Recommended Reading

"Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company"

by David Kiehn (Farwell Books, 2003, 436 pages, 270 photographs)

"What a delight! This book is fun reading from beginning to end. David Kiehn is film historian for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, and his research and wealth of information is amazing. The information he gives us on the people who made up the Niles Essanay Company is nothing short of astounding. And through this, we begin to see some of the connections to other people and companies that we have read so much about in the past. For example, Chaplin's longtime cameraman Rollie Totheroh got his start with the Niles company as an actor, a job he probably would have never gotten if he hadn't been a good baseball player (Anderson was intent on making a winning team of the local Niles baseball team). He graduated to still photographer and then cameraman honing his craft before Chaplin ever came to Essanay. After Hal Roach's first attempt at producing failed, he worked briefly for Essanay in Los Angeles directing one-reel films with cast members Chaplin didn't need. Cameraman/General Manager Jess Robbins supervised Chaplin's films for Essanay for a time and a few years later directed Laurel and Hardy in their first picture together, "Lucky Dog" (1918). Then there's Ben Turpin who realized is first real success with Essanay, Wallace Beery, future director Lloyd Ingraham, Bud Jamison, cowboy star Pete Morrison, Snub Pollard, and many more. An "Essanay Personnel" section of the book contains information on over 200 people connected with Essanay in those early years which is a real treat especially for the fan or researcher trying to located tidbits of information on these many obscure names in silent movie history. The 270 photographs are no less amazing and are worth the price of the book alone. The many stills, publicity photos and candid shots will keep the reader absorbed for hours, and Kiehn does a fabulous job of identifying personnel in these photos. Also, Kiehn uses the photos, along with his text, to transport us back to those early days when Niles, California, was seeing the arrival of these movie people for the first time. We are not only introduced to the people who made up the Niles Essanay Company, we are introduced to many of the townspeople from that time, many of whom contributed their memories of that long ago time to Kiehn's book. We get a real sense of what the town was like at that time with much interesting information such as the improvement of the local baseball team when Anderson began to bring in some better talent and the unforgettable day the bank was robbed! Let's not forget the main focus of the book, either. G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson was responsible for it all and Kiehn traces not only his remarkable success with the company but his outstanding popularity as a western film star during those years. This book is well-written, engrossing, and a treasure trove of information that can't be found anywhere else.

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