Dusty Relics of Arkansas History
February 11-17, 2019
By Bob Denman
Arkansas’s own Broncho Billy Anderson
The Academy Award nominees have just been announced, a great time for a Dusty Relic of Arkansas History with an Academy Award flair.
I did a search of actors on the Independent Movie Data Base and found listings of 865 actors or actresses from Arkansas. I found the number remarkable and had to do research to learn more.
Of course, everyone knows about our Academy Award Winners, Mary Steenbergen and Billy Bob Thornton, they were not a surprise. Nor was Fort Smith’s, Laurence Luckenbill with dozens of movie credits and son in law of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. One of my favorite films is “Close Encounters” or the “Third Kind” — I have always known that Melinda Dillon from Hope, played the female lead opposite a young Richard Dreyfess. We all know of Glen Campbell’s role in “True Grit” and a handful of other film roles.
The Golden Age of Hollywood is well represented with Arkansans. Alan Ladd of Hot Springs is best known for his lead role in “Shane.” Mountain View’s, Dick Powell, starred in numerous Golden Age musicals. I have also had the pleasure of meeting, Julie Adams, who’s starred in westerns and dramas, but it was her lead role in the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” that made her famous.
I was surprised to see a lot of contemporary actors on the list including Jonesboro’s Wes Bentley, who starred in “American Beauty” and “Hunger Games.” Not to be outdone, Little Rock’s Josh Lucas has over 50 movie and television credits including the popular “Mysteries of Laura” series on NBC.
So, here is one thing I think you should know … I only knew of his stage name. Born Gilbert Maxwell Aronson in Little Rock and raised in Pine Bluff, he is more famously known as Broncho Billy Anderson. A former vaudeville actor and early fashion model, he starred in the 1903 silent classic “The Great Train Robbery,” considered by film historians to be the first ever American action film. A hard-working actor, if there ever was one, he played three different characters in this Thomas Edison Film Studio production. He has over 300 films to his credit, including 147 silent era westerns. He co-owned the Essanay Studios, a major studio in the formative years of Hollywood. Essanay contract players included Tom Mix, Gloria Swanson, Charlie Chaplin, and of course, Broncho Billy. Remarkably, he worked 63 years in the business as actor, director, writer and producer.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was honored with his image on a United States Postal Service stamp in 1998. In 2002, Billy was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame. Since I started with the Academy Award Winners, Mary Steenbergen and Billy Bob Thornton, let’s add Broncho Billy’s name to the list for winning the special Academy Award in 1958 as a motion picture pioneer.
Arkansan, Gilbert Maxwell Aronson, aka Broncho Billy Anderson, a Dusty Relic of Arkansas History.