Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Niles, California Celebrates Silent Films of Early Cinema

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Before the movie industry settled on Hollywood, the early twentieth century saw countless film studios proliferate across the country, including one in Niles, a little town in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Niles is currently celebrating its 100-year anniversary of their involvement with the silent films industry beginning April 1, 2012. "Niles can rightfully claim that it was the most financially successful and productive film studio in Northern California during the silent era," states Rena Kiehn of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, which is sponsoring the event. Her organization caught the attention of Morley Safer and Sixty Minutes in 2010, which subsequently aired a documentary on them.

Gilbert Anderson and Broncho Billy 

1915 Pierce Arrow in Niles Centennial Film Celebration

On April Fool's Day in 1912, the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company rolled into town on a train chugging through Niles Canyon, led by Gilbert M. Anderson, better known as Broncho Billy, the first western movie star. He put his stakes down and over the next four years, produced over 350 films. The fifteen-minute one-reelers were then distributed around the globe, including the studio's legendary film, The Tramp, starring Charlie Chaplin. 

Dan Ercig in Costume
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To mark the centennial milestone, fifty-two locals in historic costumes reenacted the famous train ride, riding from Sunol through Niles Canyon. After disembarking, they paraded down Niles Boulevard, accompanied by a brass band and antique autos, and arrived at the Plaza for the presentation of a proclamation. Hand crank movie cameras caught the action on film and afterward, silent films were shown at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Fountain in Niles Plaza

Niles is commemorating their slice of movie history through June 2012 with several events, including the creation of a new silent film, The Canyon. It will be a one-reel western produced with the equipment and techniques of the silent era, like a 35 milimeter Bell & Howell 2709 hand-cranked camera. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, located at 37417 Niles Boulevard, is dedicated to preserving the early cinema history of the San Francisco Bay Area and shows silent films on Saturday nights, honoring American movie pioneers in an authentic setting. Their mission to maintain the spirit of silent filmmaking exudes an enthusiasm that is contagious to all who visit.


Museum Board Member Roy Goucher

1 comment:

  1. My grandmother was always film struck. She was born in 1902 in Hawaii. At the age of four her family moved to the Fruitvale area of Oakland. Her mother was Russian and her father wasa Gustafson from Sweden. Eventually a cousin of hers would become the acclaimed actress known as Greta Garbo (ne Gustafson). As a teen my grandmother recalls being selected as a young "Mary Pickford" type by local movie scouts, who saw her as a pretty young ingenue with long blonde curls.. Her mother soon put a nip in the bud to that idea. I wonder if it was in Niles that this occured? She was also related, through marriage, to Charlie Chaplin (Lita Grey). As a young married woman living in Oakland, she recalled the day that a dddlong PINK limo pulled up to her house, with Lita Grey Chaplin in the car. She was the talk of street for a while!