One of the earliest on-screen appearances of Tom Mix (1880-1940) was as himself in the 1910 western documentary Ranch Life in the Great Southwest. Filming on location in Oklahoma, a director for Selig Pictures had found him working as a local deputy sheriff and hired him to handle stock.
Asking for a part in the picture, Mix got a scene as a bronc rider in a rodeo sequence. At the age of 30, he’d been married three times and had taken various jobs with a series of Wild West shows. Later the same year, he was starring in a two-reeler, The Range Riders, shot in Missouri.
By 1920, when he surpassed William S. Hart in popularity, Mix had accumulated acting credits in something like 235 films, all of them silent, most of them shorts. Of these he’d directed over 100. Like William S. Hart he’d begun featuring his horse, Tony, in the credits.
During the 1920s, he made 160 more cowboy films and had built a 12-acre outdoor western set called Mixville, with frontier town, Indian lodges, and plaster mountains.
|Still from Hell Roarin' Reform, 1919|
Circus. Mix continued as a performer during 1929–1931 with the Sells-Floto Circus, earning $20,000 a week at a time when a fifth marriage, his free spending habits, and the Depression left him pinched for cash.
During the 1930s, Mix made his last onscreen appearances in a 15-part serial, The Miracle Rider (1935), which was a huge success and grossed $1,000,000 for the studio (see a trailer for this series below). However, he declined to make more movies, because of injuries, incurred one gathers from a career that involved doing his own stunts.
Radio. Starting in the 1930s Ralston-Purina sponsored a radio program, Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters, which continued broadcast for two decades. Mix himself did not appear on the show. His part was read by various radio performers.
The legend. When Mix died in a car crash in Arizona, reportedly driving 80 mph into a bridge construction site, he and publicists had created for himself a larger than life public image that had him riding with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in Cuba, then bravely joining the war effort in the Philippines, where in fact he never saw action, and eventually deserted—a well kept secret from his fans.
For more of Tuesday's Overlooked Movies and TV, click on over to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom.
Jon Tuska, The Filming of the West, New York: Doubleday, 1976
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: Herman Whitaker, Over the Border (1917)