Lloyd “Arkansas Slim” Andrews: Tent Shows, Tex Ritter, and TV

That Lloyd “Slim” Andrews (1906-1992), sometimes billed as Arkansas Slim, was born and died in Gravette, Arkansas is not an incidental detail in his biography. He built an entire career on his regional identity, along with a few eccentricities.

Born on an Arkansas farm, Andrews was blessed by coming into a family that was not only large but musical. He learned fiddle and guitar from his parents, and taught himself piano. The entire family would play at local social gatherings. 6’8″ and skinny, Andrew came by the nickname of Slim honestly. He was already eccentric as a teenager. By the time he was 17 he had acquired a Model T with money he earned picking berries, and tricked it out so that the horn would play a popular tune of the day while flashing a dozen lights. As luck would have it, traveling showman Watso the Musical Wizard came to town one day in 1924 and was impressed by the flashy vehicle as well as Slim’s musical abilities. So he hired both. Watson taught him one-man-band skills, and how to play the banjo and the musical saw. Slim toured with Watso for two years. Then he worked the tent show circuit in Toby Shows for many years. In 1929 he married Lucille Kinsey, who became his leading lady in these shows. In addition to clowning around in the comical Toby plays and variety shows, Slim played music on crazy items like tire pumps, fishing poles, funnels, and rubber gloves.

It was Tex Ritter who put Slim in the movies. He saw him performing live in a Toby show in Monticello, Arkansas and booked him to do his thing in Rhythm of the Rio Grande (1940). Andrews appeared in ten films with Ritter, as well as westerns with Gene Autry, Red Barry, Tom Keene and others. He usually played a sidekick named Slim, often with funny last names like Hunkafeller or Hunkapillar. He enjoyed a rare jaunt into another genre when he appeared in the Bowery Boys comedy Spooks Run Wild (1941) with Bela Lugosi. The musical short Lucky Cowboy (1944) was his last movie for a while.

Throughout the late ’40 Slim performed live for a number of years, then returned to Hollywood for two final films, Kentucky Jubilee (1951) with Jerry Colonna, and Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory (1952) with Clayton Moore (better remembered as the Lone Ranger). After this, he hosted local children’s TV shows in California and Kansas for several decades. One of the characters, a mule puppet named “Josephine” was named after a mule that had appeared with him in the movies.

To learn more about vaudeville please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous