Today is the birthday of cowboy star Tom Mix (1880-1940). A real life ranch hand and wrangler, he 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). 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 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.
Now here is one of Mix’s last Selig films, from 1917, The Heart of Texas Ryan:
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent film don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc