The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company was an early American motion picture studio. The studio was founded in 1907 in Chicago, and later developed an additional film lot in Niles Canyon, California. Its various stars included Francis X. Bushman, Gloria Swanson and studio co-owner, actor and director, Broncho Billy Anderson. It is probably best known today for its series of Charlie Chaplin comedies from 1915-1916. In late 1916, it merged distribution with other studios and stopped issuing films in the fall of 1918. According to film historian Steve Massa, Essanay is one of the important early studios, with comedies as a particular strength.  Its founders were subsequently awarded special Oscars for contributions to film.
The studio was founded in 1907 in Chicago by George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson, originally as the Peerless Film Manufacturing Company. On August 10, 1907, playing on the founders' initials the name was changed to Essanay ("S and A").  
Essanay was originally located at 501 Wells Street (modern numbering: 1360 N. Wells). Essanay's first film, An Awful Skate, or The Hobo on Rollers (July 1907), starring Ben Turpin (then the studio janitor), produced for only a couple hundred dollars, grossed several thousand dollars in release. The studio prospered and in 1908 moved to its more famous address at 1333–45 W. Argyle Street in Uptown, Chicago. 
Essanay produced silent films with such stars (and stars of the future) as George Periolat, Ben Turpin, Wallace Beery, Thomas Meighan, Colleen Moore, Francis X. Bushman, Gloria Swanson, Ann Little, Helen Dunbar, Lester Cuneo, Florence Oberle, Lewis Stone, Virginia Valli, Edward Arnold, Edmund Cobb and Rod La Rocque. The mainstay of the organization, however, were studio co-owner, Anderson, starring in the very popular "Broncho Billy" westerns, and Charlie Chaplin, who was for a time its biggest star.  
Allan Dwan was hired by Essanay Studios as a screenwriter and developed into a famous Hollywood director. Louella Parsons was also hired as a screenwriter and went on to be a famous Hollywood gossip columnist.  Owners Spoor (in 1948) and Anderson (in 1958) received the Oscars' Academy Honorary Award, for their pioneering efforts with Essanay.  
Essanay's productions include the first American film version of A Christmas Carol (1908) as well as the Western short The James Boys of Missouri (1908), which is notable for being the first biopic about the nineteenth-century American outlaw brothers Jesse and Frank James. The studio in 1916 also released the first American Sherlock Holmes film. Directed by Arthur Berthelet, it stars William Gillette in the title role. The first pie-in-the-face gag on screen is believed to have hit Essanay star Ben Turpin in Mr. Flip (1909).  Animated comedies were produced as well by the Chicago company, including installments showcasing the small boy "Dreamy Dud" and his dog "Wag", who in the early 1900s were among the favorite cartoon characters of theater audiences. 
Due to Chicago's seasonal weather patterns and the popularity of westerns, Gilbert Anderson took a part of the company west, first to Colorado. He told The Denver Post in 1909, "Colorado is the finest place in the country for Wild West stuff".  The western operations moved to California, but traveled between Northern to Southern California seasonally. This included locations in San Rafael, just outside San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. Essanay opened the Essanay-West studio in Niles, California, in 1912, at the foot of Niles Canyon, where many Broncho Billy westerns were shot, along with The Tramp featuring Charlie Chaplin.[ citation needed ] The Chicago studio, as well as the new Niles lot, continued to produce films for another five years, reaching a total of well over 1,400 Essanay titles during its ten-year history.
In late 1914, Essanay succeeded in contracting Charlie Chaplin away from Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, offering Chaplin a higher production salary and his own production unit. Chaplin made fourteen short comedies for Essanay in 1915-1916, at both the Chicago and Niles studios, plus a cameo appearance in Broncho Billy film 'His Regeneration'. Chaplin's Essanays are more disciplined than the chaotic roughhouse of Chaplin's Keystones, with better story value and character development. The landmark film of the Chaplin series is The Tramp (1915),  in which Chaplin's vagabond character finds work on a farm and is smitten with the farmer's daughter. Chaplin injected moments of drama and pathos unheard of in slapstick comedies (the tramp is felled by a gunshot wound, and then disappointed in romance). The film ends with the famous shot of the lonely tramp with his back to the camera, walking down the road dejectedly, and then squaring his shoulders optimistically and heading for his next adventure. Audiences responded to the humanity of Chaplin's character, and Chaplin continued to explore serious or sentimental themes within comic situations.
Attempting to capitalize on the popularity of Chaplin, the studio in 1915 had its cartoon character Dreamy Dud in a Chaplin themed short Dreamy Dud Sees Charlie Chaplin in which Dud watches a Chaplin short. 
Chaplin's stock company at Essanay included Ben Turpin, who disliked working with the meticulous Chaplin and appeared with him in only a couple of films; ingenue Edna Purviance, who became his off-screen sweetheart as well; Leo White, almost always playing a fussy continental villain; and all-purpose authority figures Bud Jamison and John Rand.
Chaplin disliked the unpredictable weather of Chicago and left after only one year for more money and more creative control elsewhere. His departure caused a rift between founders Spoor and Anderson. Chaplin was the studio's biggest moneymaker, and Essanay resorted to creating "new" Chaplin comedies from file footage and out-takes. Finally, with Chaplin off the Essanay scene for good, Essanay signed French comedian Max Linder, whose clever pantomime, often compared to Chaplin's, failed to match Chaplin's popularity in America.
In 1915, the Essanay entered into an agreement, in a last-ditch effort to save the studio, with Vitagraph Studios, Lubin Manufacturing Company, and Selig Polyscope Company to form a film distribution partnership known as V-L-S-E, Incorporated.  It was orchestrated by Chicago distributor George Kleine.[ citation needed ] Only the Vitagraph brand name continued into the 1920s, and was absorbed by Warner Bros. in 1925.[ citation needed ]
In 1916, Essanay arranged a deal with William Kane, who later become the publisher and editor of The Black Cat , to acquire a hundred stories from the magazine to turn into "Black Cat" films, each about half-an-hour long.    The plan was to release one picture a week, starting on December 5, 1916 with "The Egg", a comedy starring Richard Travers and Marguerite Clayton.   Kane loaned Essanay a set of The Black Cat issues, complete from the first issue through May 1915, and received $1,250 from Essanay for the one hundred stories they selected. Essanay failed to return the magazines to Kane, who sued them for $20,000 compensation for the loss of the magazines,  eventually winning his case in the US Supreme Court. 
George K. Spoor continued to work in the motion picture industry, introducing an unsuccessful 3-D system in 1923,  and Spoor-Berggren Natural Vision, a 65 mm widescreen format, in 1930. He died in Chicago in 1953. G. M. Anderson became an independent producer, sponsoring Stan Laurel in a series of silent comedies. Anderson died in Los Angeles in 1971.
The Essanay building in Chicago was later taken over by independent producer Norman Wilding, who made industrial films. Wilding's tenancy was much longer than Essanay's. In the early 1970s, a portion of the studio was offered to Columbia College (Chicago) for a dollar but the offer lapsed without action. Then it was given to a non-profit television corporation which sold it. One tenant was the midwest office of Technicolor. Today the Essanay lot is the home of St. Augustine's College, and its main meeting hall has been named the Charlie Chaplin Auditorium. 
Bernard "Ben" Turpin was an American comedian and actor, best remembered for his work in silent films. His trademarks were his cross-eyed appearance and adeptness at vigorous physical comedy. Turpin worked with notable performers such as Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, and was a part of the Mack Sennett studio team. He is believed to have been the first filmed "victim" of the pie in the face gag. When sound came to films, Turpin chose to retire, having invested profitably in real estate, although he did do occasional cameos.
The Tramp, also known as the Little Tramp, was English actor Charlie Chaplin's most memorable on-screen character and an icon in world cinema during the era of silent film. The Tramp is also the title of a silent film starring Chaplin, which Chaplin wrote and directed in 1915.
Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson was an American actor, writer, film director, and film producer, who was the first star of the Western film genre. He was a founder and star for Essanay studios. In 1958, he received a special Academy Award for being a pioneer of the film industry.
George Kirke Spoor was an early film pioneer who, with Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, founded Essanay Studios in Chicago in 1907. He was a founding partner of V-L-S-E, Incorporated, a film distribution firm, in 1915.
By the Sea is a 1915 American silent comedy film Charlie Chaplin made while waiting for a studio to work in Los Angeles. He had just left Niles Essanay Studio after doing five films at that location. By the Sea was filmed all on location at Crystal Pier in April 1915. The story centers on Charlie's Little Tramp character and how he gets into trouble trying to grab the attention of women on the beach. Edna Purviance plays one of the wives in whom he shows interest. It is said to be the first film to incorporate the classic gag of a man slipping on a banana skin.
A Burlesque on Carmen is Charlie Chaplin's thirteenth film for Essanay Studios, originally released as Carmen on December 18, 1915. Chaplin played the leading man and Edna Purviance played Carmen. The film is a parody of Cecil B. DeMille's Carmen 1915, which was itself an interpretation of the popular novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée.
In the Park is Charlie Chaplin's fourth film released in 1915 by Essanay Films. It was his third film while at the Niles Essanay Studio. It was one of several films Charlie Chaplin created in a park setting. The film co-starred Edna Purviance, Leo White, Lloyd Bacon, and Bud Jamison.
Triple Trouble is a two-reel American silent comedy film that was released in 1918. It stars Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, and Leo White. This film was not an official Chaplin film, even though it has many Chaplin-directed scenes; after he left the studio,Essanay edited it together using outtakes and newly shot footage directed by Leo White. It had already been established in court that Chaplin had no legal control over the films made during his time with Essanay and could not prevent its release.
Mutual Film Corporation was an early American film conglomerate that produced some of Charlie Chaplin's greatest comedies. Founded in 1912, it was absorbed by Film Booking Offices of America, which evolved into RKO Pictures.
A Night Out is a 1915 Charlie Chaplin comedy short. It was Chaplin's first film with Edna Purviance, who would continue as his leading lady for the following eight years. It was also Chaplin's first film with Essanay Film Company in Niles, California. Chaplin's first Essanay film, His New Job, was made in the Chicago studio, after which he moved to Niles Studios. He found Purviance in San Francisco when he was searching for a leading lady for his films. A Night Out also stars Ben Turpin, Leo White and Bud Jamison.
The Champion is a 1915 American silent comedy film released by Essanay Studios, starring Charles Chaplin alongside Edna Purviance and Leo White. Essanay co-owner and star, Broncho Billy Anderson can be seen as an enthusiastic audience member in the boxing match scene.
The Chicago film industry is a central hub for motion picture production and exhibition that was established before Hollywood became the undisputed capital of film making. In the early 1900s, Chicago boasted the greatest number of production companies and filmmakers. Essanay Studios founded by George K. Spoor was one of the earliest successful studios to produce movies in Chicago, employing stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson. Actor and co-founder of Essanay Studios, Broncho Billy Anderson gave birth to the western genre. Early film companies such as Essanay Studios produced multiple silent films every week and rented viewing equipment to showcase the latest cinematography to the public. This rental culture gave birth to the popularity of Nickelodeons up until the Great Depression. However, due to the high demand for motion pictures during this time, a black market for films and equipment developed. The Motion Picture Patents Company, established in 1909 as a conglomerate of the major studios, sought to eliminate all illegal use of patented film equipment. As a result, independent ventures entered the film scene. Independents drove the film industry to the west to avoid legal trouble with the trust of major film companies united under the Motion Picture Patents Company. The west offered fairer weather and scenery that better accommodated film making. Not until the 1980s and early 21st century has Chicago experienced a film production revival. Blockbusters, such as Blues Brothers, Sixteen Candles, and The Dark Knight, have rejuvenated the Chicago film scene.
His New Job is a 1915 American short silent comedy film written by, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. Gloria Swanson appears as an uncredited extra. The title is an inside reference to this being Chaplin's first film after leaving Keystone Studios for Essanay Studios. It was also the only film Chaplin shot at Essanay's Chicago studio. He found the facilities and climate not to his liking, and Chaplin soon relocated back to California.
His Regeneration is a 1915 American comedy silent film made by Essanay Studios. It featured Charlie Chaplin in an uncredited role as a customer.
The Brewster Apartments is a residential building in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago.
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located in what is now the historic district of Niles in the city of Fremont, CA. The museum is housed in the Edison Theater, a century-old Nickelodeon movie theater, just half a block from the former site of the Niles Essanay Studios where Broncho Billy and Charlie Chaplin made films in the 1910s. It is dedicated to preserving and showing silent films and their history. The silent film historical work of one of the members of its staff, David Kiehn, was featured on 60 Minutes for demonstrating that a film shot in San Francisco titled A Trip Down Market Street was actually made a few days before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Additionally, when Google made a Google Doodle for April 16, 2011, in celebration of Chaplin's 122nd birthday, they collaborated with the Niles Silent Film Museum to produce the short.
Leona Anderson was an American silent film actress who is possibly best remembered for her 1957 shrill music album Music to Suffer By.
Alfred Emory Johnson was an American actor, director, producer, and writer. As a teenager, he started acting in silent films. Early in his career, Carl Laemmle chose Emory to become a Universal Studio leading man. He also became part of one of the early Hollywood celebrity marriages when he wed Ella Hall.
Augustus Carney (1870–1920) was an American actor during the early 20th century. Born in Ireland in 1870, he got his start in vaudeville before entering the film industry. In his short seven-year career he appeared in over 130 films, mostly shorts.
Josephine Rector was an American scriptwriter and actress. Working for the Essanay company based in Oakland, Rector had a short career in the silent film period of cinema, with all her known films released from between 1911 and 1914 for the Essanay company. She is sometimes also referred to as Mrs. Hal Angus, after her second husband, Hal Angus, whom she married after leaving Essanay in 1914.
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