Lacking its own theater chain, this unassuming studio was dependent on the neighborhood and small-town theater market, and much of its product reflected this. The studio’s short-subject slate was distinguished during the silent era by its commitment to two-reel westerns, produced under the “Mustang” brand name, while the rest of the studio’s shorts output was dominated by slapstick. Abe and Julius Sterns’ Century Comedies had produced two-reel shorts for Universal since 1917, and, by the late 1920s, their line-up included the Mike and Ike, Buster Brown, and Newlyweds series, among others. To these were soon added Universal’s in-house Collegians comedies, the script for the first of which, King of the Campus, was credited to none other than Junior Laemmle himself, shortly before a nepotistic assist saw him promoted to studio chief.
Given its loyalty to smaller theaters not yet wired for sound, Universal was slow to switch to talkies, offering a mixture of audible and silent shorts as late as the 1929-1930 season. Following the transition, a change in the makeup of its short program immediately set in. Notable, for instance, was the immediate disappearance of the two-reel western series, their place now supplanted by serials – many with western plots – which Universal cranked out at a rate of four ten- to twelve-episode chapter-plays per year. The emphasis on slapstick initially remained in place, albeit with a significant change in personnel. The Stern Brothers’ involvement in comedy did not survive the transition to sound, leading Universal to expand its production of in-house shorts, with series lines featuring comedians Slim Summerville, Arthur Lake, and Benny Rubin. In 1932, Universal further reorganized its comedy offerings by signing former Hal Roach studio manager Warren Doane to organize a new production unit, to which came a number of other Roach employees like directors James Horne, Alf Goulding, and George Stevens. Despite the behind-the-camera talent involved, the unit lasted only until 1934, and most of its films have since remained uncirculated and unseen.