Tom Mix – Hollywood’s First Cowboy Superstar

Posted in Rewind by - November 15, 2013
Tom Mix – Hollywood’s First Cowboy Superstar

Tom Mix (January 6, 1880 – October 12, 1940)

Hollywood’s First Cowboy Superstar

The most popular cowboy star of the silent era, Tom Mix made and spent a vast fortune, and lived accordingly. He owned Rolls Royce’s (with antlers!), 600 pairs of boots and by 1925 was living in an air-conditioned mansion, bearing his name in neon lights. He even had a rainbow-colored fountain installed in his dining room.

Born Thomas Hezikiah Mix on January 6th 1880, Tom was signed by Fox Films in 1917 and remained with them until 1928, averaging five or so films a year, with a salary peaking at $7,500 a week. During his career he made over six million dollars, but years of extravagant spending (and a few ex-wives!) had left a small amount at the time of his death. Such was his extravagance; Tom had his car tyres custom- melded to leave tracks with his initials TM in the road.

One of Tom’s lucrative deals was as a spokesman for popular toothpaste brand Pepsodent, whose advertising featured Tom’s famous smile. In fact, Tom had been wearing dentures for years, having lost most of his teeth during the rough and ready world of cowboying.

The ‘King of the Cowboys’ had a prolific output spanning 25 years, appearing in nearly 300 silent films, of which only about 10 per cent survive today. In 1929 Mix began a short circus career, earning a reported weekly salary of $20,000. Around this time Universal Pictures offered Mix a contract to make ‘talkies’ with them. He accepted, but after doing nine pictures he quit, due to injuries he received while filming.

Between 1935 and 1938 Tom ran the ‘Tom Mix Circus’ which proved very popular. In fact his 1936 circus was the largest motorized show on the road at the time, travelling 12,236 miles to 25 states, giving 217 performances.

Tom’s popularity did not always extend to his contemporaries however. John Wayne (then Marion Morrison) never got on with him. It’s said his dislike for Tom went back to Wayne’s college football playing days. Supposedly, Mix had told Wayne that he should stop by Fox Studios where he’d get him a job in the movies. When Wayne showed up a few weeks later, Mix told the guards he never made such an offer, and Wayne was thrown off the lot. The two men also had different styles in their approach to western film-making. Mix was more of a clean-living showman, while Wayne preferred realism in his pictures. “In no picture have I ever smoked, taken a drink, played cards or gambled,” Tom once said.

Married five times, self-styled showman Tom Mix died on October 12th 1940, when he was killed instantly at the wheel of his yellow supercharged Cord 812 Phaeton. After losing control of his newly acquired car, he swerved to miss a road repair crew. He then hit some barriers, smashing through them before ending up in a ravine. An Aluminium suitcase carrying money, traveller’s checks and jewellery flung forward hitting him in the back of the head. He was sixty years old. Today, a small stone memorial marks the site of his death, and the nearby ravine is named “Tom Mix Wash”.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *