John E. 'Jack' Landon
(b. 1883 - d. 1964) of Los Angeles, California constucted small numbers
of 1/2-sized midget automobiles during the 1920s, one of which saw
in the 1928 MGM romantic comedy, 'The Cardboard Lover'. A second Landon
midget was used by Pepito the Clown, a well-known vaudeville performer
who toured the Unites States and Australia during the late 1920s.
John Elmer 'Jack'
Landon was born on
March 3, 1883 in the city of Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, to
and Alice Ashton (Bell) Landon. Siblings included: George Wesley
Ernest D. (1875-1965); Laura (1878-1878); Pearl Anna (1879-1958);
(1886-1979) and Lulu (b.1900) Landon.
1910 US Census list him in Los Angeles at 72
???? – wife is
named Lillian D. (b. in 1882 in NY), daughter named Miriam I. Landon.
His occupation is
1911-1912 Los Angeles directories – lists
his residence at
4231 Kingswell av – occupation automobile repair
1918 draft registration card lists him at
230 S Beaudry, Los
Angeles. Occupation is mechanic at American Aero Co. (American Aero
2886 ?? Los Angeles, Calif. Contact is R.M. Baird.
1920 US Census lists him as an automobile
mechanic, 37 yo.
Married to 2nd wife, Helen G. (Dennis), 24 yo. - born in
Address 776 Kensington Rd, Los Angeles, Calif. 1920 Los Angeles
him as a machinist at 776 Kensington Rd.
directory lists him as “Jack Landon” a salesman at 774 ½ E.
Kimes & Clark list Landon's business as
“Jack Landon, of 5250
West Hollywood Boulevard, indicated himself to be an automobile
Located in North Hollywood between N.
and N. Hobart
Blvds., the property currently houses the Mid-West Wholesale Lighting
A mid-1920s photograph seen to the right
shows racing driver
Ralph DePalma sitting behind the wheel of a miniature Packard Twin Six
that looks like it could have been built by Landon. Also pictured are
Angeles-based racing drivers Fred Frame (standing beside the woman in
and Arthur “Fuzzy” Davidson (in the car to the right) and several of
midgets bear regular California number plates, indicating they were
The October, 1927 issue of Popular Science
included a couple
of pictures of Landon's creations:
“Manufactures Half-Size Autos
“You may have to double up to get inside
half-size automobiles - but they’re real cars, for all that.
what is said to be the only business of its kind in the world, Jack
Los Angeles, California makes midget cars exclusively. They are said to
standard machines in speed, endurance, and luxurious appointments -
are just as high-priced.
“Every detail, from the diminutive chassis
is scaled down to fit the tiny cars - with the exception of standard
almost as large as the wheels. One model uses a sturdy little
engine and runs on special balloon tires. A number of the little
said to have traveled sixty-five miles an hour! One, it is claimed,
forty miles to a gallon of gasoline.
“Manufacturers use them to advertise their
of rich parents drive them as pleasure cars. A society woman ordered a
coupe model for shopping. She found it much easier to maneuver in
to park in a limited space than a standard-sized automobile. The
returning recently from a 1500-mile trip around Oregon, encountered
rutted roads that discouraged many a large automobile, but his little
with its narrow-gauge wheels, ran undisturbed between the ruts.
“The first of these mechanical marvels was
the builder. He bought a small used car, took it apart and cut it down,
new parts when necessary. When finished it was just half as large as
original. This little machine attracted attention on the streets and
piled in for cars like it.”
“Off for a cross country run in a pygmy
roadster which can speed a mile a minute and averages better than forty
miles to a gallon
“The truck tire, shown for comparison,
contains material enough for all the tires of this tiny coupe. Note
“Jack Landon, small car manufacturer,
starts for work after parking his midget machine like a bicycle, on his
home veranda all
The following year William Randolph Hearst's
“protege,” Marion Davies, drove a Landon-built boat-tail speedster in a
chase scene in the MGM romantic comedy, 'The Cardboard Lover' (aka 'Her
The diminutive beauty sported a
Willys-Knight mascot (a
knight’s helmet w/eye shield) and front end treatment and was driven by
Davies as she tried to elude her co-star, Nils Asther, who was driving
regular-size Renault Town car.
A behind-the-scenes press photo seen to the
captioned as follows:
”Director Robert Z. Leonard sends actress
Marion Davies off
set after she nearly runs over leading man Nils Asther and cameraman
Arnold during the filming of MGM's 'Her Cardboard Lover'”
Another car pictured to the right shows
Landon standing in
between a full-sized sedan and a miniature Hudson faux cabriolet (or
coupe), replete with Hudson emblem on on the radiator shell and
includes a builders card from the Crown Carriage Co., a Los Angeles
is believed to have built many of the bodies for Landon's vehicles.
In 1927 Pepito the Spanish Clown (real name
Perez) a nationally-known vaudeville act, purchased a Landon-built
Packard-badged midget automobile to use in advertising his upcoming
appearances. Registered as a 1925 Monroe Pezel roadster, the car was
from Los Angeles car dealer Oliver Pezel who had it constructed by
Pepito's specifications. A 1948 interview with Pepito and Joanne (his
“The car they shipped abroad on their
European tours reposes
in the garage, a memento of the past. And we were not surprised to
learn that it is ‘the
smallest car in the
world.’ Especially made by the Packard people in Detroit for Pepito, it
feet long and two feet high - and the veteran clown doesn’t have to be
encouraged to show it. He and Joanne used it for advance publicity,
cities they played outfitted for the act.”
A closeup of Pepito's Landon-built miniature
the aircraft-style balloon tires were constructed by the Gates Rubber
“Landon's Midget Balloon, 21 x 440, Made
Jack Landon, Los
Angeles, California, Designer and Builder of America's Smallest Car.
“The Gates Rubber Co., Denver, Co.,
biographer Melani Carty provides some additional information about
“But then I received a special email from
Combes and her daughter Marilyn ... Muriel has a
special memory of riding in this very car with Pepito on a summer day
They drove together on the surface streets of Los Angeles, from the
district, all the way down to the docks in Wilmington. Muriel’s big
Clifford Combes, was a clown acrobat with Pepito & Co. from 1927
1930s. On that momentous day in 1928, Pepito, Joanne and Clifford were
departing for a six month tour of Australia with the Tivoli vaudeville
Upon arrival at the docks, the unusual little car was loaded onto the
was part of Pepito’s stage act. Muriel told me in a recent phone
Pepito would actually drive the car onto the theater stage and do a
with it. Muriel recalls that at the conclusion of her amazing ride in
miniature roadster, her legs were numb from being cramped in the tiny
compartment, and she could barely get out of the car or stand up.
confirms that Pepito’s little car resembled a miniature Packard.”
Jack Landon is also pictured standing next
the naked coupe
pictured out on the street that's equipped with a small L-head
four-cylinder engine and a
miniature Westinghouse shock absorbers.
Miniature car historian Robert D. Cunningham
Landon-built automobile in his 3-volume 'Orphan Babies; America's
“Unfortunately I cannot shed light on what
chassis or engine
the miniature Hudson used. However, I can report that the photograph
before the final bodywork was completed.
“The finished car is pictured on page 39
my book, “Orphan
Babies: America’s Forgotten Economy Cars, Volume 2: 1927 – 1943″.
a short pick-up bed out back, similar to a coupe-pickup treatment. The
sides were topped by hand rails that extended back from the lower
mounting, across the top of the bed sides, and then curved down to
attach to a
step plate, similar to early fire trucks. The car is wearing “Golden
lettering on the driver’s door, and the pickup bed carries a cartoon
illustration of a bear’s smiling face. The Golden Bear Furniture
located at 3701 Geary Blvd. at the Arguello intersection in San
another photo (unpublished), two children are standing in the pickup
hanging onto the railings.”
Also pictured in Cunningham's “Orphan
Babies” is a miniature
Hudson-badged C-cab delivery truck seen to the right. Constructed by
the American Dye Works, the 'Smallest Delivery Car in the World'
side-mounted spare across the driver's door, which suggests egress and
were via the other side of the vehicle. The back of the advertising
includes the following information:
“Specifications Miniature Cars; 4 Cyl.
20 H.P.; Full Floating Rear Axle; 3-Speed Sliding Gear Transmission;
Disc Clutch; Electric Starting and Lighting System; Tires 21 x 4
Cords; Length 75 Inches; Height 55 Inches; Weight 1200 Lbs.; Speed 50
Gas Mileage 40 M. Per Gal.; Specially Built to Order for the American
Works; 35 Large Cars at Your Service; Work Called for and Delivered in
Parts of the City.”
Based in Los Angeles with branches located
California, the American Dye Works was a reorganization of the Berlin
Works, a firm founded by Morris S. Kornblum in 1904.
The 1935 Los Angeles directory lists him as
“Jack Landon” a
salesman at Valley Ice Co., Alahambra
1942 draft registration card lists him at
620 Mott St., San
Fernando, Los Angeles, Calif. His employer, the Food Machinery Co.,
Fernando Rd, Los Angeles, Calif.
During the 1960s he lived with his 3rd Wife
Landon at 921 Chestnut Ave, Apt 10 in Long Beach, Calif.
USA. Death: Apr. 4, 1964. Los
Angeles County California, USA. Burial: 5/14/1964
© 2015 Mark
Theobald for Coachbuilt.com