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An Early Western Industry: Bison 101

The cowboy appeal owes much to Broncho Billy.  The popularity of Indians in films is the result of their striking look and the chance they offer for exciting battle scenes.  However, it is mainly do to a film company fittingly named Bison, which specialized in Native American films.  At first Bison, like other film companies, made their Westerns in the east.  In 1910, film fans demand authentic locations.  Fred Balshofer, the chief director, decides to take the company west and finds a location in Santa Ynez canyon, near Santa Monica, California.  They take a long lease on a 18,000 acre spread dotted with orange groves and vineyards.

The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show tours California.  The outfit finds its home in Oklahoma, on a huge tract of land with its own rodeo arena.  The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch includes real cowboys and Indians, herds of buffalo and cattle, stagecoaches, tepees and other gear important in Western film production.  

Bison contracts the Miller Brothers for the use of the entire outfit.  The owners rename their company Bison 101.  Overnight, they find themselves equipped to become a major Westerns film studio.  They build a permanent wooden fort, which you see in such pictures as At Old Fort Dearborn (1913).  Having a many Indians under contract, Bison produces Native American pictures.

At the same time as it acquires the 101 Ranch, Bison also hires a new director, Thomas H. Ince.  Ince's is a genius at organizing and supervising.  In addition, he has great talent for self-promotion, which leads him to claim credit for directing other films and for even the original decision to merge with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch.  However, Ince's actual achievements are substantial.

Among his achievements is making a detailed shooting script, with every item of decor and costume, every shot and movement specified.  This detailed preplanning becomes a standard industry practice.  It saves time, money and streamlines production at the Santa Ynez location.  The film industry calls the studio Inceville.

Bison 101 has the best capital for making Westerns and the best equipped to maximize its investment.  The Ince regime at Santa Ynez (Inceville) studios is brief.  Carl Laemme�s Universal Pictures takes over The New York Motion Picture Company, the parent of Bison 101.  Laemmle moves production units into Inceville and produces his own Westerns utilizing the 101-Bison brand name.  Ince builds a new studio in Culver City.  In 1920�s, Inceville falls into disuse in the, after Universal consolidates production in their huge new studio built on the old Taylor Ranch five miles north of Hollywood.  Universal formally opens their new facilities on March 15, 1915.  

Universal City, like Inceville, boasts permanent Western sets.  Today visitors to Hollywood, who take the Universal Studio tour, can see streets of standing Western town sets.  Universal�s level of investment in Western stars and extras, plus their suitable real estate (they own a San Fernando Valley ranch) make sure that it remains the largest producer of Westerns during the 1920s.


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