Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson was an American actor, writer, film director, and film producer, who is best known as the first star of the Western film genre.
Anderson was born Max Aaronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, the sixth child of Henry and Esther Aaronson, natives of New York. His younger sister, Leona Anderson, would achieve a degree of success in the 1950s as a novelty singer who specialized in singing off-key songs for comedic value.
Anderson, who was Jewish, is also claimed by Pine Bluff, where he was raised until age eight. He lived in St. Louis for the next 10 years, when he moved to New York City. He was a photographer's model and a newspaper vendor before appearing on the stage. He began in vaudeville, later working with Edwin S. Porter as an actor and occasional script collaborator.
In Porter's early motion picture The Great Train Robbery, Anderson played three roles. After seeing the film for the first time at a vaudeville theater and being overwhelmed by the audience's reaction, Anderson decided the film industry was for him. Using the stage name Gilbert M. Anderson, he began to write, direct, and act in his own westerns.