He made a Small fortune
Edward Small had a long history in the movie business, ‘presenting’ his first film, a First National silent, in 1926 and producing his last movie in 1970. Along the way there were some famous films, I Cover the Waterfront, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, Brewster’s Millions and Witness for the Prosecution, for example. In later life he moved into TV.
As far as Westerns go, which is obviously what really counts, he is probably best known for his first, The Last of the Mohicans, in 1936, with Randolph Scott, but his Kit Carson in 1940 was also a big picture and in the 1950s he made quite a few oaters with George Montgomery. There were 13 Westerns in all on which he was credited as producer, and there were also many he part-financed as silent partner. So he deserves a chapter in our The Producers series.
Edward Schmalheiser was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1891. He became a talent agent at the age of only 15, when he opened his own office in New York City, the Edward Small Agency (later the Small Company) where his acting clients included a young Hedda Hopper. The slogan of his agency was ‘Personality is a Commodity’. Right. In 1917 Small moved the company to Hollywood, where he began occasionally also producing silent movies, and that then became his full-time occupation.
All his life he avoided publicity – there are very few known photographs of him, for example – and remained largely unknown to the public, but he did make an impact on the industry.
At the dawn of the talkie era, Eddie, as he was known, set up Edward Small Productions, and in 1932 he co-founded the independent production company Reliance Pictures with former United Artists chief executive Joseph Schenck and Harry Goetz. This produced the hits I Cover the Waterfront (1933) with Claudette Colbert and The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) with Robert Donat.
Schenck helped broker a deal with United Artists and Small’s company now produced several films for UA, starring the likes of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Young, and, in 1936, the picture which (in my view) remains the best ever cinematic treatment of that tedious novel The Last of the Mohicans. The screenplay was the work of several writers, notably Philip Dunne, this and Way of a Gaucho being his only Westerns, if you call either of them Westerns (I do, kinda). Dunne took enormous liberties with the original story (fair enough) and distilled it to a 91-minute action movie.
Small had first conceived The Last of the Mohicans as a color film, which would have been interesting, but the cost was too great and that fell by the wayside. Still, the picture was a big success. The star helped, Randolph Scott as Hawkeye, in really his first big Western role – he’d been doing some talkie remakes of Paramount’s silent Zane Grey tales before this but that’s all. Binnie Barnes was leading lady, who had been one of Charles Laughton’s six wives in The Private Life of Henry VIII and Rosita in another private life, Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Don Juan with UA bigwig Douglas Fairbanks. Bruce Cabot was an excellent Magua.
The picture was directed by George B Seitz, a playwright and screenwriter who moved into directing (he had helmed the silent The Vanishing American with Richard Dix), and, after a Westernless spell at RKO, Small returned to UA and the Western with Seitz at the start of the next decade with Kit Carson, a biopic starring Jon Hall as Kit. That was a slight disappointment because Victor McLaglen was originally announced for the title role, and then Randolph Scott. Joel McCrea and Henry Fonda were also named. Poor old Jon wasn’t quite in that class. Still, it had Dana Andrews as Frémont and there was a good part for Ward Bond. It was one of the early films to be partially shot in Monument Valley. It was big and energetic anyway, if absurd historically (but that’s never stopped us enjoying a Western).
As far as history goes, Small is quoted as saying, “I intend to produce a different type of historical productions. There will be less of the awesomeness and less of the blind respect that has often marked the modern’s approach to a historical character.” Yup, there sure was less awesomeness.
All the rest of the producer’s decade passed oaterless. Small went to Eagle-Lion and worked with Anthony Mann on those low-budget but superb noirs T-Men and Raw Deal. There was talk that he would take over at Eagle-Lion but it was not to be.
Then, starting in 1950, Small made seven Westerns in four years with George Montgomery.
They were Davy Crockett, Indian Scout, released in January 1950, directed by Lew Landers, and The Iroquois Trail, June ’50, helmed by Phil Karlson, which was an even looser adaptation of Fenimore Cooper, with George as Hawkeye. The first was rather a cheat because it wasn’t about Davy Crockett at all, but Davy’s nephew and namesake, who guides a wagon train in 1848. Never mind. It re-used some footage from Kit Carson.
The Wikipedia entry on Small says that “Most of Small’s UA movies were budgeted between $100,000 and $300,000, and were not expected to make large profits on theatrical release but stood to earn considerable money being sold to television. They were usually shot within seven to nine days and went for around seventy minutes, starring lesser ranked names who were paid around $25,000.”
These were Small’s last Westerns with United Artists for a while. He was unhappy with his deal there and wanted to spread his wings. The next three Montgomery oaters would be Columbia pictures, after negotiating a profit-sharing deal. At this time also Eddie’s son Bernard came in as co-producer.
In 1951 there was another Karlson/Montgomery/Small affair, The Texas Rangers, in which George was a Rebel-turned-outlaw who, while serving time in the pen, having been double-crossed by the evil Sundance Kid (Ian MacDonald), is recruited by Ranger Captain John B Jones (John Litel) to serve in the Rangers and track down Sundance and all the rest of the gang of famous outlaws. Gripping stuff, you will agree.
There were two in ’52, both helmed by Ray Nazarro, and both written by Richard Schayer: Indian Uprising, an 1880s Arizona yarn with George as a savvy Army captain, and Cripple Creek, an 1890s Colorado story in which brave undercover lawman George has to infiltrate a gang led by William Bishop. The acting and direction in both were ever so slightly plodding, to be frank, and Schayer was in little danger of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but hey, so am I. Still, the pictures were in color and there is some nice location shooting here and there and some rather pretty painted backdrops when location shooting began to stretch the budget too far.
In 1953, back at UA now, after Small helped fund Arthur Krim and Bob Benjamin to acquire a 50% stake, Montgomery starred in Gun Belt, helmed by Nazarro once more, in which characters with thinly disguised names (George was Billy Ringo and William Bishop was Ike Clinton) get up to antics in Tombstone. It had a good cast, actually, with John Dehner as another Ringo, Jack Elam as a ne’er-do-well and James Millican as Wyatt Earp.
And the last Small/Nazarro/Montgomery Western (or last in which Small was credited as producer) would be The Lone Gun, released in April 1954, with an even better cast which included Dorothy Malone, Frank Faylen, Neville Brand, Skip Homeier, Douglas Kennedy, Douglas Fowley and Robert J Wilke. Excellent!
There would be four more Small Westerns, starring Jock (billed as Jack) Mahoney, Rod Cameron, Sterling Hayden and Bill Williams:
Overland Pacific (1954) had Jocko as a detective trying to find the reason for constant Indian attacks on the railroad. It was directed by Fred F Sears, Bishop was the bad guy again and it was in Cinecolor. It was humdrum, really, but well, it had Jocko in it, with Peggie Castle, Chubby Johnson and Walter Sande, so you can’t knock it too much.
Southwest Passage (later in ’54), yet another Nazarro pic, featured Rod Cameron with John Ireland and Joanne Dru (Mrs Ireland), with John Dehner and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, and in addition to this good cast it was a curious story in which the US Cavalry is ordered to test the feasibility of camels in the deserts of the Southwest. It was originally shot in 3D.
Top Gun (1955), Nazarro, natch, had Sterling Hayden as a gunslinger who returns to his hometown to warn of an impending outlaw gang attack, but he’s met with hatred and fear for his previous killings. It was a black & white low-budget movie in a quite remarkably dime-novel style. The picture had quite an afterlife, actually, because it was done twice more, Noose for a Gunman (1960), with Jim Davis in the lead, and The Quick Gun (1964) with Audie Murphy (Small was involved uncredited in both). Ted de Corsia took the chief villain role in both remakes.
And Edward Small’s last official Western, which he in fact co-produced with Robert E Kent, was directed by Edward L Cahn (who also did Noose for a Gunman) and written by hack Orville Hampton, Oklahoma Territory (1960). It was one of the few big-screen Westerns to feature Temple Houston (Bill Williams) – unless you count Edna Ferber’s Yancy Cravat as Houston. In Oklahoma Territory he’s a sort of Western Perry Mason and the climax is a courtroom drama presided over by hanging Judge Isaac Parker (Thomas Browne Henry). The picture is actually a whole lot of fun.
Small was involved in other Westerns, often with Kent, but not credited as producer on them. They included Gun Duel in Durango (1956) and Toughest Gun in Tombstone (1958), both George Montgomery pictures. As late as 1964 Small provided funding for and was a silent partner in Grant Whytock’s Admiral Pictures that produced Audie Murphy oaters for Columbia. His TV distribution company Television Programs of America made Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans, a show with which I was besotted as a boy.
So here endeth the Western career of Eddie Small. As I said at the top of this post, he went on working for another ten years after this, producing horror films with Vincent Price and even an Elvis musical.
But these were as naught, for of Westerns were there none. Never mind, he’d made enough to earn him a mention on Jeff Arnold’s West. I’m sure he would be honored if he but knew. As it is, he had to be content with a star on the Walk of Fame.
The only sad thing is that Eddie stopped using his early gi-normous mega-logo, in which the word SMALL towered hugely in the sky.
In 1973, Phil Karlson, who directed eight films for Small, said, “Probably, in his field – and he made some very good films – [he was] the most successful producer in our entire industry. Financially, no doubt about it. The man is a multi-millionaire.”
The camels in Southwest Passage (from the true story of the experience initiated by Jefferson Davis to incorporate a camel corps in the Army*) remind me the camel vs horse race in Ride the High Country. Are there other westerns including camel ?
* Have you been to Quartzsite (lost in the Arizona desert close to the California border) where is the grave of “Hi Jolly”, one of the camel driver hired by the US Army !?
Camels in Westerns have the frequency count of hen’s teeth, I guess. No, I never got to Quartzsite. Sounds interesting!
I thought his best films, that is most successful critically and commercially were produced in the mid thirties to early forties. Post-war, they were strictly commercial with the exception of Witness For the Prosecution, which was as an understatement, pretty good. After that, Solomon and Sheba with Tyrone Power dying mid-way through, a rotten Bob Hope, and the Christine Jorgensen Story, which I refuse to acknowledge as a work of art.
I’ve only really examined his Westerns but I bow to your judgment on the others. I won’t say Small was only interested in the box-office returns of his pictures but it was probably his principal concern, Best Pictures Oscars and such not really being his thing.
That seems so.