Cast & Crew
In 1910, the arrival of Col. Sam Castle's Great American Circus captures the interest of young orphan Toby Tyler, who sneaks away from his uncle Daniel and aunt Olive's farm in order to watch the circus parade. Having only a penny, Toby must sample the show's many delights from afar, but attracts the attention of shyster concessionaire Harry Tupper, who seduces him with tales of the excitement of working for the circus. When Toby returns home, Daniel excoriates him for failing to feed the hogs, which stampeded and ruined the crops. Although Olive tries to calm Daniel, he tells Toby that he is nothing but a burden to them. Crushed, Toby runs away that night and finds Harry, who welcomes him aboard as his assistant. As the circus group packs to leave, Toby's dinner of one banana is stolen by chimpanzee Mr. Stubbs, and the commotion attracts the attention of Castle. The manager gruffly orders strongman Ben Cotter to take Toby with him atop his wagon, and although Ben glowers as if furious, he is secretly gentle and kind, and his songs help Toby sleep through the long night. In the morning, Toby follows Ben, prompting the other workers to tease the big man for his "small shadow." After threatening the men into silence, Ben puts a stop to Harry's habitual mistreatment of his helpers, throwing him in a pond after Harry shoves Toby. In the lunchwagon, young bareback performer Mlle. Jeanette invites Toby to sit with her, but her partner, arrogant young M. Ajax, commands that he leave. The boy is soon rescued by clown Sam Treat, who insists that Toby join his "family," which consists of five performing dogs. Upon hearing that Toby has run away and feels he cannot return until he has earned some money, Sam gives him a pouch in which to save his wages. On his first day of work, Toby dutifully sells candy, but is distracted by the acts such as dancing elephants and trapeze artists. Afterward, Harry "generously" allows him to keep one-third of his tips, but works the boy unremittingly. When Toby sets down a candy tray near Mr. Stubbs's cage, the animal eats the whole tray, soon falling ill. Toby brings him to Sam, who gives him castor oil and sends him to sleep with Toby, and a hesitant Ben allows the chimp atop the wagon as they travel that night. In the morning, a breakdown causes a delay, and to make up for lost time, they must parade directly through town before setting up their tents. The town is in the midst of a Fourth of July celebration, and the firecrackers frighten Mr. Stubbs, who jumps on the horses, causing them to rear, and the wagon to tumble over. The monkeys are loosed on the town, and although most are soon rounded up, Toby finds Mr. Stubbs in the sheriff's office, waving the lawman's pistol while the prisoners cower in fear. When a sharpshooter offers to kill the chimp, Toby runs into the office, approaching Mr. Stubbs gently until he can disarm him. Although Castle first fires Ben in a rage for allowing the chimp to topple the wagon, the publicity from Toby's brave rescue doubles the circus' profits, prompting Castle to demand that Toby and Mr. Stubbs travel on the wagon together from now on. Three weeks later, while Toby is watching Jeanette perform, her interest in him provokes Ajax's jealousy. The performer proceeds to show off, resulting in a broken leg. Castle is horrified to have to cancel the show until Jeanette announces that Toby told her he was a horseback rider, and Castle suggests that Ben teach the boy to take over for Ajax. Harry protests strongly, forcing Castle to pay him an extra $20 per week "finder's fee" for Toby's services. On the wagon that night, Toby confesses to Ben that he lied about his horsemanship to impress Jeanette, and Ben intimates that Toby has saved enough money to return home. Mr. Stubbs, however, empties Toby's pouch of coins while the boy sleeps, and in the morning Toby berates his friend. Ben gives Toby enough money to leave, but is pleased when the boy prefers to stay and face the challenges of performing. With only two weeks to train him, Ben is worried that Toby is hopeless, but by encouraging his competition with Ajax, Ben is able to drive Toby to succeed. Meanwhile, Harry has been confiscating letters to Toby from Aunt Olive describing their remorse and their need for Toby to return to help them with the failing farm. On the day of Toby's premiere, the performers present him with a new costume, and Jeanette kisses Toby for luck. Toby ties up Mr. Stubbs, but the chimp breaks free and finds Olive's most recent letter in Harry's coat pocket. Toby has no time to read it before his performance, during which Ben and Castle hold their breath, but the boy is a huge hit. Afterward, he races backstage to read the letter and immediately packs to leave, not knowing that Mr. Stubbs is following him. When Harry discovers that the boy has disappeared, he trails him in a car, announcing in town that a boy has run away with a valuable chimp. Meanwhile, Mr. Stubbs finds Toby in the nearby woods and the two proceed along together, but when a hunter happens upon them, Mr. Stubbs runs up in the tree, where the hunter mistakes him for quail and shoots him. Harry arrives to find Toby sobbing over the prone body of his friend, and after informing the boy that the accident was his fault, Harry brings him back to the camp. Toby runs straight to Castle to explain what has happened, and is shocked and pleased to find his aunt and uncle there looking for him. They apologize to Toby and embrace him, while outside, Ben, who has learned about the hidden letters, dumps Harry into a barrel. That night, Toby is sad at the loss of Mr. Stubbs until Sam reveals that the hunter has brought the chimp back, grazed but unharmed by the bullet. Toby and Mr. Stubbs hug joyfully. Toby then performs one last show as Olive and Daniel beam with pride, during which Mr. Stubbs makes a surprise appearance by jumping on Toby's back. The act is a huge success, and provokes Castle to declare "M. Stubbs" the new star of the show.
The Marquis Family
"eddie Spaghetti" Emerson
Abe "korkey" Goldstein
The Flying Viennas
The Jungleland Elephants
Robert O. Cook
Johann Strauss Ii
Arthur J. Vitarelli
For the role of the sweet-natured Toby, producers turned to Kevin Corcoran, a veteran child actor who had been performing since the age of two. He had already made a name for himself at Disney by playing Moochie in the serialized TV show The Adventures of Spin and Marty and co-starring in the big screen features Old Yeller (1957) and The Shaggy Dog (1959). After appearing with a canine co-star, Toby Tyler gave him a new challenge: playing opposite a scene-stealing, practical-joking chimpanzee. Mr. Stubbs, the simian who Toby adopts as his best friend, was part of a performing chimpanzee act called The Marquis Family and was reportedly cast in the film after Walt Disney saw the chimp in an episode of The Jack Benny Hour.
For Ben Cotter, the gruff monkey wrangler who looks after Toby, and Sam Treat, the paternal clown who dispenses advice in a cartoonish German accent, Disney cast Henry Calvin and Gene Sheldon, co-stars of Disney's swashbuckling TV adventure Zorro. Longtime character actor Tom Fadden, plays Toby's Uncle Daniel, appeared in hundreds of movies and TV shows, often uncredited, but film buffs will surely remember him as the tollhouse keeper in It's A Wonderful Life.
Journeyman director Charles Barton graduated from B-movies to Abbott and Costello comedies (including their cult horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948) before becoming a Disney regular on both the big and small screens. Toby Tyler reunited him Corcoran, whom he'd directed in Spin and Marty and The Shaggy Dog, as well as his Zorro stars Calvin and Sheldon. It was the first Disney film shot at Golden Oak Ranch in California, which the studio had recently purchased, and the production boasted that it restored fourteen authentic circus wagons for use in the film (some of them were later used in the 1962 MGM musical Billy Rose's Jumbo).
Corcoran went on to star in a number of Disney films and TV shows, including Swiss Family Robinson (1960) and the Old Yeller sequel Savage Sam (1963) before he retired from acting. He later returned to Disney after college and worked as an assistant director and producer, with credits on Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978) and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980). In later years he was an assistant director on numerous network TV shows (including Murder She Wrote) and a producer on the acclaimed crime dramas The Shield and Sons of Anarchy.
Those Endearing Young Charms, Marc Best. A.S. Barnes and Co., 1971.
Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus, James Otis. The World Publishing Company, 1947.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
By Sean Axmaker
Although the film's title card reads " oby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus ," all written contemporary sources refer to the film simply as Toby Tyler. After the opening credits, the film begins with the following written foreword: "Once upon a time when the day the circus came to town was the biggest day of the year..." Ollie Wallace, a Disney studio conductor usually credited as "Oliver Wallace," made his onscreen feature-film debut in Toby Tyler as the circus bandleader. "Mr. Stubbs," the chimpanzee featured in the film, was part of a performing chimpanzee act called The Marquis Family, who were also credited onscreen. According to the Motion Picture Herald review, Disney first saw Mr. Stubbs on The Jack Benny Show, which ran on the CBS television network from 1950-1965.
According to a April 9, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Toby Tyler was the first Disney film to be shot at the studio's newly acquired Golden Oak Rancho in Newhall, CA, the site of the first recorded gold strike in California in 1842. Studio press materials note that fourteen authentic circus wagons, some dating back to 1897, were refurbished for use in the film. After production ended, according to an unsourced 1962 article found in the file for the film at the AMPAS Library, nine of the wagons were exhibited at Disneyland, borrowed for the 1962 M-G-M film Jumbo (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), and then donated to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI. Although May and June 1959 Hollywood Reporter news items add Tom Daly, William McLean, William Challee and Mike Mason to the cast, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Toby Tyler aired on the Walt Disney Presents television show in two parts, on 22 and November 29, 1964.