SCV In the Movies | Episode 55: The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
The Terror of Tiny Town
Jed Buell Productions | Columbia Pictures 1938
If some of the voices in this all-midget cast sound familiar, that’s because a year later, many of them landed roles as “Munchkins” in a better known picture starring Judy Garland. The hero of our film, Billy Curtis, was the Munchkin City Father. Early in our film we see George and Olive Brasno, a real-life brother and sister performance act from New Jersey who went by the stage names Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny (and other names). The Brasnos passed on a chance to appear in “Oz,” believing, probably correctly, that they would make more money staying in vaudeville.
You might notice that some of the cast members speak German. That’s because several of them were in (Leo) Singer’s Midgets, a troupe from Vienna that moved to the United States after the outbreak of World War I.
If “Tiny Town” holds together as a serious Western, that would be credit to its director, Sam Newfield, who churned out countless B-Westerns in the 1930s and 1940s featuring the likes of Ken Maynard, Bob Steele, Tim McCoy and Johnny Mack Brown — many of them shot in Placerita Canyon.
As for Buell, he got his start in the Mack Sennett studio and in 1937 cast an African-American big band singer named Herb Jeffries in his first leading role on the silver screen. Filmdom’s first black singing cowboy, Jeffries holds his rightful place on Newhall’s Walk of Western Stars.
A final note about our hero Billy Curtis as Buck Lawson. Curtis (1909-1988) had an active film career that lasted until his death. His TV credits stretch from the “Batman” series to “Laverne & Shirley,” and in film from “The Incredible Shrinking Man” to “High Plains Drifter” with Clint Eastwood. Curtis shunned roles that were demeaning to little people, and taken at face value, the “Tiny Town” script plays it straight. But that’s not to say the studios played it straight. Movie posters proclaimed, “Half-Pints in 10-Gallon Hats!” and Curtis didn’t like it when the audience laughed. He was once quoted as saying, “I played the good guy who put the bad guy behind bars at the end, just like John Wayne. And I kissed the pretty girl, just like he did. So what the hell’s so funny?”
ABOUT E.J. STEPHENS
E.J. Stephens is a noted Hollywood historian, author, lecturer and tour guide. An Indiana native, E.J. has lived for 10 years in the Santa Clarita Valley with his wife Kimi and their two children, Mariah and Dylan.
By day, E.J. can be found in Burbank on the Warner Bros. Studios lot where he is a tour guide and an audience coordinator on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show. When not giving tours at the studio, E.J. and Kimi host tours of their own for their Newhall-based company, Newhallywood Tours.
E.J. has co-written four books on subjects ranging from the history of Warner Bros. and Paramount to Griffith Park and the Santa Clarita Valley (the latter with Kimi and Dr. Alan Pollack). The trio is currently working on another SCV history book titled “Then & Now: The Santa Clarita Valley,” scheduled to hit the shelves in early 2014.
In his spare time, Bill writes software for Walt Disney Imagineering, where he has contributed to Star Tours, Toy Story Midway Mania, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and other attractions. Previously, he wrote software at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Bill enjoys lounge music and he plays the drums for pickup bands. He lives in Santa Clarita with his Realtor (his wife Liliana) and their son Josh. Pets include Maya the Mutt, Luigi the Canary, and a cat whose name he can’t pronounce but is Polish for “kitty.”©2015 SCVTV