(SLSE Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, founder (bullet) Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

(Click to send email)
Site founded Sept. 1, 2000. We passed 5 million page views on June 6, 2011
The home pages remain free of any charge.
Please pass on this website link to your family, relatives, friends and clients.

Eugenia Clinchard, child-movie star at six,
visits Woolley relatives in 1911

(Engenia in 1911)
Engenia at her most darling, photographed circa 1911. Family photos courtesy of Susan Victoria Brandon.

      The word got around the upriver district of the Skagit river quickly in the fall of 1911. It was time to take out the horse and buggy and head into Sedro-Woolley. Eugenia Margaret Clinchard came to town to visit her family who lived here. The draw was that she was a child star, at age six, in the relatively new phenomenon of silent movies. Her parents arranged for her to appear at the Princess Theater on Metcalf street, when the theater showed her first two short subjects: A Frontier Doctor and Papa's Letter, which were released together in December that year.
      Motion pictures were transforming America and now Sedro-Woolley was getting into the act. Her first two movies were filmed in California by the Essanay Film Manufacturing Co. She would soon become one of the stars of the Broncho Billys (Bronco is an alternative spelling often used) film series, starring Gilbert M. Anderson (1880-1971). Anderson was a partner of the Essanay studio and he wrote, produced, directed and edited most of his films. Almost all were short subjects, nickelodeon movies, where the watcher deposited a nickel and watched through a metal eyepiece at the looped film within. He defined the silent-movie western and was influential for two more decades. He would make dozens of Broncho Billy short films, the ones that made him the first Western hero, among an incredible 2,000 movies that Essanay Studios produced altogether in Chicago and California over a 14-year period.
      Born Max Aronson in Little Rock, Arkansas on March 21, 1880, Anderson and his partner, George Spoor, originally started Essanay Studios in Chicago in 1907. While cast under the name of Aronson, he played three roles in Edwin S. Porter's historically well-regarded movie, The Great Train Robbery (1903): a bandit, a shot passenger and a tenderfoot dancer. After he saw the audience's favorable response to the 11-minute mini-feature — parts of which were hand-tinted for color and shot on a budget of just $800, Anderson eventually dropped everything and committed himself to the young film industry. He took the stage name Gilbert M. Anderson and began to write, direct, and act in his own westerns. After joining up with Spoor he acted in over 300 short films for the studio and would eventually rack up 148 silent western shorts, with him as the first cowboy star. Their first film produced in Chicago was An Awful Skate, or The Hobo on Rollers, July 1907, with Ben Turpin, then the studio janitor but a future star. In 1908-09 they also began producing movies in California in rented quarters.
      That is where Eugenia came in. The year 1911 marked a prosperous period here in Sedro-Woolley. The Princess was located in the ground floor of the Knights of Pythias building on the west side of the 800 block of Metcalf, where Cascade Fabrics is today. That was three years before Dad Abbott built the much larger Dream theater on Woodworth street. Various nickelodeon theaters had shown very short features along Metcalf street and at the Hazel Theater on State street since the turn of the century. The first "theater" that we know featured F. L. Hemingway's stereopticon and kinetoscope in May 1904 in a small room, at the rear of a store, possibly W.B. Pigg's confectionery, with the music from a fine phonograph. The Princess was a bandbox that seated less than a hundred customers, but it was likely jam-packed for each showing of the Billy movies.
      Eugenia was born to Fred and Elsie (Honneff) Clinchard near Alameda, California, on July 5, 1904, and was raised in Oakland; she had one brother named Frederick "Fred" Clinchard. Her bright, bubbly, entertaining nature was discovered very early, at age three, by a vaudeville troupe who played on the San Francisco circuits and others around California. By the time Eugenia visited her relatives here, she was already a veteran of two movies and she would be cast in nine more in her youthful career. Her parents brought her to meet most of the family at one time.
      Fred Clinchard was one of eleven siblings born to Elise (Balbach) Clinchard, who hosted the 1911 reunion in Sedro-Woolley. She was a widow; her husband, Jacob Francois Clinchard, died Jan. 5, 1906, in Omaha, Nebraska, where many of the Clinchards lived for quite a while. Brandon has not discovered why members of the family moved to Sedro-Woolley. She did learn during her genealogical research that principals of the family were major investors in various railroads.
      Here in Sedro-Woolley, two of Fred's siblings never married and lived with their mother: Amelia Caroline Clinchard and Edward William Clinchard. Earl Harold Clinchard, youngest of the 11 children, also lived in Sedro Woolley and he married Lillian Baehner on in 1910 in Everett. Two of Fred's other sisters lived here. Adrienne Hermine (Clinchard) was married to Louis Philipoteaux and sister Constance Eugenia Clinchard was married to William Rausch. Finally, another of his brothers, George Alfred Clinchard, lived in Concrete and was married to Zena Augusta Kaster.
      We discovered that Edward Clinchard advanced beyond the home-and-work tinkerer stage and actually obtained two patents while working as a foundryman for Sedro-Woolley Iron Works, the forerunner of Skagit Steel. His first patent in 1912 was for a dental appliance holder and his second a year later was for a washboard, which was featured in the American Artisan magazine.

(Eugenia visits Sedro-Woolley)
The Clinchard family gathers in Sedro-Woolley in 1911. From left to right: Edward Clinchard, Maude Clinchard, William Clinchard, Lillian Clinchard, Amelia Clinchard, Constance Eugenia Clinchard, Elise Clinchard, Earl Clinchard, Frederick Ballbach Clinchard, Eugenia, Elsa, Frederic Wallace Clinchard.

Gilbert M. Anderson and Broncho Billy
(Papa's Letter poster)
Eugenia first starred at age six in Papa's Letter, where she played a little boy, as pictured above in a handbill. Handbills courtesy of David Kiehn of the Niles Essanay Silent Films Museum.

      Although the details are sketchy, Anderson apparently spotted Eugenia sometime in early 1910-1911 on a vaudeville stage and at age six she began appearing in a series of movies where she essentially played herself, a darling fair child, except in Papa's Letter, in which she acted as a little boy. Within months of Eugenia's Sedro-Woolley visit, Anderson decided to move the Essanay California unit to the town of Niles, which is now a suburb of Fremont, on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
      In 1912 he bought five lots and built bungalows to accommodate members of his cast and crew. In October that year, George Spoor visited Niles arranged for Essanay to purchase eight more lots as the location for a studio that was state-of-the-art for its time. San Jose architect George W. Page drew up plans for the building that eventually cost $50,000. Construction of the new studio began early in 1913 and by June, the main building, 200 feet long and 50 feet deep, was ready to occupy. By that time Anderson was widely popular for his character, Broncho Billy (often spelled Bronco), according to many observers of silent film.

      "He was the first movie star," said Dale Carpenter, producer of a 1990 Broncho Billy documentary. "When you passed by the nickelodeon and saw a Broncho Billy film, you put a nickel in. He wasn't by any means a great actor, and not a better story teller than anyone else, but he was one of the first people to realize that movies could succeed by creating a character that people were drawn to.
(Sheriff's Kid)
Has Eugenia died in mother's arms? She starred in 1911 in her first Broncho Billy movie, The Sheriff's Kid.

* * *
      "In his day he was extremely popular,'' said David Kiehn, author of ''Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company'' (Farwell Books, 2003). ''He was the forerunner of all those characters that are referred to as good bad men, the ones who may be rough mavericks on the outside but who have a sense of moral right and wrong that redeems them in the end."
* * *
      "Film historians consider Broncho Billy not only the first western hero but also a pioneer in the development of narrative cinema," noted Stephen Kinzer in the New York Times. "The formula he helped develop, which he described as 'lots of riding and shooting and plenty of excitement,' has never lost its mass appeal."
      During the construction period, Eugenia was cast in another Essanay short, The Sheriff's Inheritance. Her big break, however, came in the 1913 production of Broncho Billy and the Sheriff's Kid. The plot had Billy in hiding after a jailbreak when he discovered the sheriff's daughter, Eugenia, unconscious after a fall and he returns her to her mother. Eugenia impressed Anderson so much that she soon appeared in four more movies in the Billy series in 1913: The Influence of Broncho Billy, Broncho Billy and the Rustler's Child, The Crazy Prospector, and Broncho Billy's Christmas Deed.
      In 1914 Eugenia appeared in her final movies: Broncho Billy, the Vagabond, and Broncho Billy's Christmas Spirit. Brandon discovered that Eugenia's exit from the movies was not due to being dropped as an actor, but because a runaway coach on the set almost ran her over. Fred Clinchard decided that the movie sets were too dangerous for a child and he insisted that she only act on the stage from then on. One of her earliest stage appearances was at age eight the year before her last film— Alias Jimmy Valentine with the Bishop Players, which began at an unnamed theater on June 9, 1913. She would continue acting on Bay Area stages until age 18, in 1922, about the time she married a much older wealthy man, Walter George Pearch, who was a captain on the "American President Line" luxury cruise ships, an outgrowth of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the firm that dominated travel on the West Coast for decades.

Later years for Essanay, Anderson and Spoor
(Engenia and Jeanne)
Engenia and her baby daughter, Jeanne Suzanne Pearch. The photo shows that Eugenia bloomed into a beautiful young lady.

      In those early years, Essanay-Niles cranked out two, then three, then four short features per week. But even bigger than the Broncho Billy series for Essanay was their signing of the brilliant young British comic, Charlie Chaplin, in December 1914. Anderson stole Chaplin away from Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios with the offer of a higher salary, much higher than for other actors, and in Chaplin's case the short subjects became a bit longer. While there at Essanay only a short time, Chaplin explored both deeper character development and pathos, seldom seen in silents before that time. "Little Tramp," one of his finest, was among the 14 short comedies produced at the Essanay Studios in both Chicago and Niles, and Chaplin made cameo appearances in a few of the Broncho Billy shorts. Chaplin disliked Essanay, however, and left after only a year. In 1916 the Mutual Film Corporation promised him even more money and nearly complete creative control in a dozen two-reel comedies. That year also marked the effective end of Anderson and Essanay, as David Kiehn of the Niles Essanay Silent Films Museum explains:
      By 1915, the times were clearly changing Essanay and the other old-time companies were facing competition from independent upstart producers and studios such as Metro, Universal and Paramount. The new feature length films captured audiences that formerly saw Broncho Billy and the Snakeville comedy shorts.
      When Chaplin's contract came up for renewal in December 1915, Spoor rejected Chaplin's salary demands - $10, 000 a week plus $150,000 to sign his name on the contract. Chaplin went elsewhere. Anderson was also ready to move on and Spoor bought him out. On February 16, 1916, the Niles Essanay studio received a telegram, ordering it to shut down. The doors were closed and locked. It was the end of an era.

      Anderson's success was spotty, however, after the Essanay days. He retired from acting in the movies and his attempts on the stage were largely unsuccessful. He had a brief comeback with a series of shorts starring another rising comic, Stan Laurel, including Laurel's first pairing with Oliver Hardy in A Lucky Dog, which was released in 1921. In 1958 Anderson received an honorary Academy Award for his "contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment." And at age 85, Anderson came out of retirement for a cameo role in The Bounty Killer (1965). In an effort to rescue Broncho Billy from obscurity, the Library of Congress recently transferred nitrate prints of his surviving films to safety stock, and assembled 13 of them that were shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Anderson died in 1971 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He was honored posthumously in 1998 with his image on a U.S. postage stamp and in 2002, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
      George Spoor, meanwhile, pursued technical advances post-Essanay. He created a "Natural Vision Picture," in 1923, which was an early but unsuccessful attempt at 3-D, and in 1930 he created a variation called Spoor-Berggren Natural Vision, a 65-mm format, but that was soon surpassed by 70 mm widescreen format and Vitascope. He died in Chicago in 1953.

Later years for Eugenia
      Eugenia had two children while the Pearches lived in the Bay Area: Jeanne Suzanne Pearch, Brandon's mother, and Walter George Pearch Jr, known famously later in Southern California as Wally George. But after 18 years together, the Pearches divorced and Eugenia moved with the children to Hollywood. She appears to have spent her energy from then on promoting Wally's career.
      Wally began rather humbly as a deejay in Glendale and by the late 1950s he was getting walk-ons on TV shows such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet show while also hosting radio shows. In 1979 he began hosting his own radio show in Inglewood, but he gained most attention in 1983 for the Hot Seat show that he hosted on KDOC Channel 56, a UHF-TV station then located in Anaheim, California. As a firm supporter of Ronald Reagan and antithesis of anyone left of him politically, he called his fire-and-brimstone antics "Combat TV" and deemed himself the father of the sensational style that later produced Geraldo Rivera and Jerry Springer.
      The most prominent of Eugenia's descendants, however, is Rebecca Jane Pearch, Wally's daughter by his second marriage. Born in Santa Rosa, California, in 1961, she adopted the stage name of Rebecca De Mornay. In 1983 she rocketed to stardom in the movie, Risky Business, as a hooker who leads the young Tom Cruise on quite a merry chase.
      In Eugenia's later years, she lived in Sherman Oaks, California. She died on May 15, 1989, in Panorama City, California. She had remarried to a Mr. Horton, about whom we have no details.

(Eugenia 1911)
(Jacob Clinchard)
Above left: A stunning profile photo of Eugenia in 1911
Above right: Jacob Francois Clinchard
Below left: Susan Victoria Brandon
Below right: Fred Balbach Clinchard in Sedro-Woolley, 1911

(Susan Brandon)
(Fred Clinchard)

An epilogue:
      How Susan Victoria Brandon found her family in Sedro-Woolley is a story in itself. As she explains,
      My Grandmother never mentioned the existence of any relatives to my mother (or me), so it was a huge surprise when I discovered them and the info about the 10 siblings my great grandfather had, or even that the original Clinchard family came to America from France. One cousin living in Washington gave me two very old post cards that Eugenia had sent to her family, so she was in contact with them as an adult. I was born and grew up in Los Angeles California and had no cousins around I knew of (except one in England that became pen-pals with me). She now lives with her family in Australia. It was a fluke I discovered a cousin living in New Mexico that lead to cousins living in Nebraska and I received an amazing Clinchard Family tree.
      I sent out letters requesting pictures and more info and I started to get a real sense of who my family was. I have two brothers but I always yearned for cousins. Later I used Facebook to discover more cousins in France, Puerto Rico and across the U.S. It's my goal to meet up with as many as possible sometime soon. There are hundreds. Family is important to me and I somehow feel more connected to the world since finding my relatives. I'm working on a children's illustrated book (about celebrities as kids). I enjoyed doing research for my book as much as I do finding more facts about my family's history.

      Unfortunately we cannot find follow-up information for all the relatives in Sedro-Woolley. Added to our woes on the subject, that annual volume of both the Sedro-Woolley newspapers at the time, the Skagit County Courier and the Skagit County Times, both disappeared long ago.
      Those who want to read more about Essanay, Gilbert and Eugenia's time there should start with the Niles Essanay Silent Films Museum website, (http://www.nilesfilmmuseum.org/S&A_story.htm). The Museum also hosts an annual "Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival" at 37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont, and David Kiehn provides rich background. We also note here that we consulted various Wikipedia websites for confirmation of details.
      Finally, we remind our readers that Eugenia Clinchard was not the only child star to visit Sedro-Woolley. On June 9, 1938, Shirley Temple and her parents visited Dr. A.J. Dyer on State street. See the brief details that we discovered here.

Links, background reading and sources

Story posted Sept. 25, 2011
Please report any broken links so we can update them

Getting lost trying to navigate or find stories on our site?
Read how to sort through our 800-plus stories.
Return to the new-domain home page
Links for portals to subjects and towns
Newest photo features
Search entire site
Looking for something special on our site? Enter name, town or subject, then press "Find" Search this site powered by FreeFind
    Did you find what you were seeking? We have helped many people find individual names or places, so email if you have any difficulty.
    Tip: Put quotation marks around a specific name or item of two words or more, and then experiment with different combinations of the words without quote marks. We are currently researching some of the names most recently searched for — check the list here. Maybe you have searched for one of them?
Please sign our guestbook so our readers will know where you found out about us, or share something you know about the Skagit River or your memories or those of your family. Share your reactions or suggestions or comment on our Journal. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit our site.

View My Guestbook
Sign My Guestbook
Email us at: skagitriverjournal@gmail.com
(Click to send email)
Mail copies/documents to Street address: Skagit River Journal c/o Skagit County Historical Society, PO Box 818, 501 S. 4th St., La Conner, WA 98257  360.466.3365