Every western hero needs a sidekick.
Some are serious, like Tonto with the Lone Ranger. Others are the comic relief like Smiley Burnette or Gabby Hayes.
A local resident found his niche as a movie dude after years of building a Persona work tent show. Lloyd “Slim” Andrews, better known as “The ’49er,” was a lesser-known movie sidekick who turned his ’49 persona into a memorable figure on local television.
Lloyd Andrews was born in 1906 to George and Norma Andrews in rural Benton County, Arkansas, about 7 miles from Gravette. Lloyd was the couple’s seventh son. George and his sons grew strawberries.
The family has always been interested in music. George and his sons performed as a family band for social gatherings such as cake dinners, picnics, or literary events (graduation programs). Lloyd debuted as a triangle in a literary school at the age of 3.
Young Lloyd had nine pump organ lessons by the age of seven, but no more formal musical training than that. He never learned to read music. Despite this, he learned to play the guitar and violin from his parents.
He taught himself to play the piano and eventually learned over 500 songs. He learned that music offered a broader horizon when tent shows traveling through Gravette came along.
Tent Show Performer
Lloyd earned the nickname “Slim” when he hit his 20s as he was 6ft 8 inches tall. He had saved his money from Strawberries to buy a 1923 Model T. He souped up the engine, added eleven lights and ten horns to the car. He arranged the horns to play the popular tune “Pretty, Little Blue-eyed Sally”.
The opportunity presented itself in 1924 when Watso the Musical Wizard came to nearby Decatur. Watso couldn’t help but notice the crowd examining Slim’s car. Watso didn’t have a car. So he treated Slim to the opportunities that awaited him when they teamed up. Slim was almost 18 and needed his parents’ permission for such an adventure. He was ready: “I would gladly do anything to get away from this farm with these stones and strawberries.” His parents gave in and off he went south. Slim made $35 a week.
He learned to play a variety of homemade instruments from Watso. They advertised themselves by driving around town, honking their horns and shouting, “Big show tonight.” He learned how to deal with crowds. His speaking roles have included hillbilly humor in the Ozarks, cowboy humor in the South, and lumberjack humor in the North. The show was a so-called Toby show, Toby was a country buffoon in overalls, red wig and blackened teeth who was the foil for Watso’s jokes.
While their humor and music may sound corny today, they were doing very well financially. For nine weeks they played in New Orleans in front of standing-room spectators only. After two years on the road with Watso, Lloyd left to start his own business.
He moved to Topeka, Kansas where his brother lived. He had a circuit in the area that proved profitable. After a year alone, the Nebraskan Chick Boyes Players approached him. They offered him $50 a week. He accepted them and worked with them for six years until 1933. The company would put on tent shows in the summer and then perform in schoolhouses in the winter. Six days in one city, then on the road to the next city on Sunday.
Slim didn’t enjoy the whole trip. He left the company in 1929 when he married Lucille Kinsey of Calico Rock, Arkansas. He tried farming again, but with disastrous results due to a drought.
He went back to tent shows, first with Happy Oaker. Oaker sold a patent drug called Satanic. It was colored water and Epsom salts. The pay was $1.50 a day. Slim and Lucille quickly returned to Chic Boyes. During the 1930s the couple worked in nine tent shows.
A western dude
While playing in Monticello, Arkansas in 1939, Andrews had a chance encounter that changed his career. He performed simultaneously with singing cowboy Tex Ritter. Ritter’s attendance was sparse due to Andrews’ Toby comedy show.
Upon learning that Andrews was a comedian, he sent a teenager to ask Andrews to speak to him. After the show, the teenager broke the news. Slim replied, “Who the hell is Tex Ritter?” He had never been to a movie theater in all that time. He worked at the same time cowboy movies were showing – on Saturdays.
Their conversation went well and Ritter offered to find him a role. Andrews didn’t think much about it at first. But later in the year in snowy Iowa, things looked more promising. So he and Lucille drove to Los Angeles. You were late. Ritter had already placed a comedian.
He took a job at a Long Beach theater performing his one-man band act. It was well received with several encores. Ritter subsequently attended the show with a Monogram producer. It was an evening with six encores. The producer first gushed, then said it was “too backwoods.” Ritter countered by threatening to leave Monogram if Andrews didn’t get a contract. Andrews received a seven-year contract. He and Ritter were on their way to becoming fast friends.
Andrew’s first role was his one-man band routine, which earned him $25. His second film, Pals of the Silver Sage, made him $50 for being Ritter’s sidekick, Cactus. He worked with Knight for 10 films as Arkansas Slim. A disadvantage was his inability to ride a horse. As a child, he had been thrown from a horse and broken his leg.
What buddy couldn’t ride a horse? He solved the problem by riding an old mule as it was easier to control. Red, an old mule, was chosen, although it became Josephine in the films. He also coined his own slogan, “Big Lumps of Goose Fat”.
While Slim’s humor had its critics, it found its audience. And it earned him the enmity of a rival. Gene Autry’s sidekick, Smiley Burnette, thought Andrews was stealing scenes in Cowboy Serenade. He made it clear who the comedian was and that Andrews would not be appearing in Autry films.
When Ritter left Monogram, Andrews was paired with Tom Keene and Don “Red” Barry in 1942. Both men were much shorter than Andrews. Barry was well aware of this, mistook him for a clown and would not speak to him off set. He also made it a requirement that Barry sit and not stand in any scene together.
A TV presenter
Meanwhile, Andrews was a regular on Tex Ritter’s road show for 10 years. Knight was a frequent guest of the Andrews family. In 1950 he tried another job hosting a children’s show on Channel 5 in Los Angeles. That took three years. Next he decided to try a tour of England. The tour bombed.
Upon his return, he found work in Fresno, California, where he hosted another TV show as The ’49er.
He and Lucille moved back to Gravette in 1963. He learned that KOAM was looking for a host for a children’s program in Pittsburgh. He got the job for The Fun Club and commuted the 150-mile round trip every week for the next 21 years. He played his homemade instruments, showed cartoons and had a mule puppet named Josephine after his movie mule.
In 1975 he attended his first western film convention. Thinking he was a no-name attendee, he was pleasantly surprised to receive the red carpet treatment. Once again, he performed his one-man band routines to an adoring audience.
Slim died on April 3, 1992 at the age of 85 at his home in Gravette. “Arkansas Slim” might not have been the most famous cowboy sidekick, but his unique style, honed by his family’s band, medicine and tent shows, and films, created a thorough hit of unforgettable characters for thousands of viewers.