Fannie Ward in “The Cheat.”
For the 18th year in a row, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is holding their Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival in Niles’ historic 1913 Edison Theatre this weekend from Friday, June 26 to Sunday, June 28. They will be running silent rarities seldom seen on the big screen, including G. M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson Essanay shorts, a Baby Peggy feature, and Universal silents, all with wonderful live accompaniment by such pianists as Frederick Hodges, Jon Mirsalis, David Drazin, Greg Pane, and Bruce Loeb.
Festivities kick off Friday with an opening reception, followed at 8 pm by the tinted1924 Dorothy Devore romantic comedy, “The Tomboy.” Devore runs a boarding house for her eccentric father when a new handsome boarder, Herbert Rawlinson arrives. Two 1915 Essanay shorts precede the film, “Broncho Billy and The Claim Jumpers,” and the Snakeville Comedy, “When Slippery Slim Went For the Eggs,” featuring the comic antics of Victor Potel, Harry Todd, and Margaret Joslin.
Saturday morning kicks off with an informative walking tour of the little town of Niles, now part of Fremont, strolling down Niles Boulevard past former Essanay Film Company locations, and visiting quaint little bungalows. A $5 donation covers the walking tour, which begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Museum.
At 1 p.m. that afternoon, Cecil B. DeMille’s sensational 1915 feature, “The Cheat,” screens, starring the intense Sessue Hayakawa and the lovely Fannie Ward. Vain, selfish stockbroker wife Ward finds herself in debt to Hayakawa, with desperate results.
The 3pm show features Essanay film shorts shot in and around the little town of Niles, featuring Broncho Billy, Ben Turpin, Harry Todd, Margaret Joslin, and Victor Potel. The comic, cross-eyed Turpin appears in two films: “Broncho Billy Steps In” (1915), and “Snakeville’s Champion” (1915), in which he plays a boxer squaring off against Lloyd Bacon. During the short, the Niles’ Edison Theatre can actually be glimpsed in the distance.
That evening at 7:30, the Ray Hubbard Award will be presented to a special honoree, followed by a salute to Universal Pictures Centennial with the screening of “Skinner’s Dress Suit” (1926) and two shorts, “Behind the Screen” (1915) and “City of Stars” (1925), which present tours of the Universal City lot. “Skinner’s Dress Suit” stars Reginald Denny and Laura La Plante.
Sunday morning, guests are invited to ride the train through historic Niles Canyon before afternoon screenings. Kicking off Sunday afternoon screenings at 1 p.m. is a showing of the Library of Congress’ recently restored Baby Peggy feature, “The Family Secret” (1924). Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary) stars as a child of a secretly married couple who are separated by her rich grandfather. Schedule permitting, Cary herself will appear at the screening.
The Festival closes at 4 p.m. with a presentation of Helen Holmes and Helen Gibson action-packed adventures. Holmes, one of the great serial queens, stars in the short, “In Danger’s Path” (1915), directed by her husband, J. P. McGowan, and the feature, “Mistaken Orders” (1925), also directed by McGowan. Gibson appears in the short 1920 short, “The Ghosts of the Canyon.”
Festival passes cost only $65 for nonmembers, with different ticket prices for individual screenings. Passes and tickets can be bought online through the Museum’s website, or at the door.
Come enjoy the little town of Niles, the main western headquarters of the Essanay Film Company, and a pleasing small town atmosphere!