by Ralph Roberts (originally published in the Sagebrush Journal, 1986)
Strawberries started it all for Lloyd “Slim” Andrews (1906-1992), one hot Arkansas summer.
A movie star, one man band, country comic, pioneer in television, repertory theater actor — he’s done it all. Tracing his career through show business is like surveying the history of popular entertainment during the last 60 years. Today, he is the last of that wondrous breed of men such as Smiley Burnette, Gabby Hayes, and Al St. John — the cowboy sidekick.
Slim is 78 now, was still in show business until very recently as host of the “Fun Club” at KOAM TV, Channel 7, in Pittsburg, Kansas — just across the state line from his Arkansas home. It was a weekly television show for children. He is also a frequent and popular guest/entertainer at Western film conventions throughout the United States where his smile-crinkled face, white moustache, and tall, dignified stature are all indications of the true Southern gentleman that is very much is.
But in 1924 all this was still in the future. Living on the family farm in the hills of northwest Arkansas that year, Slim’s father gave him the use of an acre of land. “If you’ll plant strawberries on it,” he told young Andrews, “then next year you can have what you raise off the land.”
“Well, I did,” Slim said, “and I made 750 dollars. That was a fortune in those days. I spent all of it making a racing automobile out of a Model T Ford. That car was the darndest thing you ever saw. I never used it for racing. I just liked to drive fast.”
Traveling Music Man
One night while Slim’s early version of a hot rod was parked on the main street of Decatur, a small town nearby, it caught the eye of a travelling entertainer named Earl Watson, who billed himself as “Watso the Musical Wizard.” Watson, on seeing the unusual vehicle, recognized immediately a potential advertising gimmick for his show.
Watson sought out the driver, a gangly 17 year old youth called Slim Andrews. He had little trouble persuading Slim, who was already mighty tired of raising strawberries, to try his luck in show business.
“It seemed a good decision from the beginning,” Slim said, grinning at the memory. “Earl could play all kinds of musical instruments, and he made a lot of his own. He taught me to play them too. I could already play several instruments, and this just added to my ability.”
Slim then went on to explain that he has played over 100 different types of musical instruments during his 60 year career. “Instrument” here defined as anything that can make sounds resembling music. Hearing Slim play “The Tennessee Waltz” on a bicycle tire pump backed up by Country Music Hall of Famer Pee Wee King, as happened at the Asheville Western Film Festival in 1986, is enough to send chills up and down your spine. He is a fantastic showman.
Andrews played with Watso the Musical Wizard for a year, touring south Alabama, New Orleans, and all along the Gulf coast. He’d be dressed up in a country outfit with a red wig and freckles. During Watso’s act, he’d come stomping down the aisle singing “ice cold hot dogs, red hot pop,” and Watso would engage him in conversation. “Sit down, boy, I’m trying to entertain.” Slim would reply, “Yeah, trying is right,” and it would go on from there.
Entertaining on His Own
After the year was up, young Slim decided he wanted to go out on his own. He accumulated some instruments, booked some halls, and starting putting on shows. The manager of the Chick Boyes Players — a tent show operating out of Hebron, Nebraska — saw Andrews, liked his act, and hired him. He spent the next six years touring the Midwest, playing diverse instruments and putting together the acts that would make him so popular in the movies and through more than half a century of stage and television appearances.
In 1929, Slim Andrews went back home to Gravette, Arkansas on a visit and wound up getting married. He’s still married to the same lady, Lucille, 56 years later.
Slim and Lucille toured together for years after that. “She went with me on the tent show tour,” Slim said, and got to doing parts. She was a good looking young gal then. We went with several tent shows during those years, right up to 1939 when I met Tex Ritter.”
Breaking Into the Movies
“We were in a tent show down in Monticello, Arkansas. Tex was on his first tour by himself, playing theaters. He didn’t have a crowd that night, and he asked the theater manager why. The manager told him that the folks were all down at the tent show to see that country boy Toby playing all those different musical instruments.
“So a little later that evening some kid cane to me and said that Tex Ritter wanted to talk to me, that he wanted to put me in the movies. I thought that was some laugh!”
But Ritter was serious, telling Slim that if he ever came to Hollywood chances were Tex could get him in films. That was in September. In December, with many inches of snow on the ground, Slim and his wife decided to give California a try. They only had fifty dollars and a ’38 Ford to their name.
“We loaded everything we had on that thing — trunks on top and inside and everywhere. We went.”
Tex, true to his word, got Slim an audition with his producer, Ed Finney. Slim played the tire pump, the hand saw, and some other instruments without accompaniment. “It’s no good unless you have some sort of accompaniment,” Slim said, remembering what turned out to be a dismal failure. “We didn’t have tape recorders then to help out.”
“That guy couldn’t be funny to nobody. That’s terrible,” was Finney’s response. Tex regretfully suggested that Slim go back to Arkansas. Andrews told him he liked it out there, that it was too cold back East.
He got a job putting on his musical variety act at a theater in Long Beach. It went well, and he hired a pit band to back him up.
“I was stopping the show every night and taking encores, so I called Tex on the phone again. I told him that I wanted him to bring that guy that said I couldn’t be funny down here to see me and tell me what he thinks now.
“Well, there had been a long rainy spell in Los Angeles, and we were about a foot deep in water in the dressing rooms. The last night I was doing the show, I took about five or six encores. When I got down to the dressing room, there stood Ed Finney and Tex Ritter. Tex had his boots in his hands because they’d waded through the water. Finney told me that was the funniest act he’d ever seen in his life and asked me to come to his office the next day.”
Slim was signed to a seven year contract but, unlike stars of today, there wasn’t much money in movies in those days for beginners.
“On the first movie I made twenty-five dollars; the next one, fifty; then seventy-five. It finally got up to two hundred and fifty dollars and no more. That was it.”
Unique Cowboy Sidekick
The “Arkansas” Slim Andrews version of a cowboy sidekick was different from the characters that Gabby Hayes, Fuzzy Knight, Al “Fuzzy” St. John, and the others were playing. Slim’s humor was more on the hillbilly than the Western side. Fans, at the time, either loved or hated him. Today, his classic film roles are getting the greater recognition that they deserve. His trademark utterance “great gobs of goose grease,” now being accepted as on a par with Gabby Hayes’ “yur durn tootin’.”
Slim’s bouts with Josephine, the mule that he rode, some are of the most all time hilarious scenes in Western movies. The routine he did with Smiley Burnette in the Gene Autry film “Cowboy Serenade” (1942) is arguably among the funniest in any film ever done.
Smiley is dressed as woman. Slim, not knowing this, is attempting to make time with him. This scene is flat out guaranteed to make your belly ache with laughing. Find a copy of it on video and enjoy!
In fact, Slim was so good that Burnette vowed he would never be in a Gene Autry movie again. “Because you’re too funny,” Smiley explained to him, “and I’m the comedian on this show.”
Slim Andrews with Tex Ritter & The Tennessee Ramblers, “Ol’ Arkansas for Me/Arkansas Rag” (1941)
Slim worked with Tex Ritter form 1940 until 1950, either touring or in films with him. With the regrettable demise of the B Western in the early fifties, Slim left Tex and went to Channel 5 television in Los Angeles. He had a children’s program there until 1953. He then spent 10 years doing the same type of show in Fresno. Back home in Arkansas for a visit in the early sixties, he heard about an opening at KOAM in nearby Pittsburg, Kansas, and was on the air regularly there until just a couple of years ago.
Lloyd Andrews – All About Arkansas Television Series
“I think my favorite,” Slim said, “of all the pictures I made was “Take Me Back To Oklahoma” with Tex Ritter. I had the best part in it. I had pretty good parts in all of them with Tex, but some of them I’ve never seen. We had to make those films in about five days. You’d start as soon as the sun came up for outdoor scenes, and you’d shoot until sundown. Then you’d go inside and shoot studio scenes until midnight. there wasn’t much time for fun, it was all work.”
The smile that warms Slim’s face as he recalled those days, though, showed that it was good work, work that he had enjoyed. It is his legacy to us.