attractive character on the Western screen and making nearly 300 films that appears the most often.  Broncho Billy established a type that others had to follow even while they worked their variations on it.

By 1920, Gilbert M. (Broncho Billy) Anderson's acting career as a Western star is over.  The Western is growing up, both in length (one of the first Western features, Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man (1914), is made and in theme.  Actor William S. Hart and director D. W. Griffith takes the Western away from the innocents of Broncho Billy and into the world of reality.  Gilbert M. Anderson's Broncho Billy creation is the bedrock of the Western and we cannot over estimate his contribution.


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