Edward Finney: From Tex Ritter to Tobo the Happy Clown

Just a few words on an obscure but interesting chap who made his mark, independent film producer Edward Finney (1903-83).

An NYC native and graduate of City College, Finney was clearly the sort of guy who was good with gadgets. He began his working life as an electrical engineer for Western Electric, the outfit that manufactured phones, switchboards and other equipment for Ma Bell. From here he became a prop man for independent comedy producer C.C. Burr, founder of Long Island-based Mastodon Films. From here he burrowed his way into the press and advertising departments of MGM, United Artists, Pathe, and finally the minors: Republic, Monogram, and Grand National. At these smaller ponds he was finally able to be a big fish. He founded Boots and Saddles Productions, and produced dozens of Tex Ritter B movies westerns between 1936 and 1941. For many film writers, that would be considered his main claim to fame. But just wait!

In 1941, he became an independent producer. At this stage, his output became less voluminous, but more varied. He began to direct as well as produce. In addition to western films starring largely unknown actors, his other work of this period included the crime drama Riot Squad (1941) starring Richard Cromwell, and Queen of the Amazons (1947). His last western was Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory (1952), starring Clayton Moore of Lone Ranger fame. After a five year lay-off he produced the exploitation picture Gun Girls (1957) under the name Edward Frank. Long associated with low budgets and overuse of antiquated use of stock footage, Finney was operating at about an Ed Wood level now.

But our main point of interest in Edward Finney was his last project, which had three incarnations and repackagings. Seeing in the newspaper that former child star Gloria Jean was now working in a restaurant as a hostess, he decided to build a vehicle around her. And, what the hell, also make himself into a comedy star. The movie Laffing Time (1959), starred himself and Gloria Jean as a married couple. His character name, obviously copped from the silent screen comedian, was Musty Suffer. Directed by silent comedy hand Alf Goulding, the cast also included show biz veterans El Brendel, Flo Bert, the Carty Twins, and an updated version of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties. The plot, such as it is, concerns, a family that decides to put on a show so that he afford to throw a birthday party. That’s honestly the whole plot. In 1964, he added a bunch of stock footage, retitled it The Madcaps, and re-released it. Then in 1965, Finney released Tobo the Happy Clown, which included new footage of himself as a clown, with a puppet named Tobo Jr, and footage from Laffing Time, as well as footage from (presumably pirated) silent comedies featuring Charley Bowers, Billy Bevan, Ben Turpin, Harry Gribbon, and others. It was released to children’s matinees.

For more on classic film comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.