The one part of it I got to enjoy (other than working at the museum) was seeing a series of documentaries made about Broncho Billy and Niles. They all tell pretty much the same story, which is very familiar to me. But they all have their own charm.
First up was BRONCHO BILLY, THE FIRST REEL COWBOY made in 1998 for Arkansas Education Television. Broncho Billy was actually born in Arkansas, either in Pine Bluff or Little Rock (he himself was inconsistent about this) and even though his family moved away when he was 3, there's still some local pride in him. They even have a mural of him in Pine Bluff. Finally, I have a reason to visit Arkansas...hooray?
Then we saw excerpts from a 1958 interview with Gilbert Anderson himself. That year he was honored with an honorary Oscar for his pioneering work. Sadly, television audiences didn't get to see that because the show ran long and his award was cut from the broadcast. But it was cool to see him alive and getting his due. And come to think of it, it was cool to hear him for my first time!
Then we took a little intermission, and back for two more movies.
First, THE MOVIES GO WEST (1974) is a short piece that again goes over the same history. The treat here is seeing Essanay actor Hal Angus, then well in his 80's, reminiscing about the time in Niles. Also, seeing the old Essanay barn (their first studio in Niles before the bigger studio was built) before it was condemned and torn down (sadly, efforts to raise funds to restore it were unsuccessful.)
And finally, WHEN THE MOVIES CAME FROM NILES (1964) is the longest and most complete documentary of the bunch by far, nearly an hour long. The treat here is once again the voice of Gilbert Anderson reminiscing (unfortunately, he's not shown on camera) and also the voice of Bill Cato--actor, true cowboy, and Broncho Billy's (occasional) riding double. He was very kind in his words, talking about how much he liked working for Anderson and how Anderson (eventually) liked doing his own riding, except when maybe the scene was too dangerous.
And that was it, the celebration's over. Except that we keep the party going every weekend at the museum. Open with free tours Saturdy and Sunday from noon to 4:00. Silent films with live piano music every Saturday night at 7:30 (doors open at 7:00.) Popcorn, soda, candy is just a dollar, and there are plenty of friendly, colorful people.
Total Running Time (estimated): 111 minutes
My Total Minutes: 275,819