(Courtesy of Dave Butler)
Above is the title lobby card from the Columbia release of THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN.
I get e-mails ... lots and lots of e-mails. And over the years, there were dozens and dozens of messages that began with something like this:
"I remember a western I saw as a kid ... and the actors were midgets and they rode ponies ... am I crazy or dreaming ... or was there really a film like that ?"
There were comedy westerns, mountie westerns, eerie westerns, trio westerns ... good westerns and bad westerns. Time for the Old Corral to chronicle a unique (bizarre) western --- "Jed Buell's Midgets" in THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN.
The Hollywood career of Jed Buell (1897-1961) began with the Mack Sennett studio. In the mid 1930s, he was in charge of the initial Fred Scott singing westerns, which were independently produced and released on a states rights basis by Spectrum (C. C. Burr took over the production reins on the Scott oaters from Buell). Buell seemed to be one who would take chances to make a buck --- he did HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE (1937) which introduced big band singer Herb Jeffries as a western movie hero. In the early 1940s, Buell was in charge of several of the comedy features starring Mantan Moreland who is probably best remembered as chauffer "Birmingham Brown" in the Charlie Chan series.
In 1938, Buell was responsible for a film that remains unique in Hollywood history. The movie was THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN which featured an all midget cast playing cowboys and cowgirls ... with everybody riding ponies to and fro ... and there was lots of singing (some dubbed while other tunes were sung by the cast) ... and unique film moments included midgets walking under the swingin' doors of the local saloon, midgets walking under hitchin' posts, and there were ponies pulling a stagecoach. The town location in TINY was the Monogram Ranch.
The hero was Billy Curtis (1909-1988), best known as the City Father of Munchkin City in the Judy Garland WIZARD OF OZ. Thirty plus years later, Curtis was still doing films such as HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1972) which starred Clint Eastwood. TINY TOWN cast members Yvonne Moray, "Little Billy" Rhodes, John T. Bambury, Joseph Herbst, Charles Becker, Nita Krebs, George Ministeri, and William H. O'Docharty also worked in the OZ film.
The director was none other than Sam Newfield (1899-1964) (real name: Sam Neufeld). In the 1930s, Sam worked anywhere and everywhere, and his directing credits during this period include Renfrew Mountie adventures and oaters starring Fred Scott, Kermit Maynard, Ken Maynard, Tim McCoy, Bob Steele, Johnny Mack Brown and Rex Bell. In the 1940s, Sam and his brother Sigmund Neufeld wound up at Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), churning out dozens of westerns including George Houston and Bob Livingston as The Lone Rider, The Frontier Marshal trio series with Art Davis, Bill "Cowboy Rambler" Boyd and Lee Powell, and the long-running Billy the Kid/Billy Carson series with Bob Steele and Buster Crabbe. In later life, Newfield worked on TV shows such as CAPTAIN GALLANT OF THE FOREIGN LEGION (with Crabbe) and HAWKEYE (LAST OF THE MOHICANS) with John "Lone Ranger" Hart and Lon Chaney Jr.
Les Adams adds:
THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN was first released in 1938 through the various Indie exchanges around the country that handled films from the likes of Jed Buell, Spectrum, et al. Columbia bought the film a few months later, made up a new press book and posters and sent it back out through their own exchanges as a Columbia film, just as they had previously done on the indie production from Sunset, HEROES OF THE ALAMO. I stress that the film was not originally made for nor intended to be distributed by Columbia. Columbia probably picked it up to fill an unexpected hole in their production schedule, i. e., number of films promised to be delivered to their exchanges for the 1937-38 production season.
Film Daily gave it a good review on initial release as a novelty that would draw patrons.
Leading lady Yvonne Moray was a cabaret performer - singer and dancer - in New York City for many years, and had been in several shorts (that needed short people) filmed on the East Coast by Educational and Vitaphone. One that still survives is MOVIE-MANIA and the footage with her and Dave Apollon in that one can best be described as weird and surreal.
Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has the cast and crew information for THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0030845/
Jerry Murbach's Doctor Macro website has a bunch of large scene stills and lobby card images from TINY TOWN: https://www.doctormacro.com/Movie%20Summaries/T/Terror%20of%20Tiny%20Town,%20The.htm
The Santa Clarita Valley History website has more on the film, including many photos: https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/lw2753d.htm
Sound bytes, video captures of film frames, etc., can be found at: http://www.badmovies.org/movies/tinytown/
May, 1938 newspaper clipping with a photo of producer Jed Buell and TINY TOWN star Billy Curtis: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/74379470/producer-jed-buell-and-star-billy/
You can download or stream THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN from YouTube and the Internet Archive:
Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/TheTerrorOfTinyTown1938_802
(Courtesy of Dave Butler)
Above - hero Billy Curtis lands a right to the jaw of villain "Little Billy" Rhodes.
(From Old Corral collection)
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - the cast and crew credits from THE TERROR OF TINYTOWN pressbook.
"My mom, Helen Gurley, graduated from USC, majored in journalism and worked on the Trojan News. She came to Hollywood, working on several LA newspapers including the Citizen News. Jimmy Starr hired her as Drama Editor; she was one of the first woman editors in Hollywood, along with Luella and Hedda Hopper. Helen met my dad at the Sennett Studios; he was head of Publicity for the studio at the time. They married in 1934, having me in 1939. Helen worked as story editor on the Fred Scott westerns as well as The Terror of Tiny Town. Their last large project was in the fifties, mom wrote and dad filmed and produced a soap opera for TV called The Kittie Gordon Story. NBC was interested; they wanted to go live with similar camera techniques as SPACE PATROL. However it was not picked up. Helen had a long career as a writer; she passed away in 1994 at the age of 92. However, she was not Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmo."