Between Studios

“Broncho” Billy Anderson, said Chaplin, had a special kind of charm. The real reason he signed with Essanay may have been the thousand dollars a week they were willing to pay, but the human touch was important. So when the company’s paymasters were late in paying him, the money issue was a big deal but so was the apparent lack of friendly feeling and honesty it indicated. In fact, the company man in charge of payments, Mr. Spoor (!), had never heard of Chaplin, and was shocked and appalled that Anderson had agreed to such an exorbitant salary. He might be contractually bound to pay it, but he felt entitled to drag his feet over the matter. It was only when friends congratulated him on signing the world’s greatest screen comedian that he began to view the deal as a bargain, but by then the damage was done: it was pretty well guaranteed that Chaplin would be looking for alternative employment as soon as his year at Essanay was up.

Chaplin recounts an interesting encounter that occurred as he and Anderson took the train to Chicago. On board were three men, a sheriff and D.A. taking a prisoner for execution in St. Louis. They struck up a conversation. The condemned man, named Hank, was a fan of Anderson’s gunplay, but had never seen Chaplin on the screen, having been in San Quentin the past three years.

“It’s a tough world,” remarked Broncho, on learning of their fellow passenger’s destination.

“Well,” said the sheriff, “We want to make it less tough. Hank knows that.”

“Sure,” said Hank.

Hank had been arrested in California for “burglaring.” But he’d killed a cop in St. Louis. When he finished his California sentence, the sheriff was waiting to re-arrest him at the prison gates. Now here they were, bound for the noose. Hank had agreed not to fight extradition, which would have only meant a short delay, in exchange for a good breakfast and first-class travel to his doom, without handcuffs, with only a leg iron to stop him running off.

Chaplin wished Hank good luck when they parted. They hanged him anyway.

2 Responses to “Between Studios”

  1. The Niles Essanay Film Museum in Niles, CA is a nice, homey place to visit if you’re in the area and in search of Broncho Billy. And look, there’s George K. Spoor with his Magniscope Projector:

  2. Yes, I wanna go there! Maybe sometime…

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