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One For The Road: When Chicago Was The Silent Hollywood

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 10, 2012 10:40PM

Silent film company Essanay Studios was founded on this date in Uptown in 1907, launching a decade of film dominance that ended rapidly after losing its big star Charlie Chaplin. In 10 years, the studio produced 1,400 films, but its dominance didn't last.

The Tribune writes:

Essanay boasted among its contract players the world's number one box-office star ( Charlie Chaplin), a great matinee idol (Francis X. Bushman), a glamor queen ( Gloria Swanson) and the dean of cowboy stars (studio co-founder Gilbert "Bronco Billy" Anderson). The studio was located in the 1300 block of West Argyle Street in the city's Uptown neighborhood. Its peculiar name is an amalgam of the initials of the studio's founding partners: George Spoor and Anderson. Spoor had run a newsstand and, later, a film and projector distribution company, National Film Renting. Anderson, a former vaudeville actor, shot to fame playing one of the outlaws in Edwin S. Porter's 1903 hit, "The Great Train Robbery". Essanay quickly became a dominant force in westerns and comedy. Its success was due in part to the well-matched talents of its partners. Anderson ground out "Bronco Billy" short westerns at a formidable rate: one a week for 376 straight weeks. (A few were shot in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, the rest at Essanay locations in Colorado or California.) Spoor had a head for business; it was he who introduced Bell to Howell.

The building on Argyle Street in Uptown is now home of Charlie Chaplin Auditorium at St. Augustine College, which announced yesterday that it plans to renovate the building. Uptown residents may also notice the Broncho Billy playlot nearby.

Watch Chaplin's masterpiece The Tramp and Anderson's Broncho Billy's Fatal Joke below.