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.
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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
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
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.
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.
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."
interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, plot:
Whispering Pines, Lot 1030, Space 8, at the top of the hill, in
Birchard, "King Cowboy: Tom Mix and the Movies" Burbank: Riverwood
Ben Ohmart, "It's That Time Again" Albany: BearManor
David W. Menefee, "The First Male Stars: Men of
the Silent Era" Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007.
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.
Basinger, "Silent Stars, 1999". (chapter on Tom Mix and William S.
Richard D. Jensen, "The Amazing Tom Mix: The Most Famous
Cowboy of the Movies" iUniverse, Inc, 2005