Edward Small

Active - 1928 - 1986  |   Born - Feb 1, 1891   |   Died - Jan 25, 1977   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Action, Crime, Adventure

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Befitting his name, the films of American producer Edward Small were scaled-down, economically produced efforts, but the canny Small always made them seem more elaborate than they were. After a brief flirtation with acting, Small went into theatrical production, then set up his own talent agency in the '20s. Small began producing independent feature films in the '20s, attracting name actors by promising them acting and story opportunities they might not get with the more traditional studios. Small's producing career began gathering momentum in 1932 when he formed Reliance Pictures, which released for many years through United Artists. His first hit was I Cover the Waterfront (1933), buoyed by the casting of silent film veterans Ben Lyon and Ernest Torrence and of comparative newcomer Claudette Colbert (in what many observers consider her best and most natural performance to date). He followed this with The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), a modest but handsome-looking costumer starring Robert Donat. Other Reliance titles include Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (1938), with Jack Benny and The Last of the Mohicans (1936). Small was a staff producer at RKO for a brief period in 1936-37, then reformed his independent operation as Edward Small Productions (with a 20th Century-Fox style sweeping-searchlight logo). In the '40s, Small turned out a successful string of films based on established stage hits: Miss Annie Rooney (1942) (which served as Shirley Temple's comeback picture), Friendly Enemies (1942), Brewster's Millions (1945), Getting Gertie's Garter (1945) and many others. Many of these productions have received extensive latter-day critical attention due to the contributions of Small's most frequent director, the prolific Allan Dwan. Setting up a separate unit at Columbia Pictures in 1947, Small produced one of Red Skelton's best pictures, The Fuller Brush Man; independently again, he hired Orson Welles as actor and (unofficial) co-director of Black Magic (1949). An early speculator in the TV game, Edward Small was chairman of the board of Television Programs of America, a firm responsible for the distribution of such series as Ramar of the Jungle, Count of Monte Cristo and Lassie. Small continued his theatrical release schedule into the '60s, overseeing such moneymakers as Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Bob Hope's I'll Take Sweden (1965). Unfortunately, the Edward Small saga ended with the execrable The Christine Jorgenson Story in 1970.

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