OP-ed by Sven Fields
I regularly enjoy reading Rick Thomas’ ‘Throwback Thursday’ column with its flavorful tidbits of local history. His knowledge of South Pasadena history is impressive, and he dishes out the facts in a tasteful and easily digestible manner. His “Film and TV Stars of South Pasadena” in your September 11 issue lists eight prominent examples of highly noteworthy SP actors. With Rick’s kind permission, I provide two additional stars for those who are unfamiliar, Broncho Billy Anderson and Greg Sestero. Born Gilbert Maxwell Anderson in 1880, Broncho Billy Anderson is South Pasadena’s earliest movie star, while Greg Sestero is one of its latest.
Broncho Billy was our nation’s very first cowboy movie star. Anderson played several parts in “The Great Train Robbery” (1903), a silent movie landmark in the early days of the film industry. Anderson then launched the Essenay Studio in Niles Valley in the Bay Area and became a successful motion picture producer, director, and actor while starring in no less than 376 Broncho Billy films. In doing so, he created the mold for the almost endless parade of cowboy matinee idols who followed, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, John Wayne, and so many others. At the same time, Broncho Billy became the Father of the Western Movie genre. Later Broncho Billy even signed such established stars as Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin for some of his other film projects.
During the Roaring 20s moviegoer tastes changed and Anderson was forced to close his studio. His fortune was further depleted due to several lawsuits. By the 1930s, Anderson was forced to manage an apartment building in San Francisco. In the 1950s he tried to develop a TV series, but nothing came about. Nevertheless, in 1958, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science awarded him a special Oscar for his pioneering role in developing motion pictures as an entertaining art form. In his last years Anderson resided in the Brierworn Convalescent Hospital, a sanitarium for retired members of the motion picture community at 1625 Meridian in South Pasadena.
Greg Sestero is a very active contemporary actor, director, and writer who’s a longtime resident of South Pasadena. His initial breakthrough occurred completely out of the blue with “The Room” (2003),which was written, produced, and directed by maverick filmmaker Tommy Wiseau. Since its release, “The Room” has become a worldwide cult movie sensation that has enjoyed long-standing midnight runs in Hollywood and Westwood—as well as in other cultural hotbeds across the nation and beyond. After co-staring as Mark in “The Room, Sestero published a New York Times bestselling memoir about the making of the leftfield hit that had been called “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies.” His book, “The Disaster Artist” was adapted into a major motion picture of the same name. It was a popular and critical success and featured a bevy of top stars including Sharon Stone, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, and South Pasadenan Alison Brie. “The Disaster Artist” won a Golden Globe for James Franco’s comedic portrayal of Wiseau and his brother, Dave Franco played Sestero. The screenplay was also nominated for an Academy Award.
Since then, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero teamed up for the two-part feature romp, “Best F(r)iends.” This fall Sestero has returned to the spotlight with his Halloween Season horror film, “Miracle Valley” that has been thrilling audiences on the festival circuit.
To help celebrate the Halloween Season, The South Pasadena Rotary Foundation, an all-volunteer nonprofit, will be showcasing public screenings of “The Room” and “Miracle Valley” in the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room on October 27 and 28 respectively. Both shows begin at 7:30 and are fundraisers for Rotary, an all-volunteer, nonprofit service club. Doors will open at 6:45 p.m. and only 100 audience members will be allowed for each show due to COVID restrictions. Masks covering nose and mouth must be worn by all attendees over the age of 2. The “Miracle Valley” screening will also feature a live audience interactive Q & A with Greg Sestero.
The Community Room is located at 1115 El Centro Street. Seating is festival style (first come, first served). Tickets are available on Eventbrite.com for $15 each. In case of advance sellout, no tickets will be available at the door. Both films will be presented in Blu-Ray with professional equipment on a giant screen. Special thanks to 210eastsound and Sugar Mynt Gallery. This activity is not sponsored by the City of South Pasadena or the South Pasadena Public Library.