Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
Johnny Crawford Remembrance & Tribute
Contributed by L. Waskin for the Crawford Family
On Saturday, July 30, 2022, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum of Fremont (Niles), California held a special tribute for Johnny at their annual Broncho Billy and Friends Silent Film Festival. Based at the Museum’s 1913 Edison Theater, attendees could also wander around the Museum itself filled with artifacts and photos from the silent film period. A guided historic walking tour was also available to visitors, since many structures were built during the 1910s due to the presence of the town’s busy Essanay Studios, helmed by G.M. Anderson. Anderson was not only the studio’s co-founder, but as actor Broncho Billy he became the first cowboy movie star. William S. Hart, who Johnny portrayed in his final film Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws (2019), immediately followed Broncho Billy as the silent era’s most popular cowboy star through the mid-1920s.
Today, the Museum considers Johnny’s Oscar winning short film The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970) to be silent-related and felt it would be a great fit for their annual festival. The Resurrection of Broncho Billy is also only one of two silent-related films to have won an Oscar during the sound period, the other being The Artist (2011). For some years, the Museum had also been aware of Johnny’s love for the silent genre and period music, as well as his popular Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra with its authentic arrangements of 1920s and 30s music. Intriguingly, they learned more recently that Johnny was aware of the Museum and its “silent movie town,” and that he had hoped to attend a Broncho Billy festival someday.
The foundation for Johnny’s tribute was laid earlier this year when the Museum received the generous donation of an original 35mm print of The Resurrection of Broncho Billy for their archive. The 1970 print came from Johnny’s good friend, John Longenecker, who thought the Museum might like a copy of the movie. Longenecker produced the short film while a student at USC. The film was subsequently restored and digitized from the original print by the Niles Essanay Museum so audiences can now see it the same way it looked to moviegoers at time of release.
In addition to screening the newly restored The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, other interesting additions were included by the Museum for Johnny’s tribute: an exciting new hour-long interview with siblings Bobby and Nance Crawford; music/TV/video clips; and a slideshow. There was also a live discussion with Special Programs Director Rena Kiehn and Johnny’s friend Laurie, about Johnny’s silent film and period interests, movie history adventures, horses/rodeo, in addition to his starring role and strong behind-the-scenes creative presence in The Resurrection of Broncho Billy. The original Broncho Billy, G.M. Anderson of Essanay Studios, was also discussed. Anderson, along with Essanay’s stable of actors like Charlie Chaplin, used to watch the daily rushes for their films over 100 years ago in this very theater—the Edison— where the festival was held.
One couldn’t help but think Johnny would have greatly enjoyed both the location and celebration of his life and career featuring one of his very favorite films, The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.
ONLINE JOHNNY CRAWFORD REMEMBRANCE AND TRIBUTE BEGINS AT MIDNIGHT (PACIFIC TIME) ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 6, 2022
For access to the online event, viewers should go to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum’s website: http://www.nilesfilmmuseum.org. The direct link to the page with the tribute materials is here. Note: Everything listed for the live program — except for the live discussion—is available for online viewing.