Tom Mix: America’s Silent Cowboy Star

This year’s postage stamp series honoring cowboys got me thinking about using one of them—Tom Mix (1880-1940)—in a cameo in my Roaring Twenties novel set in 1925.

Mix was one of the most important Western film stars of the 1920s. Almost all of his 300-400 movies were silents. He thrilled audiences with his rugged good looks and cowboy skills: trick riding, expert rope work, and marksmanship. Worshipped by two generations of schoolboys, he maintained a wholesome image that involved “no cussin’ and no drinkin’.” He and Tony the Wonder Horse were both screen legends. Like Douglas Fairbanks, Mix did all his own stunts. It was said that during his career, he suffered more than eighty injuries including knife wounds, bullet wounds, broken bones, and one dynamite explosion.

Although it is true that many silent stars failed at talkies because of their poor voice quality, it wasn’t true of Tom Mix. He made several talkies, but chose instead to follow his love of the circus and tour the country with his own Tom Mix Circus. (Radio didn’t pay enough for him to bother with.) Unfortunately, he was a big spender with a passion for women (he had 5 wives), fancy clothing, sports cars, a yacht, a ranch in Arizona, diamonds, and wild parties. His Hollywood mansion had his TM brand in neon lights above the roof. Although he made millions in a time when thousands was beyond most people’s wildest imagination, he spent money like water.

Mix died in a car crash at the age of 60. 

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Published in: on August 16, 2010 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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