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When talkies arrived, Universal Pictures had a couple of western film heroes on the lot --- Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson. But after the 1929-1930 release season, the contracts of both stars were not renewed and Universal was out of the western film business.
A year or so later, the studio recognized the error in their ways and coaxed the biggest western star of silents to return to the screen ... and to 'talk'. That man was Tom Mix.
Tom Mix was not a 'son of the real west'. He was born near Mix Run, Pennsylvania, and for many years, there has been an annual 'Tom Mix Festival'.
Bud Norris provided more details on the Mix Festivals:
"The National Tom Mix Festival was held in DuBois, Pennsylvania from 1980 to 1989. In 1990 we held it in Las Vegas. 1991-1994, in Guthrie, Oklahoma. 1995 was at TERU Ranch (Ted Reinhart's resort in Pennsylvania). 1996 in Peru, Indiana. 1997 and 1998 in TERU. In 1999, back to DuBois again. I have worked on all 20 festivals with the founder, Dick Seiverling, who passed away in January, 2000." (The website for the Tom Mix Festival in DuBois, Pennsylvania is http://www.tommixfestival.com/)
It's difficult to separate the real Tom Mix from the Hollywood version and hype:
Studio publicity and Mix's own elaborations of his life mention: he was with Teddy Roosevelt in the charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American war; he was a Texas Ranger and deputy Marshal; he was in the Phillipines; he was in the Boxer Rebellion in China; he fought in the Boer War; etc., etc.
What we do know is: he was in the Army; he performed with various circuses and wild west shows.
Les Adams adds: "The Texas Ranger membership is pretty well documented in the Austin archives and the Waco museum, and no one has ever found Tom Mix among the listed. The closest he ever came was in 1935 when Governor Homer Allred made him an Honorary Ranger."
There's even controversy and confusion over Mix's middle name. After wading through a lot of material, I settled on 'Hezekiah', simply because that's the name recognized by the Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma. Bud Norris adds: "Tom's middle name was Hezekiah at birth, but he never cared for it, and eventually changed it to Edwin (his father's name). Though I have never found a document stating that he had it legally changed, whenever some official paper was issued to him, his middle initial was always shown to be E, and he always signed as Thomas E. Mix whenever he was required to give his middle initial. From about the time he was in his late teens, the name Hezekiah never appeared again."
Mix made scores of silents for Selig Polyscope, then spent eleven years with Fox, and closed out his silent film career at little Film Booking Office (FBO) in the late 1920s. He was a genuine Hollywood legend, and his lavish, expensive lifestyle reflected that status. However, to adults and kiddies of that period, the Mix name equalled big screen adventure and thrills. Looking back at the silent movie era, the westerns of William S. Hart were popular and his approach was nitty-gritty, dark, bleak ... some call it realism. But Hart's popularity was waning, due to his age and stylistic approach. At the opposite extreme was Mix --- fancy stunts, trick riding, flashy clothes ... perhaps best described as showmanship over reality. Tom's approach apparently worked, and his salary at Fox reached $17,500 ... PER WEEK.
The Old Corral is about B western 'talkies', so we'll just touch on Mix's career in silents. His initial films for Selig began around 1909, and most (all) of the early films were 'shorts' (one and two-reelers with a running time of about ten to twenty minutes). As he became more popular, and the cinema medium grew up, the pictures were lengthened to 50-60 minutes (five or six reels). Mix also was credited as director and scriptwriter on many of these films.
Around 1917, he began a lengthy stay at Fox and was there through 1928 (Fox's other cinema cowboy during this time was Buck Jones). After leaving Fox, he worked for a year at Film Booking Office (FBO), which was the forerunner of RKO and run by Joe Kennedy Sr., the father of President John F. Kennedy.
According to Bud Norris, Mix's film output from 1909-1929 amounted to 326 silents. Bud also notes that virtually every film Mix made survives today ... but not here. 90% are in the archives in Czechoslovakia and Denmark, but we can't get them over here --- Bud has tried for fifteen years without success.
Around 1929, Tom concluded his silent film career in western features at FBO. At that time, he was about 49 years old, and probably glad to be done with the movie grind.
He had other things to do --- headline the Sells-Floto Circus.
He would be with Sells-Floto for three seasons --- 1929, 1930 and 1931 --- and his salary was reported to be about $20,000 ... WEEKLY.
In all probability, the main reason that Universal was able to entice Mix back to the silver screen was $$$, as he had lost a bundle in the stock market crash and subsequent fallout.
In 1932, Mix was in his early fifties. He hadn't made any movies for about three years. And he had never worked with a microphone. Injuries and age also had to be in his thoughts --- but he was THE Tom Mix and ego probably dictated that he do most of his own stunts and ridin', a tough job for an old man who had suffered many bone breaks and injuries during a long career.
Carl Laemmle Sr. and Jr., the bosses at Universal, gave Mix his own production unit along with budgets of about $100,000 to $150,000 per film. Mix had approval over the cast, script, etc., but apparently did not get involved in the production nuts and bolts like Ken Maynard (who would be Mix's replacement at Universal, and be generally regarded as a pain-in-the-posterior).
Universal wanted a big name and big productions to mark their return to westerns ... and the advertising and poster art for the first film, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (Universal, 1932), proudly proclaimed:
Carl Laemmle announces the triumphant return of the monarch of the plains
The initial plans for the 1932-1933 release season were for six adventures with each taking about a month to film. Apparently, the fans flocked to the theaters to see the born again screen legend --- in response, Mix and Universal turned out nine entries.
Several were excellent: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (JUSTICE RIDES AGAIN) (Universal, 1932), THE FOURTH HORSEMAN (Universal, 1933), and probably the best of the series, THE RIDER OF DEATH VALLEY (Universal, 1932). The offbeat MY PAL, THE KING (Universal, 1932) featured a very young Mickey Rooney (of the 'Mickey McGuire' shorts) in a tale of Mix saving the young monarch from a couple baddies, one of which is Paul Hurst (Monte Hale's sidekick for a while at Republic).
The remaining five were solid, respectable oaters ... but not as outstanding as the titles noted above. These five were: HIDDEN GOLD (Universal, 1932), FLAMING GUNS (Universal, 1932), THE TEXAS BAD MAN (Universal, 1932), TERROR TRAIL (Universal, 1933), and RUSTLER'S ROUNDUP (Universal, 1933).
This is just a small fraction of what you can learn about this amazing man. Please see the full version at http://www.surfnetinc.com/chuck/tommix.htm if you are interested.
CLUES: Between Catalina and Florence is a piece of land designated "Pinal Pioneer Parkway" and can be found around mile marker 117 and 118 on highway 79. Within this "Parkway" find the Tom Mix Memorial, the spot where Tom Mix lost his life. Near the back of this rest stop, find the metal opening through the fence. From this spot, walk at 266 degrees for about 60 paces along the path. When the path goes between 2 palo verde trees, notice the large amount of mistletoe on the one to the left. This same tree also has a dead branch pointing out to the trail at waist height. On this branch near it's starting point, under small twigs you should find what you seek. This tree can be seen from the parking lot so please take care. If the protection in the tree is no longer sufficient to hold the box in place, please rehide and let me know of its new location. There is a first finder certificate included in this microbox.