Jack Hoxie and Western Drama, Onscreen and Off

And now a hearty yee-hah for the great early western star Jack Hoxie (John Hartford Hoxie, 1885-1965).

So media-centric have we become since the advent of film that many have a tendency to talk about personalities like Hoxie solely in terms of their screen careers. But Hoxie was one of the many who was a cowboy (and live rodeo/ wild west show performer) first, and a movie star as just one facet of that. Put another way, he was a performing cowboy for over 50 years; a movie star for about 20. Born in Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory, Hoxie was raised by his Native American mother in Idaho. His father, a horse doctor named Bart “Doc” Hoxie, had died before he was born. Having learned riding and roping skills in his youth, Jack began competing in rodeos, which then led to wild west shows.

Hoxie began starring in films for Kalem in 1913, under the name Hart Hoxie, a year before William S. Hart but some years after Tom Mix, though his fame has not lasted as long as either of theirs. The original 1916 version of The Three Godfathers with Harry Carey is one of his more notable westerns from this period. He was also in some non-westerns such as The Dumb Girl of Portici (Anna Pavlova’s one starring film vehicle) and Cecil B. DeMille’s Joan the Woman with Geraldine Farrar, both in 1916. In 1919, he changed his professional name to Jack Hoxie and the decade that followed would be the heyday of his career, especially following a 1923 contract with Universal. He was the title character in Thunderbolt Jack (1920), co-directed by Francis Ford and Murdock MacQuarrie and played Buffalo Bill Cody in The Last Frontier (1926) among dozens of popular films. In 1927 he left Universal after a contract dispute, then left Hollywood completely in 1929. It is said that Hoxie was barely literate. Carrying dialogue in talkies was going to be a problem for him so he stepped away.

For three years Hoxie worked at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and various other circuses, carnivals, rodeos and wild west shows. In 1932 he returned to Hollywood, making a half dozen B movies for Majestic pictures. His last was Trouble Busters (1933). He then returned to live performance, which kept him in franks and beans until 1959. At one time he also operated a dude ranch. He spent last years on the old family homestead in Oklahoma.

Jack’s step-brother Al Hoxie (Al Stone, 1901-1982) also appeared in films from 1920 through 1934, although not at the same level of stardom. Al’s father (Jack’s stepfather) Calvin Scott Stone was given the death penalty in 1925 for the double kidnapping/rape/homicide of two little girls, Nina and May Martin, aged 8 and 12, members of Sister Aimee’s congregation. The sentence was later commuted to life without parole, although at the very end of his life, he did see daylight for a couple of years. The Martin sisters weren’t the first children Stone had molested, and he was clearly a monster as neither Jack nor Al went to bat for him at his trial. There is an impressively researched and written article about the story here, for those who want to go down a grim and lurid rabbit hole.

Hoxie was married 5 times, and most of his wives were very interesting women. His second wife Hazel Panting (sometimes rendered “Panky”), was a second generation western trick rider; there is an informative blogpost about her here. She was the mother of Jack’s daughters Ramona and Pearl. His third wife, to whom he was hitched from 1920 through 1925, was stage and screen star Marin Sais, whom we’ll be writing about a few months from now. Wife # 4 was Dixie Starr, also a wild west and circus performer. In 1944 he married his last wife, Bonnie Showalter, who’d been his manager, in Las Vegas.

For more on the variety arts, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.