Monday, October 12, 2015


Mix - 1925

Before there was a Clint Eastwood and before there was a John Wayne ... there was Tom Mix.  Born in Pennsylvania in 1880, Thomas Hezikiah Mix is taught to shoot and ride horses at an early age by his father Edwin, a stable master for a wealthy local lumber merchant.  Reaching manhood, he serves in the military during the Spanish-American War before taking his outdoor skills to Oklahoma and becoming a cowboy for the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch, one of the largest ranching businesses in the United States at the time, so big that they have their own traveling Wild West show which Mix becomes a part of, standing out as he wins national riding and roping contests in Prescott, Arizona (1909) and Canon City, Colorado (1910).  And with success comes the opportunity to become a part of the world's newest form of entertainment ... the motion pictures!
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Wild West Show Wagon
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Signed by the Selig Polyscope Company (Southern California's first permanent movie studio) as a supporting player, Mix makes his film debut in 1909 in a short film that has the kismet title of "The Cowboy Millionaire."  In 1910, demonstrating his cattle wrangling skills, he appears in a flick called "Ranch Life in the Great Southwest" (shot in what is now Echo Park) and becomes one of the silent screens' first stars before moving on to the Fox Film Corportion (the company that will become 20th Century Fox).  The man generations of boys want to grow up to be, through the rest of the decade and 1920s, doing most of his own stunts, Mix will make over 200 Westerns (291 to be precise, mostly filmed at a studio location that will come to be named Mixville ... a 12-acre portion of the studio featuring a complete frontier town with a dusty main street, stores, hitching racks, a saloon, a jail, a bank, wooden frame houses, and a surveyor's office, a simulated desert, a ranch house, an Indian village, and miniature plaster mountains) featuring him getting the girl and triumphing over a dastardly (over 90% of which have been lost forever due to film corrosion) villain by the last reel, reaching a salary of $7,500 a week.
As Mr. Logan, U.S.A. - 1919

Make-believe versus reality, in 1929, Mix will serve as a pallbearer of Wild West legend, Wyatt Earp! 
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Earp Pallbearers - Mix At Far Right, Cowboy Star William S. Hart Third From Right

A major super-star, by the time his 26-year film career comes to an end, Mix is making $20,000 a week to appear with the Sells-Floto Circus, and hauling in $40,000 a week for four weeks worth of work on his last picture, an oater in 1935 for Mascot Pictures called, The Miracle Rider (filmed at the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, the sandstone boulder he descends in the movie is now known as the "Tom Mix Rock" and still contains the bootholes that were carved into the rock for the actor).  Also in 1935, Mix is made an honorary Texas Ranger by Texas governor James Allred.  Passing the torch, as his career winds down, he takes a young actor under his wing, and hocus-pocus, an injured USC football player named Marion Robert Morrison becomes Mr. John Wayne!
Mix - 1925
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Movie Poster
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Wound Map

Profits from an extremely lucrative film career mostly wiped out by the Depression, six wives (in seven marriages), and investment in a failed circus (based on today's values, he makes $400,000,000 during his film career), by 1940 Mix is looking for a new project to up the assets in his bank account.  On a road trip driving his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton to Arizona to visit his son-in-law, Mix visits a friend in Tucson, Pima County Sheriff Ed Echols, before heading north towards Phoenix on U.S. Highway 80 (now Arizona State Route 79).  Between Tucson and Phoenix he makes two stops ... the first is at a popular gambling and drinking establishment called the Oracle Junction Inn (where he calls his agent and freely imbibes), the second at the bottom of a gully now known as the "Tom Mix Wash."
Supercharged 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton - Restored
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Oracle Junction Inn Token

Wearing his trademark 10-gallon white Stetson, moving in excess of 80 mph, judgment potentially impaired by alcohol, about 18-miles south of Florence, Arizona, Mix fails to notice the construction barriers that have been put up due to a bridge that has been washed away in a recent flash flood.  Too late, Mix stands on the brakes as the car leaves the road and goes airborne, and comes crashing down into a dry gully.  A survivable accident with a slower speed, use of a seat belt, and no loose items in the car ... the incident instead turns fatal when the large aluminum suitcase Mix has stuffed with jewels, money ($6,000) and traveler's checks ($1,500) becomes a deadly missile that hits the actor in the back of the head.  Dead without knowing it, after the Phaeton comes to rest, Mix takes one step out of the car and then falls over dead, his neck broken and skull smashed by the metal suitcase.  His ride off into the sunset comes when Mix is 60 years old.
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Accident Site
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Returned to California, Mix's funeral service takes place at the Little Church of Flowers in Glendale, before final internment takes place at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery ... observed by an overflow crowd of more than 2,000 mourners ... dignitaries will include a who's-who of Hollywood celebrities (Rudy Valee will sing "Empty Saddles") that include the cowboy actors' peers in that field of story telling ... Gene Autry, Buck Jones, Harry Carey, George O'Brien, William S. Hart, and Tex Ritter ... and before his coffin is lowered into the ground, a squad of Mix's companions from the Spanish-American war fire a salute volley over the grave. 
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Mix's Horse Tony At The Funeral
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Mix Funeral

Today the site of the accident bears a small stone memorial ... and a plaque that reads, "In the 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."  Additionally, Mix is remembered with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his cowboy boot prints, hand prints, and the hoof prints of his horse reside in the cement forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, he is a member of the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, his visage is included in a memorial statue in Beverly Hills called "Monument to the Stars" (alongside Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, Conrad Nagel, Harold Lloyd, and original Ben Hur director, Fred Niblo), there are Tom Mix Museums in Dewey, Oklahoma and Mix Run, Pennsylvania, and DuBois, Pennsylvania has hosted an annual Tom Mix film festival.   
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Monument To The Stars 
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Killer Suitcase - Tom Mix Museum

Death takes Tom Mix ... 10/12/1940! 
Tom Mix Publicity Shot

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