Saturday, September 16, 2017

Marketing Tom Tyler and His Pals

While Tom Tyler was often marketed along with “his pals” in both movie theatre and press materials, it was more often than not along with some qualifier. For example, in Tom's silent film “The Masquerade Bandit” a lobby card has printed on it, “Tom Tyler and His Lovable Pals.” A newspaper theatre ad for the same movie has it, “Tom Tyler and His Buoyant Pals” – in this case, buoyant meaning cheerful and optimistic. But the whole “Tom and His Pals” did not begin until his second silent film with FBO, “The Wyoming Wildcat” in 1925, when that film star catchline began. Many times early ads for Tom's movies would just mention his name and leave off the “..and His Pals” line but that did not mean his pals were not included in the cast. Frankie Darro was always omnipresent in Tom's films, to be sure, along with Beans the dog. The most important thing to keep in mind is, “Tom Tyler and His Pals” was a marketing ploy to encourage his audience to see all of his silent films, to see what Tom and his gang were up to. In a theatre ad for “Wild to Go”, Tom's pals were even advertised as a “ten-strike trio”. Some times it was just “Tom and His Buddies” – simple enough. Other common twists included: “Tom and His Breezy Pals”, “Tom and His Whizzing Pals”, and “Tom Tyler and His Buddies”. Sometimes a more personalized line would be used: “Tom Tyler and His Little Pal Frankie Darrow”, as was used in a theatre ad for “Lightning Lariats”. Perhaps it does not seem unusual that placing Frankie's name alongside Tom's on an almost equal par: they were after all pals on the set, and even though Frankie was a famous child actor – Tom was just a big kid himself. Having onscreen pals like Tom Tyler did – who would not want to miss the latest silent film Tom made for FBO back in the 1920's?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Collectibles: Tom Tyler Tales: The Adirondack Cowboy comic books

There were only two comic books posthumously issued with Tom Tyler as a western screen hero, and they were published in 2003 and 2005. While these dates seem much later than usual for a film star of the 1920's and 1930's, there is a reason for it: none had been published in the United States since then, excluding the Spain-published comic stories of Tom Tyler in the popular BOY periodical for youths, published by Gato Negro in Barcelona. There really was not much of a tribute to Tom as was stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the states, even though he certainly deserved one.

Tom Tyler Tales: The Adirondack Cowboy was the creation of three Essex County, New York fans of Tom Tyler – the county where Tom was born in 1903. 2003 is a significant year, since it marks the 100th anniversary of Tom's birth. Calvin Castine, Sid Couchey, and Arto Monaco are the men who provided not only the story and artwork for these two comic books, but also the story behind creating them, Tom's biography and filmography, and a plethora of Tom Tyler memorabilia items reproduced and interspersed throughout the books.

Tom Tyler Tales #1 contains a story about Tom and how he wound up traveling all the way from Port Henry, a hamlet of Moriah in New York state, to Baxter Springs, Kansas. His adventure involves tracking down three desperados called “The Three Saddlemates”, based on the book creators: Sid, Arto, and Cal. This trio is of course reminiscent of “The Three Mesquiteers”. Tom helps Baxter Springs sheriff Gordie, based on Gordie Little, a native of North Country, New York, and of Home Town Cable. Always the hero. Tom rounds up The Three Saddlemates, and sends them back to jail.

Tom Tyler Tales, Too, published in 2005, was the joint effort of Calvin and Sid (Arto died in November 2003). This comic book contains two stories: one including The Three Saddlemates, and the second story, Tom as Major Courage – a superhero play on the name Captain Marvel. As in the other stories, the creators have characters named after them here too. The comic book is not only a tribute to Tom Tyler but also to Arto Monaco. Most notably, profits from Tom Tyler Tales, Too was intended to go towards a historic marker for him in Moriah, which unfortunately never materialized due to lack of interest.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tom's hands: It's all in the action of the wrists

One of the most noticeable things about Tom Tyler's physique is his hands. General discussion about hands might seem trivial, but one can tell a lot of things about an individual's hands: the shape, size, the language they speak, whether they gesticulate or not. Tom being a champion weightlifter, was at a benefit not only due to his musculature and strong wrists, the latter being a major requirement for successful weightlifting, but again, for his big, strong hands. Even though Tom had big hands, they were perfectly shaped, and in the movies he made, often well manicured. Movies such as “Ridin' On” seemed to showcase his hands, whether he was getting his horse under control to keep from being thrown, or turning over a bullet shell in his hands. Tom's hands and wrists proved beneficial in his film rescue scenes, especially when he had to scoop up a young lady on a runaway horse with his right hand, as he did with Ruth Hiatt in “Ridin' Thru”. His hands were big and strong enough to hold his pal Frankie Darro, as can be seen in a picture of them from Picture-Play Magazine, June 1927:


So when enjoying a Tom Tyler movie, notice his hands, how strong and well shaped they are – and how they were a major asset in his weightlifting and acting career.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Collectibles: Tom Tyler on the Maple Leaf Gum cards

One of the more frequently seen film star cards with Tom Tyler on the front actually happens to be a misprint. Maple Leaf Gum, Canada, produced a set of 175 cards in 1952, and the card that bears the name Tom Tyler is actually the picture of Bob Steele. This particular card is numbered at 130, while the card with the picture of Tom Tyler and the name of Bob Steele printed at the lower left is number 132. It is unsure how the names and photos were mixed up during the production of these cards. It seems like the photo shots on these two cards were probably taken from the early to mid 1940's, from one of the Three Mesquiteers films. In the card labeled Bob Steele, Tom is standing by his white horse and wearing the orange/yellow shirt, purple scarf and light gray cowboy hat similar to what he wore in “Gauchos of El Dorado”. Also, the "Rep." at the lower right corner designates the name of the studio the film star was with, in this case, Republic.

Each Maple Leaf Gum card  is 1 13/16” x 2 3/4” in size, and the backs of the cards are blank. This set of film star cards was also issued in Sweden, Netherlands, and Malta. What is notable about this particular set of Maple Leaf Gum cards is there is a stress on the western stars; Roy Roger appears in different shots on a handful of cards in this collection. One unique feature about this collection of film star cards is that Maple Leaf also issued an album for the cards to be pasted into, like a stamp book. When seeking out a copy of this particular film star card on auction sites like ebay, make sure it has the name of Bob Steele at the lower left corner.



Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tom Tyler as understated icon in “San Antonio”

Even though Tom Tyler was primarily relegated to bit roles in A-list films following his career as a B-western leading man, he remained capable of holding his own as an icon up against the big names such as John Wayne and Errol Flynn. As with his performance in “Stagecoach” where he portrays Luke Plummer, Tom turns in a top-notch performance in “San Antonio” but with an added twist: looking every inch the icon that he is. This western starring Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith also happens to be in glorious Technicolor, which allows the viewer to appreciate what Tom would look like in person minus the black and white factor of his B-westerns and two superhero serial films, “Adventures of Captain Marvel” and “The Phantom.”

Tom portrays Lafe McWilliams, a henchman for cattle rustler Roy Stuart (Paul Kelly) who is hot on the trail of cattleman Clay Hardin (Flynn), who is attempting to lay low until he can locate Stuart and turn him in to the authorities. Prior to Lafe showing up in his first scene, a group of townsmen congregating on the patio of a building are taking bets that Hardin will not make it to San Antonio without running into one of Stuart's men. While this event transpires, Lafe comes along, chewing tobacco and making his way between the men who form lines on either side and look at him in astonishment, as if he had the nerve to come along and disrupt their supposedly discreet transactions. His clothes alone make a statement: a slate colored button down shirt, brown vest, red and white checkered scarf, and red and white pinstripe pants – the kind that railroad conductors wore.
To top it off, Lafe also has a few days growth of stubble, to add to his tough guy persona. This entrance into the film is enough to have the townspeople and the viewer look at Tom Tyler and think, “there goes a real hombre”. Lafe is also clearly a take charge henchman, telling his partner Pony Smith (John Alvin) what steps to take in order to close in on Hardin once they catch up with him.The “real hombre” concept continues when Lafe interacts with Jeanne (Smith) and Henrietta (Florence Bates) as the ladies sit inside the stagecoach when they arrive in Laredo, hoping to obtain some information on the whereabouts of Hardin. With his head poking through the side window of the stagecoach, Lafe says “ I'm looking for a gentleman” to which Henrietta promptly responds with “Haven't seen one in a year”, referring to the unsavory men out west which have no appeal to her. In return, Lafe has a “what am I, chopped liver?” expression on his face, while he continues to exchange a few words with them regarding Hardin. Resorting to his
usual onscreen view of women on a sister-like basis, Lafe warns Jeanne and Henrietta about Hardin, who do not believe him for some reason, before he steps away from the stagecoach. As a final humorous response, Lafe gets a few pillows from inside the stagecoach thrown into his face before taking off, the two ladies making faces then smiling in his direction.

It is at the Cotulla Cantina during a nightly stop during their journey to San Antonio where Lafe and Pony finally meet up with Clay Hardin, but not without Hardin being notified, for his friend Charlie (John Litel) sticks close by, holding up a pole in front of the open-air cantina ready for action. Lafe and Pony approach the cantina from across the street, then discuss what measures will be taken in order to detract Hardin from Jeanne and get him when he least suspects it. Here, Lafe observes Clay from the cantina porch all alone, the camera concentrating on his face, his steely eyes and cool, almost robotic expression while he slowly moves his hand to adjust his hat. Still the subject of the moment, the camera remains capturing Lafe's continued series of
expressions, his eyes temporarily making contact with the camera before resuming concentration on Hardin who is inside the cantina, then gradually changing into a devious expression, eyebrows raised with a tiny smile on his face. It only takes a brief moment for the viewer to observe and fully appreciate Tom Tyler in “San Antonio” as icon, and visually transport him into a spaghetti western alongside Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Add to the mix his gravelly voice, and Tom Tyler is perfect for the 1960's decade of spaghetti westerns. This porch scene at the cantina is the precursor to the climactic scene Lafe has with Hardin inside the cantina – and Tom Tyler has an advantage over Flynn not only in appearance but also physical strength. Had “San Antonio” included a major fistfight between Tom and Errol Flynn, which would have been entertaining for the viewer, it would not be difficult to imagine Flynn being tossed about by the former weightlifting champion.

After being turned down for a dance by Jeanne, with Hardin standing by her table in the cantina, Lafe turns his attention to Hardin, suggesting that the wrong move by him could get him plugged. The two men engage in a face-to-face conversation which finally prompts Hardin to suggest they take their little problem into the street. Lafe's narrow eyes, set jaws and no holds barred dialogue give Hardin reason to suspect that some rough play is about to take place, but he has no plans on becoming a casualty. Of the two men, Lafe's profile exudes not just physical strength and toughness but also a sexuality that was not overwhelming by any means; as usual, he is the Omega male portraying an Alpha male. Lafe leads the way out of the cantina, which is his first error, since it makes him a vulnerable target. Charlie remains partially hidden and sees Pony, who he plugs first. As soon as Lafe turns his head to see who got plugged he wears a rather sinister smile, eyes glittering like rocks before he is unsuspectingly plugged by Flynn. Similar to his manner of dying in “Stagecoach”, Tom uses his long, drawn out walk and collapses dead onto the wooden walkway of the building across the street. Right up to the very end, Tom Tyler's role in “San Antonio” is iconic, as brief as it is, the scenes are memorable nonetheless, particularly those where he speaks no dialogue at all.

Tom Tyler was long considered the handsomest man in Hollywood at one point, and remains so even in films like “San Antonio” for a few reasons, even up against the likes of Errol Flynn. This is evident in the scenes where Tom makes his entry into the film in the town of Laredo, hismanner of walk, right up to the last few minutes of his onscreen time, when his trademark manner of death after being plugged takes place. Tom's natural coloring and facial features made him perfect for silent film. Technicolor only enhanced his exceptionally good looks. Add to the mix his sexiness and on the set personality, which made him one of the most desirable people to work with in Hollywood. Taking all of these factors into consideration, Tom Tyler was indeed an understated icon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Strong enough to hold a pony in his arms

From Motion Picture Herald August 22, 1931
Since Tom Tyler was the weightlifting champion for 1928 – and he remained in top physical form for much of his film career until being diagnosed with scleroderma, it is not unusual to think that he could put his physical strength to good use on the movie set besides following script directions, such as mounting a horse from behind with ease. Can you imagine Tom using his physical prowess for playfulness? That is exactly what he did while making the silent film, “The Cherokee Kid”. Filmed at the Keen Ranch in the San Jacinto Mountains of California, Tom and the film crew all took joy in giving a two month-old Shetland pony plenty of attention. It is unknown if this adorable pony had any role in the filming of “The Cherokee Kid” - a lost silent film – although there are a few pictures plus a newspaper clipping that exist of the incident, not to mention Tom himself picking up the pony to hug it. It sounds like the pony enjoyed all of the attention and hugs it received, not to mention a bottle of milk for his dinner. Of course, the pony was named after the star of the film, Tom, and even got to meet his “adopted” parent, Flashlight. Perhaps it seemed like Flashlight thought that Shetland pony Tom was his own, for he licked the pony affectionately once Tom Tyler introduced them. Much has been said if horse sense, but who knew that horse love – specifically, pony love – could make filmmaking so much fun?

From Picture Play, April 1930

Friday, August 11, 2017

The comedy and tragedy of life in “Phantom of the Range” 1928

Long considered to be inaccessible in the United States although existing in several formats in Spain and South America (including an original 35mm print at Instituto Valenciano De Cinematografia in Valencia, Spain), “Phantom of the Range” 1928 is one of those Tom Tyler silent films that entertains, combining an American western landscape along with Keatonesque, Greek theatre, and Shakespearean elements into a smooth, cohesive plot. The provenance of this FBO silent film on Youtube is from 16mm and VHS copy elements combined together. Uploaded to Youtube on August 2, 2017, one week before what would be Tom's 114th birthday, “Phantom of the Range” takes both a dramatic and comical look at the life of a cowboy would-be actor would-be cowboy stranded in a small western town.

“Phantom of the Range” opens with a dramatic scene: Duke Carlton (Tom Tyler), the woman who loves him (Marjorie Zier), and her father. A verbal fight takes place, and the older man shoots Duke dead. The woman is distraught, and in turn, turns a gun on herself, literally dying in Duke's arms. No intertitle card is necessary for this part: the father's facial expression and lip movements clearly convey what has he done to lose his only living family member. As the scene closes out, the viewer observes this to be taking place on a theatre stage, a piano player providing music, and the curtain coming down. The actors come out and take a bow. Sitting in the front row of the audience is a starstruck young lady by the name of Patsy O'Brien (Duane Thompson), her little brother Danny (Frankie Darro), and her grandfather Tim (Charles McHugh), owner of a milk cow ranch. The close proximity of Patsy and her family, not to mention their frequent attendance to Duke's performances, suggest there will be a relationship between the two of them, perhaps sooner than expected, which will be very beneficial to Duke throughout the film.

The viewer is next taken to the town center of Prattsville, where Duke's acting troupe is temporarily stranded due to financial reasons. Duke is standing on the front porch of the Grand Hotel in this small western town, dressed in his best suit and looking around, when his fellow acting troupe member Vera Van Swank (Mitzi Morgan in the Spanish version of this film) (Marjorie Zier) comes out and has a few words with Duke, asking why they have been working as actors in small towns instead of larger cities. In return Duke tells her that once she can act in the “comedy of life” she will be considered a great actor, worthy of being able to make it to big city acting jobs. Vera/Mitzi touches Duke's arm, which he gently removes, one of her many advances that he rebuffs throughout the film. Being stranded in what seems an out-of-the-way place to the couple, Duke can resort to cowpunching if he has to, even though he finds it a step backward in his life, after working so hard to move up in life to a more socially mobile career, acting. Temporarily distracted, Duke happens to see Patsy with her family pull up their horse-drawn wagon to the general store after they unload heavy milk cans full of their product. Once the task is done, Tim and Danny go inside the store, while Patsy's eye catches Tom on the porch of the hotel. She walks over to him, staring, totally star struck, pleased to be able to finally meet her hero. She gestures towards him by raising her arms, placing her clasped hands beneath her chin, with a demure smile. Duke engages her in casual talk. Patsy thinks Duke's performance was marvelous, but Duke says his most recent stage act as a cowboy is nothing compared to his performance as Hamlet – here, he is trying to impress her, acting in a common social situation. Then he tells Patsy his acting troupe is next headed for Chicago, then New York, London, and Paris. Just like he told Vera/Mitzi, he is indeed acting in real life here, engaging with a fan who is a pretty girl, and clearly enamored of him.

Meanwhile, Patsy's grandfather is speaking with another man by the name of Walter Corbin (James Pierce) who has made an offer to purchase the O'Brien milk cow ranch. Corbin becomes irate when Tim O'Brien tells him his ranch is not for sale, and in turn pushes the elderly man hard enough so that he falls onto the ground. The event transpires right in front of Duke, and even though he is dressed in his best suit, complete with a fashionable cane in hand, proceeds to take on Corbin in a fistfight. The two men brawl on the street while a crowd gathers, with Patsy and her family egging Duke on. The crowd dissipates, and Patsy is proud of the way Duke handled Corbin. For Duke, this is the right moment of opportunity when Patsy offers him a job working on their ranch, once he tells her that he is retiring from acting. A career on the road and being stranded has taken its toll on Duke, and he longs for something different, not to mention needing money to pay a debt. Tim immediately makes Duke an offer up front in cash to pay for the acting troupe's hotel and costume trunk bills. The O'Briens are happy to make Duke a temporary part of the family, with Patsy being especially happy since she has fallen in love with him. More importantly, Duke and Danny instantly become buddies, the little boy having a role model that he could look up to.

Duke Carlton arrives at the O'Brien ranch dressed as a cowboy, a button-down shirt, scarf, jeans and boots, arriving upon his famous horse, Flashlight. Not only does he look the part well – it was after all his previous career – but he is enthusiastic with his new job, with part of the enthusiasm coming from his new found relationship with one of his devoted fans. What can possibly be a better motivator for Duke, than being in love with his new boss? Unfortunately for him, the road is rocky from the beginning: as soon as Duke learns he was hired to help milk cows and tend to all tasks in the production of milk products including churning butter, he balks at the idea of working with milk cows. Duke even tells Patsy that he is a cow puncher, not a milking machine. He is apologetic, even walks away, although grateful that she offered him a job on her ranch. At this point Duke is hoping that he might be able to get another job as a cow puncher in Prattsville. But all of a sudden, Duke changes his mind again, possibly to save face with Patsy, but really out of his love for her. He is willing to give this job a chance, milking cows, after all, what does he have to lose?

It is not long before Duke soon discovers that milking cows, as with anything else, he must act the part. For one thing, he cannot seem to sit on a stool next to a cow without having its tail whack him in his face. Then there is the problem of his actually milking the cow; no milk is coming, and he does not have a clue how to manipulate the udders, even after Patsy does a demonstration for him. On the verge of giving up, Patsy instead has him clean the stables. But that too proves to have its challenges: Duke cannot stand the smell of the stables, so he grabs a clothespin and attaches it to his nose before he starts pitching hay. Danny comes out of the house, sees Duke and starts to laugh, for the sight of his hero with a clothespin on his nose is nothing short of hilarious. None of this is funny to Duke, who considers everything that has happened to him so far to be a tragedy. Duke is not speaking in the modern sense of the word tragedy, but in the Aristotelian sense; furthermore, he is aware that trying to milk cows – something he has never done before – was in fact a humbling experience. Duke appears dejected, but summons enough positive energy to exlain to Danny that he is probably better off being onstage in a theatre, instead of acting through life. As Shakespeare wrote in “Hamlet”:

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!


While speaking to Danny, Duke finally removes the clothespin from his nose, sucks it up, and continues pitching hay in order to get at least an honest day's work done. The viewer next sees Duke sitting in front of a butter churn, all by himself, Keatonesque in expression and trying to be fully involved with the task but once again, as with milking the cows, is emotionally divorced from what he is doing. Patsy appreciates Duke's efforts to some degree, and her encouragement of him is more out of love than anything else. He did not permit his pride from taking the job on the O'Brien ranch to begin with, and as he fell in love with Patsy, the lady of the ranch, still wanted to make good with her family, repaying their kindness and generosity in his time of need.


Corbin however still has his eye on acquiring the O'Brien ranch and shows up at their front door, thinking that he could at least get elderly Tim to sign the papers simply by talking to him, and not have him spend too much time reading the document. Patsy sees Corbin and asks him why the interest in her family's property. Duke joins Patsy, and they get Corbin to leave, which he does, only to rendezvous with Vera/Mitzi since she is in on the ranch deal. Being smart, Duke catches on, and seeks her out himself, only to be shown a letter regarding the $100,000.00 offer for the O'Brien ranch. Duke and Corbin engage in a major fistfight in Corbin's office. Corbin is knocked out cold, and Duke leaves on horseback headed for the O'Brien ranch to prevent its sale. Vera/Mitzi follows Duke all the way back to the O'Brien ranch with ulterior motives on her mind: to procure the sale of the ranch. She heads over to the ranch, opens the front door, and makes a beeline for him in the living room, draping her arms around his shoulders. But Duke rebuffs her, and Vera/Mitzi tells Patsy that she and Duke are married and have children. Just as Duke told her on the porch of the Grand Hotel in the center of town, Vera/Mitzi is acting in the comedy of life, and pulls it off too well, well enough for Duke to be angry with her. Patsy is horrified at hearing this news and demands to know the truth about Duke's marital status, for she loves him very much, hoping to eventually marry him. Duke denies being married to Vera/Mitzi, is asked to leave the house, and heads out the front door, beckoning to Danny to follow him. Soon Duke is hot on the trail of Corbin's henchmen, getting involved in a few more brawling fistfights, rescuing a man tied to a tree, and wraps up the final chapter of the film in high speed pursuit, preventing Tim O'Brien from selling the ranch to Corbin.

“Phantom of the Ranch” is divided into five parts, or acts, as a theatre performance might be, from the very beginning of the film; there is no separation of Tom Tyler as actor playing an actor between his final stage performance which unexpectedly ended his acting career, and the plot of the film. What seems unusual is the fact that the opening scenes are identical to the last scene in the movie with one exception: instead of being shot, and his lover committing suicide, Tom as Duke Carlton ends up living happily ever after with Patsy O'Brien. Duke's acting at real life in “Phantom of the Range” is pulled off so well, he could have well been a real-life Hamlet in the making, a hero borne out of a tragic figure, someone who was playing a fool acting in the comedy of life. Duane Thompson is Tom's love interest, and the couple previously teamed up in FBO's “The Desert Pirate” (1927). What “Phantom of the Range” explores are one of the many unlimited possibilities of what roles one plays when meeting with a favorite actor. This theme was to be recycled in Tom's silent film “Terror Mountain” (1928) where he played himself, although in a different setting, the snowy mountains of California.

Since he portrays a small-town theatre actor in “Phantom of the Range”, someone who dreamed of making it big, Tom Tyler comes across as the type of actor who could just as well have shared the stage with big names from earlier centuries, such as David Garrick (18th century) or William Grattan Tyrone Power (early 19th century). Tom was not RADA trained although his acting could certainly pass for it. When he was in his teens, Tom's desire was to be a dramatic actor like Hobart Bosworth or Eddie Polo, according to the article “The Sucker Who Succeeded”, by Dorothy Calhoun, in the July 1928 issue of Motion Picture Classics magazine. Oddly enough, Polo was known as “Hercules of the Screen” during his silent film years, having made a series of western film shorts, exhibiting his physically demanding stunts. If Tom Tyler's desire was to be an actor like Eddie, he sure came close to it, possibly even one better; with the advent of sound film, Polo's career ended, relegating him to bit roles where he was usually uncredited.

Tom Tyler's physical stunts are nothing short of spectacular, when he mounts Flashlight from the rear with extreme ease, the handful of fighting scenes, most notably the one where he is fully dressed in his best suit. Directed by James Dugan and written by Frank Howard Clark and Oliver Drake, “Phantom of the Range” remains an important find despite its lack of professional restoration, music accompaniment, and English intertitles. “Phantom of the Range” is just one of Tom Tyler's many silent films which holds a special legacy in Hollywood history, and is of interest to the wider hero/superhero archetype film community due to the upcoming “Shazam!” movie and the frequent reference to his portrayal of Captain Marvel in recent news stories. For these reasons, “Phantom of the Range” is a silent film that shows the depth of Tom Tyler's acting ability, and is enjoyable and entertaining at the same time.