Tom Mix and His Suitcase of Death

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A piece today on cowboy star Tom Mix (1880-1940). A real life ranch hand and wrangler, Mix broke into films in 1909 at the Selig Polyscope Company. When that company folded in 1917, he went over to the Fox Film Corporation, which is where he became one of Hollywood’s top stars of the 1920s, essentially inventing the fantasy cowboy hero, the man dressed all in white with a ridiculously large hat and an apparently sentient horse named Tony. (This is contrast to the grim realism of William S. Hart, Hollywood’s previous top western star, who was known for his realism). Sadly, nearly all of Mix’s Fox films were destroyed in a fire — along with hundreds of silent comedies I sure wish I could see! During this period (from 1918 through 1931), he was married to the fourth and most notable of his five wives, co-star Victoria Forde.

During Mix’s peak years in the late twenties, he also made promotional tours of vaudeville. According to Anthony Slide, his 1928 appearance at the Hippodrome broke box office records. He also appeared with Sells-Floto Circus 1929-1931. Mix continued to make films into the talking era as late as 1935. After that he concentrated on live appearances, touring with the Tom Mix Circus from 1936 through 1938.

Tom Mix died in a car accident in the Arizona desert in 1940. Zooming along a highway at top speed in his roadster, he missed signs warning “Bridge Out Ahead”, swerved at the last second, and plunged his car into a gully. A heavy aluminum suitcase in the back seat became a missile, hit him in the back of the skull, and snapped his neck. Today the suitcase resides at the Tom Mix Museum. 

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, such as vaudeville and circus, where stars like Tom Mix performed consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous; for more on silent film don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, 

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