Silent Movie and Radio in Chicago
Chicago Tribune, August 25, 1907
Peerless Film Manufacturing company, Chicago, name changed to Essanay Film Manufacturing company.
Advertisements for Essanay’s first movie, “An Awful Skate”, which was filmed in Old Town in July, 1907. The only existing copy is in the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY and not available to the public. “Mr. Inquisitive” was released on August 24, 1907.
Moving Picture World, June 5, 1909
THE ESSANAY COMPANY’S NEW PLANT.
Enterprising Chicago Motion Picture Firm Moves Into Its New Quarters
The manufacturers are erecting plants of colossal proportions in order to supply the demand for more and better quality films.
The Essanay Company, of Chicago, is moving into its new quarters this week. Covering several acres of ground, the buildings within and without, models of beautiful architecture,’ the new plant is a fitting home for this enterprising motion picture firm. The writer recently enjoyed a visit to the new plant The genial president of the company, George K Spoor, first showed him through the company’s handsomely furnished offices. They are models of neatness and system. next went into the studio. Here we found G. M. Anderson, youngest and one of the most prominent men engaged in America to-day in the manufacturing of motion pictures. “Andy.” as he is familiarly known by the trade, was overseeing the work of a dozen or more carpenters who were engaged in swinging into place large framework for the overhead lights.
“We are going to have the most up-to-date stage equipment in the country,” Mr. Spoor said. “We have facilities here for staging the most stupendous productions. We have more than doubled our lighting systems, and I feel safe in making the assertion that future Essanay productions will be fully equal to the output of other manufacturers either at home or abroad.
Immediately to the south of this excellent indoor stage and studio is a daylight studio. This will be utilized at all times when the weather is suitable for outdoor work.
Taken all together, both the indoor and outdoor studios are the marvel of perfection. Every up-to-date appliance to minimize time and trouble, and to assure the best results, has been installed.
Adjoining the indoor studio is the carpenter shop and paint frame. Skilled artists were busy on the bridges above Two or three stage carpenters were building a padded cell for a scene from a story soon to be released, “The Curse of Cocaine.” It was not the usual painted upholstery, but the real thing. Indeed, the solidness of the construction of scenic effects, the care and watchfulness of detaH, would surprise one who has not been “behind the scenes.”
The property room is handily adjacent. We find here, if one is permitted to use the old phrase, everything “from a needle to a haystack.” Here is material for any sort of a scene from a drawing room in a Fifth avenue mansion to a corner in a boiler factory.
We went next to inspect the photographic department. The spotless cleanliness of these workrooms, so indispensable to the art, was prevalent. In the dimly-lighted developing rooms a dozen or more white gowned young ladies were busy putting the thousands of feet of celluloid strips through the various baths, or chemical processes, necessary in the developing of the films. The washing and drying departments, capable of handling 20,000 feet of film an hour, we found more inviting. The process here is a simple but delicate one.
The Essanay Company, indeed, is to be congratulated. Its facilities for turning out more and better films will insure the retention of the name an approving public has given it, as the one “House of Comedy Hits.”
1333-45 W. Argyle Street
Film set for a silent western featuring Gilbert M. Anderson, known as Broncho Billy, at Essanay Film Studios in Chicago circa 1910.
Essanay’s Ira Morgan and Harris Ensign stand on each side with Bell & Howell production cameras. Rollie Totheroh stands in the middle with the original B&H prototype. Camera assistants Howard West, Mervyn Breslauer and Martin Killilay sit in front.
Inter Ocean, June 29, 1913
On Monday evening, June 2, 1913, the new Essanay studio, at Niles, Cal., was informally opened. G. M. Anderson and all the members of of the Western Stock company received the invited guests, consisting of prominent business men of Niles and San Francisco. The speech by Mr. Anderson was enthusiastically received and gave the cue for the festivities to begin. Dancing interspersed with gallons of refreshments (grape juice) comprised the evening’s enjoyment.
Essanay Film Manufacturing Company Plant at Niles, California
Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1914
Essanay Captures Chaplin.
Charles Chaplin, the English comedian with the tiny mustache whose weird repertoire of gestures and postures has helped make the Keystone low comedy films famous, has been captured by the Essanay company. Chaplin has signed a long term contract at one of the largest salaries in movie land. He will come to Chicago next week and take part in a new series of comedies.
Francis X. Bushman, Charlie Chaplin and G. M. Anderson
Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1916
Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1916
From $55 to $12,050 Per-haps.
George K. Spoor got back from New York yesterday, and said he, wearily;
Unless Chaplin comes down on his demands he is out of the running for Essanay. He is asking altogether too much for any company. Why, now he wants $626,600 a year, which is $12,050 a week. If I could get together the $12,000 for him I couldn’t raise the $50. He is very friendly toward Essanay, but he’ll have to ask for less money if he wants to come back, and there isn’t much chance of that.
And time was, about five years ago, when the same Charlie Chaplin was playing his celebrated “drunk” in “A Night in an English Music Hall” in Sullivan-Considine houses for $55 a week.
Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1953
George K. Spoor, 81, who as president of the Essanay Film company pioneered the moving picture industry in Chicago, died yesterday in his home at 908 Argyle st.
Spoor and Gilbert M. (Broncho Billy) Anderson founded the company in 1897. Many stars of the silent films got their start in the studio at 1345 Argyle st. The lot there was closed in 1916 when the motion picture industry invaded Hollywood, Cal.
Many Stars Began Here
In pioneer movie days, Essanay and Selig studios made Chicago one of the major motion picture producing centers. Stars who received their start on the Essanay lot included H. B. Walthal, Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery, Francis X. Bushman, and Charles Chaplin.
Spoor was as prominent an inventor of movie equipment as he was a producer. He made one of the first projection machines that enabled filmed pictures to be flashed on a screen.
He worked for years on a three dimension film process, which he called “natural vision.” In 1930 he produced “Danger Lights” under that stereoscopic process. A fortune was lost, however, in attempts to put the three dimensional films on the market.
Lost Money in Crash
Spoor also promoted the construction of an apartment building, on which he lost money in the real estate crash of the late ’20’s at Argyle st. and the present extension of Lincoln Park.
His wife, Ada, a sister-in-law of Billy Sunday, the evangelist, died in 1951. Spoor lived with his daughter, Gertrude, and her husband, Douglas L. Weart, a retired major general who served in the Caribbean and China during World War II.
Services will be held at 2 p. m. Friday in the chapel at 5001 N. Ashland av., with burial in Forest Home cemetery.
San Bernardino County Sun, January 21, 1971
BY BOB THOMAS
HOLLYWOOD (AP)—Gilbert M. Anderson, the man who started the movie western with “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903 and became the first major film star as Bronc o Billy, died in a sanitarium yesterday at 88.
Once a major figure as an actor and studio owner, Broncho Billy had been supported in his waning years by the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund. He returned to the limelight briefly in 1958, when the Motion Picture Academy presented him with an honorary Oscar for his early achievements in the industry.
Anderson was one of the last links to the beginnings of films.
Born Max Aronson Anderson in Little Rock, Ark., he adopted the name of Gilbert M. Anderson as a vaudeville performer. He drifted into movies, working for director Edwin S. Porter in the fragmentary films of 1903. Late in life Anderson recalled:
I told Porter that if people would sit still for pictures that were 50 and 60 feet long, they’;s sit still for 1,000 feet. So we decided to make a long picture. But what about?
I suggested something that had a lot of riding and shooting—plenty of excitement. Why not a train robbery? Another fellow remembered there was a play called The Great Train Robbery. So we stole the title.
Filmed in Fort Lee, N.J., “The Great Train Robbery” became a landmark movie, the first to tell a well-developed story.
Anderson found himself a new career. He teamed with George K. Spoor to form a Chicago company, Essanay. They made films with Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and Wallace Beery.
Anderson made some westerns in Boulder, Colo., then built a studio on San Francisco Bay where he ground out one-reel westerns with himself starring as Broncho Billy. He lifter the name from stories by Peter Kyne—”we never bought anything in those days.”
The Broncho Billy shorts appeared in theaters around the world every week.
“In 1919 I started making five-reelers,” he recalled. “But I got into the field too late. Bill Hart had already been making then and he had the market sewed up.”
He lingered in the film industry until 1926, then drifted away. His fortune vanished, and he lived in a tiny house near downtown Los Angeles. Many believed that Broncho Billy had died.
The 1958 Oscar brought him out of obscurity. In his last dozen years he often gave interviews and even appeared in a western. His movie favorite was Gary Cooper—”just about the best cowboy who has ever been on the screen.”
He is survived by his widow Molly and a daughter, Mazine.
Group photograph of the Essanay Eastern Stock Company in Chicago in 1911
Top row, left to right: Joseph Dailey, F. Doolittle, Inez Callahan, William J. Murray, Curtis Cooksey, Helen Lowe, Howard Missimer, Miss Lavalliet, Cyril Raymond.
Middle row: Florence Hoffman, Harry Cashman, Alice Donovan, Frank Dayton, Harry McRae Webster, Lottie Briscoe, William C. Walters, Rose Evans.
Bottom row: Eva Prout, Bobbie Guhl, Jack Essanay (dog), Charlotte Vacher, Tommy Shirley
The cast and crew of Chicago’s Essanay Film Manufacturing Company in 1912.
Seated on Floor: Eleanor Kahn And Jack, The Bulldog Mascot;
1st Row: Charles Hitchcock, Whitney Raymond, Eva Prout, Baby Parsons, Ruth Stonehouse, William Mason
2nd Row: Lily Branscombe, Frank Dayton, Dolores Cassinelli, Francis X. Bushman, Beverly Bayne, William Walters, Mildred Weston;
3rd Row: Joseph Allen, Eleanor Blanchard, John Stepping, Martha Russell, Harry Cashman, Helen Dunbar, Harry Mainhall;
Top Row: E. H. Calvert, William Bailey, Howard Missimer, Fred Wulf
The cast and crew of Chicago’s Essanay Film Manufacturing Company in 1914
Ben Turpin is in the back row, far left. George K. Spoor in the center, front row. Bryant Washburn is in the row behind Francis X. Bushman and Ruth Stonehouse with the white blouse in the same row as Bushman. A young Wallace Beery is in the photo as well.
A form rejection slip from Essanay Studios
Burlesque on Carmen is Charlie Chaplin’s thirteenth and last film for Essanay Studios, released in 1915 and then later recut into a different version in 1916.
Charlie Chaplin’s last production for Essanay, “Police,” is arguably his best for the studio.
Moving Picture World
20 May 1916
The Essanay building in Chicago was sold to Wilding Pictures, a subsidiary of Bell and Howell formed by two former Essanay Studio employees. Then it was given to a non-profit television organization, WTTW Corporation, which sold it. One tenant was the Midwest office of Technicolor. Today, the Essanay lot is the home of St. Augustine College and portions of the two buildings were occupied by Essanay Stage and Lighting Company, another film industry company.
1 The Great Train Robbery was the most popular film until the release of The Birth of a Nation in 1915.