So I’m living in San Francisco, and it’s time for the annual Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theater. Buddy and I are looking over the listings when we get to one called The Sideshow. silentfilm.org/the-sideshow/
The local free rag describes the 1928 film—it’s about a midget—but the description was so PC they didn’t mention it in the write-up. You had to look at the photo to see that, yes, it obviously featured Little Billy Rhodes. Ok, that’s more than enough to book tickets.
It was “The Sideshow” (1928), a film starring “Little Billy” Rhodes, a Poverty Row Hollywood midget actor.
Then, in fine print, the description added that cinematographer Gary Graver & then a B-grade porn director(!) would be introducing the film. Wow—he was Welles’ last cameraman, including on F for Fake.
That was more exciting than watching the silent film itself.
So we got there early. The place was packed. Not with the usual silent film fanatics, but with midget movie fans and Orson Welles fans. Great, totally weird crowd.
pGraver gave a speech about Orson’s relationship with midgets throughout his life. It was hysterical and fascinating.
Graver introduced it by noting that he was an old friend of the late Little Billy, who had appeared in just about every film that called for several midgets from the late 20s into the late 1960s, including as the lead character of very 1st all midget film, The Terror of Tiny Town (1938), an all-midget western musical.
Graver gave a great, heartfelt speech. As a bonus they screened a short featuring Little Billy that Graver directed. Was his last film. n it, Little Billy played a very nasty drunk. There wasn’t much plot. Basically it’s a midget destroying the furniture in a hotel room… which, interestingly enough, was essentially all that happens in Werner Herzog’s film a few years later (but on a far more massive scale). For some reason, midget exploitation films are heavy on destruction of property. Weird, right?
When it was over, I grabbed Graver outside in the lobby. We talked about F for Fake and the Other Side of the Wind, another project he was deeply involved with.
We’re talking about Welles when, suddenly, Graver pulls an unmarked DVD out of his leather jacket pocket. In blue marker it’s labelled “TTT.” He asks me, “say, have you seen the Terror of Tiny Town?—you know, the 30s musical with the all-midget cast.”
He then gives me a very hard sell, basically bullying me to buy his bootleg copy of the midget film Terror of Tiny Town off him for $5.
This was pre-YouTube– or, at least, was before you had instant free access to black & white midget western musicals. Of course I bought it.