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Tom Mix

Thomas Edwin "Tom" Mix (born Thomas Hezikiah Mix) is an American film actor and the star of many early Western movies. Between 1909 and 1935, Mix appears in 291 films, all but nine of which are silent movies. He is Hollywood's first Western megastar and is noted as having helped define the genre for all cowboy actors who follows.

Early years

Mix is born into a relatively poor logging family in Mix Run, Pennsylvania.  He spends his childhood growing up in nearby Dubois, Pennsylvania, learning to ride horses and working on the local farm owned by John Dubois, a lumber businessman.

Tom has dreams of being in the circus and is rumored to have been caught by his parents practicing knife-throwing tricks against a wall, using his sister as an assistant.

In April 1898, during the Spanish-American War, he enlists in the Army under the name Thomas E. (Edwin) Mix.  His unit never goes overseas, and Mix later fails to return for duty after an extended furlough when he marries Grace I. Allin on July 18, 1902.

Mix is listed as AWOL on November 4, 1902, but is never court-martialed nor apparently even discharged.  His marriage to Allin is annulled after one year.  In 1905 Mix marries Kitty Jewel Perinne, but this marriage also ends within a year.  He next marries Olive Stokes on January 10, 1909, in Medora, SD.

In 1905 Mix rides in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade lead by Seth Bullock with a group of 50 horsemen, which includ several former Rough Riders (years later, Hollywood publicity handouts will muddle this event to misleadingly imply that Mix has been a Rough Rider himself.

After working a variety of odd jobs in the Oklahoma Territory, Mix finds employment at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch, reportedly the largest ranching business in the United States and covering 101,000 acres, hence its name.  He stands out as a skilled horseman and expert shot, winning the 1909 National Riding and Rodeo Championship.

Mix often claims to have attended the Virginia Military Institute and to have been the son of a cavalry officer. There is no basis for these claims.

The Movie Career of Tom Mix

Selig Polyscope

Mix begins his film career as a supporting cast member with the Selig Polyscope Company.  His first shoot in 1910 at their studio in the Edendale district of Los Angeles (now known as Echo Park) is Ranch Life in the Great Southwest, in which he shows his skills as a cattle wrangler.  The film was a success and Mix became an early motion picture star.  Olive gives birth to their daughter Ruth on July 13, 1912.

Mix performs in more than 100 films for Selig, many of which are filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  While with Selig, he co-stars in several films with Victoria Forde and they fall in love.  He divorces Olive Stokes in 1917.  By then Selig Polyscope have encountered severe financial difficulties and Tom Mix and Victoria Forde both subsequently sign with Fox Film Corporation, which has leased the Edendale studio.  Mix and Forde marry in 1918 and they have a daughter, Thomasina Mix (Tommie), in 1922.

Mixville

He goes on to make more than 160 escapist matinee cowboy films throughout the 1920s.  These feature action oriented scripts which contrasted with the documentary style of his work with Selig.  Heroes and villains are sharply defined and a clean-cut cowboy always "saved the day."  Millions of American children grow up watching his films on Saturday afternoons.  His intelligent and handsome horse Tony also becomes a celebrity.  Mix does his own stunts and is frequently injured.

Mix's salary at Fox reaches $7,500 a week (in 2010 dollars $97,300 a week).  His performances aren't noted for their realism but for screen-friendly action stunts and horseback riding, attention-grabbing cowboy costumes and showmanship.  At the Edendale lot Mix builds a 12-acre shooting set called Mixville.  Loaded with western props and furnishings, it has been described as a "complete frontier town, with a dusty street, hitching rails, a saloon, jail, bank, doctor's office, surveyor's office, and the simple frame houses typical of the early Western era."

Near the back of the lot an Indian village of lodges is ringed by miniature plaster mountains which on screen are said to be "ferociously convincing."  The set also includes a simulated desert, large corral and a ranch house with no roof, to facilitate interior shots.

During 1929, Mix's last year in silent pictures, he works for Film Booking Office of America (FBO), a small movie studio run by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and soon to be merges into Kennedy's RKO Radio Pictures. Mix is 49 and by most accounts he is ready to retire from the movies.  That same year, Mix is a pallbearer at the funeral of Wyatt Earp (during which he reportedly wept).

1930s

Mix appears with the Sells-Floto Circus in 1929, 1930 and 1931 at a reported weekly salary of $20,000 (in 2010 dollars $318,300 a week).  He and Forde are divorced in 1931.  Meanwhile the Great Depression (along with the actor's free spending ways and many wives) has reportedly wiped out most of his savings.  In 1932 he marries his fifth wife, Mabel Hubbard Ward.

Universal Pictures approaches him that year with an offer to do talkies which included script and cast approval.  He does nine pictures for Universal, but because of injuries he receives while filming he is reluctant to continue with any more.  Mix then appears with the Sam B. Dill circus, which he reportedly buys two years later (1935).

Mix's last screen appearance is a 15-episode sound Mascot Pictures serial, The Miracle Rider (1935), receiving $40,000 ($637,600 in 2010 dollars) for four weeks of filming.  Also that year, Texas governor James Allred names Mix an honorary Texas Ranger.  Mix goes back to circus performing, this time with his eldest daughter Ruth, who has appeared in some of his films.

In 1938, Mix goes to Europe on a promotional trip, while his daughter Ruth stay behind to manage his circus, which soon fails.  He later excludes her from his will.  He has reportedly made over $6,000,000 (approaching $76 million in 2010 dollars) during his 26-year film career.

Radio

In 1933 Ralston-Purina obtains his permission to produce a Tom Mix radio series called Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters which, but for one year during World War II, is popular throughout most of the 1930s through the early 1950s.  Mix never appears on these broadcasts and is instead played by radio actors: Artells Dickson (early 1930s), Jack Holden (from 1937), Russell Thorsen (early 1940s) and Joe "Curley" Bradley (from 1944).

Others in the supporting cast included George Gobel, Harold Peary and Willard Waterman.  The Ralston company offers ads during the Tom Mix radio program for listeners to send in for a series of 12 special Ralston-Tom Mix Comic books available only by writing the Ralston Company by mail.

Death

On the afternoon of October 12, 1940, Mix is driving his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton near Florence, Arizona, (between Tucson and Phoenix) on Arizona State Route 79.  Mix has been visiting Pima County Sheriff Ed Nichols in Tucson and have stopped at The Oracle Junction Inn, a popular gambling and drinking establishment, where he has called and spoken with his agent, when he comes upon construction barriers at a bridge previously washed away by a flash flood.  A work crew watches as he is unable to brake in time and his car swerves twice then rolls into a gully, pinning his body beneath.

A large polished aluminum suitcase containing a large sum of money, traveler's checks and jewels, which he has placed on the package shelf behind him flew forward and struck Mix in the back of the head, shattering his skull and breaking his neck.  The 60-year-old actor is killed almost instantly.  Eyewitnesses say Mix is traveling at 80 MPH before the accident.

A small stone memorial marks the site of his death on State Route 79 and the nearby gully is named "Tom Mix Wash".  The plaque on the marker contains an inscription: "In memory of Tom Mix whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the old West in the minds of living men."

Mix is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, plot: Whispering Pines, Lot 1030, Space 8, at the top of the hill, in Glendale, California.

Bibliography

  • Robert S. Birchard, "King Cowboy: Tom Mix and the Movies" Burbank: Riverwood Press, 1993

  • Ben Ohmart, "It's That Time Again" Albany: BearManor Media, 2002.

  • David W. Menefee, "The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era" Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007.

  • Olive Stokes Mix with Eric Heath, "The Fabulous Tom Mix", New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957.

  • Paul E. Mix, "The Life and Legend of Tom Mix", New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1972.

  • Jeanine Basinger, "Silent Stars, 1999". (chapter on Tom Mix and William S. Hart)

  • Richard D. Jensen, "The Amazing Tom Mix: The Most Famous Cowboy of the Movies" iUniverse, Inc, 2005

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