From the 1930s into the early 1970s, Melton Barker traveled the country featuring local kids in short films called The Kidnappers Foil. Pine Bluff was one of his stops.
What if someone told you that he could make your child a star—for a small fee? Would you take the bait? For more than 40 years, thousands of starstruck parents across the country took the bait, paying money to a man named Melton Barker for a chance for their children to be in the movies.
From the late 1930s into the early 1970s, Dallas native, Melton Barker and his company, Melton Barker Juvenile Productions, traveled all over the country – from Texas and New Mexico to North Carolina and Indiana – filming local children acting, singing, and dancing in two-reel films that Barker titled The Kidnappers Foil. Each iteration featured small-town children as actors. A different small-town was featured in each version. The parents paid Barker a fee to have their children appear in the film.
The plot of every Kidnappers Foil film was the same. A young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and rescued by a search party of local kids. The relieved neighbors celebrated with a party where youngsters would display their musical talents.
A few weeks after filming, the town would screen the 15- to 20-minute picture to the delight of the local audience, including parents who would eagerly pay the price of admission to see their little darlings on the silver screen.
Although the Kidnappers Foil was made dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times, only a few versions survive. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image holds a collection of these itinerant films and hosts Internet resources for those who appeared in them as children. The surviving copies were added as a group to the National Film Registry in 2012 being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and recommended for preserva
Fortunately, one of the 20 or so surviving Kidnappers Foil films is a version that was shot in Pine Bluff in 1952 at Oakland Park, now Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Melton Barker showed up, made his pitch, collected his money from the parents, shot the movie with Pine Bluff kids, completed post-production, and then staged the premiere where the parents paid (again) to watch the movie. The Pine Bluff version is available for viewing online at TexasArchive.org.
Watch a fun video about The Kidnappers Foil on Delta Cinema World at ExplorePineBluff.com.
Sources: MeltonBarker.org, Wikipedia.org