Saturday, February 16, 2019

A voice perfect for talkies: Tom Tyler in “West of Cheyenne”

Tom Tyler in "West of Cheyenne" 1931
Once Tom Tyler’s silent film career finally wound down by the end of 1930 – his last one being “Canyon of Missing Men” for Syndicate Pictures –  he had to adjust to the brand-new invention known as synchronized sound film, better known as talkies in order to keep his career going. By 1930, most cinemas made the transition to sound pictures but Tom was not quite ready for it. He held out on the new sound pictures for as long as he could, reportedly due to his foreign accent, according to his friend and screenwriter Oliver Drake, as mentioned in “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman. Even though Tom Tyler was born in America (his birth name was Vincent [Wincenty] Markowski), like many children of recent European immigrants, spoke his native language at home while speaking English outside the family. Cinema patrons who never had the opportunity to meet Tom Tyler in person and listen to him speak could only imagine what his voice sounded like at the height of his silent film career. Tom Tyler was after all the epitome of outdoors virility in Hollywood, should he not also have the perfect voice to match his looks, personality and physical strength?

In fact, Tom Tyler did indeed have a voice that met the above qualifications and made him perfect for talkies. Once he got together with one of Drake’s friends, J. Frank Glendon, taking a series of enunciation lessons in order to lose his accent. As with the horseback riding lessons in order to get that star contract with FBO in 1925, Tom worked hard at his enunciation, and after making one test talkie short for Pathé in 1930, “Half Pint Polly”, was well on his way to successfully transitioning to talkies. “West of Cheyenne” was a milestone in Tom Tyler’s career, probably just as exciting for him as for when he made “Let’s Go Gallagher” in 1925, his first starring role in a silent film. The story was simple enough in Tom’s first talkie, about a young man whose father was framed for murder and held captive in a forbidden town known as Ghost City. Written by Bernard Cohen and Oliver Drake, the movie was produced and directed by Harry S. Webb, who would continue to direct a number of Tom Tyler movies in the 1930’s, sometimes using the name Henri Samuels.

With the release of “West of Cheyenne”, Tom’s voice was stressed in press kits, obviously to encourage fans and cinema patrons in general to attend showings of this movie. Even film reviews like the one in Variety March 4, 1931 which describes the plot in “West of Cheyenne” as somewhat of a routine western, touts Tom Tyler’s voice as being the best part of the movie. It is doubtful that Tom Tyler’s first talkie was a put off for those who have long appreciated and admired his work. Perhaps the most important question was, “How distinct was Tom’s voice?” to those who have never heard him speak on film. In response to that question, the answer is, “very distinct” - distinct enough to pick out on a radio show, had Tom been a radio actor. In the newspapers, cinema ads described Tom’s voice as splendid (The Amarillo Globe-Times, Amarillo, TX, October 9, 1931). For those of us who take sound film for granted, the majority of us having been born during the sound era, it may be hard to imagine the pleasant surprise of hearing Tom Tyler speak for the first time in a movie. Along with the usual treats of action, hard riding, hard fighting, and moments of tenderness with his leading lady Josephine Hill, Tom Tyler never disappoints.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Tom Tyler and Lon Chaney Jr: The Perfect Match

The son of a very famous silent film actor – one better known as “The man of a thousand faces” - Lon Chaney Jr. usually is not the first name that comes to mind when discussing B-westerns of the 1930’s.  While he certainly has the looks and demeanor that make him the perfect heavy in a western, the craggy faced actor has in fact appeared in a number of low-budget westerns dating back to the early 1930’s, often billed under his given name, Creighton Chaney. Lon Chaney Jr. has appeared with stars such as Dorothy Gulliver, Tom Keene, and Gene Autry in low-budget westerns. In “Cheyenne Rides Again” (1937), Lon teams up with a different kind of western star, Tom Tyler, who turns in one of his best performances in a B-western. Lon Chaney Jr. not only gets to see one of Hollywood’s handsomest men up close and in person – but also gets to witness Tom’s athletic prowess. How incredible and impressive is that, for an actor like Lon to appear in a movie with Tom Tyler? In Lon Chaney Jr.’s case, not only did he get to witness Tom’s physical strength in action – but also experience it.

Playing the cattle rustler Girard – even that name sounds clichéd for Lon, evoking a noir image of gangsters ready to pull a bank job – Lon is in many ways the perfect match for Tom Tyler. The onscreen chemistry is there, the hero and the heavy, when the two men are sizing up each other, and ready to throw the first punch. For example, when Girard and his men are in Tom’s living room, anxious to get their hands on the 10,000 dollars that Tom confiscated from them and hid in the room they are standing in, the camera pans each man back and forth. Lon Chaney Jr. looks like he just drove in from a dust storm, while Tom is wearing his skintight white shirt, complete with the black lace bow in front and the side zippers, showing off his physical assets. Being disarmed, Tom feigns a plan to hand the money over to Girard, and in turn, catches the rustlers off guard, sending them across the room using a backward push while standing on a chair in front of the fireplace. Tom sends pieces of furniture at them, a chair or table narrowly missing some of the crooks, while a displaced sofa takes a beating. Girard reaches for his gun, aims and shoots at Tom, who dives out a closed window, narrowly escaping the bullet.

Girard knows that Tom is a Cattlemen’s Protective agent and exposes him as such when they are in a house with Rollins (Ted Lorch) and Gleason (Ed Cassidy) the two men who were about to approve Tom as a fellow rustler. Tom moves quickly, engaging in an all-out brawl but meets a roadblock in the form of Girard’s gun which knocks him out temporarily. Once Tom finds a way to escape and lead Girard and his gang in the direction of the sheriff, his mission is accomplished, and the money is returned to its owners, the cattle ranchers.

As the heavy, Lon Chaney Jr. certainly holds his own against Tom Tyler, and because Tom’s onscreen characters are usually portrayed as being clever, so is Girard in “Cheyenne Rides Again”. To the viewer who watches this movie for the first time, the only question is: “When will Tom’s nemesis finally catch up with him?”

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Icelandic titles of Tom Tyler films

From Visir, Reykjavik, June 5, 1932
As with other European nations, Iceland was included  on the list inventoried by FBO to show Tom Tyler films in the mid- to late 1920's. Iceland proved to be very receptive to the established star of westerns produced by FBO, then later on, a handful of Monogram films, and of course “Stagecoach” (1939). In one cinema listing in the newspaper Alþýðublaðið (May 25, 1928), Tom is described as “one of the most famous and handsome cowboy actors”. In some cases, some of Tom's silent films were released under their own American title without translation: “The Sonora Kid”, and  “The Cowboy Musketeer”. The Iceland newspapers in which Tom Tyler’s cinema listings appeared in are: AlþýðublaðiðNorðlingur, Morgunblaðið, Vísir, Neisti, and Lögberg. With thanks to Tí, here is a small list of Tom Tyler movies shown in Iceland between 1926 and 1941:

From Einherji, October 8, 1936

Silent films:

Æringinn – Born to Battle 1926

Hefndar riddarinn – Cyclone of the Range 1927

Án dóms og laga – When the Law Rides 1928

Riddarinn fífldjarfi – Gun Law 1929

Í ræningjaklóm - Idaho Red 1929

Í vargaklóm – The Pride of Pawnee 1929


Maðurinn frá Dauðadalnum - The Man from Death Valley 1931

Í dal dauðans – Galloping Thru 1931

Póstvagninn – Stagecoach 1939

Captain Marvel – Adventures of Captain Marvel 1941

Sunday, January 20, 2019

From FBO to RKO: Transitioning company ownership

In "Powdersmoke Range", Tom's first movie for RKO
By the time Tom Tyler made his twenty-fourth silent film for FBO - “The Avenging Rider” (1928), released on October 7, 1928, his studio contract would be near its end, primarily due to company ownership change, and its final transition to talkies. The advent of sound pictures for Hollywood film studios meant several things: one, the commercialization of synchronized sound, which now became affordable for studios which made a tidy profit on making and releasing silent films; two, the ability for the cinema patrons to appreciate the voices of their favorite actors as they were in real life; and three, the marriage of moving images and sound the way Thomas Edison, the inventor of each, the way he originally intended. Most importantly, the careers of silent film stars faced a major challenge, and those who were able to transition to sound pictures were the lucky ones, especially those who made films of the western genre during the silent film period. Tom Tyler was one of those actors, along with Bob Steele, Tim McCoy, Harry Carey Sr, and Hoot Gibson.

A poster for "The Texas Tornado" in Swedish
Tom made five more silent films that were released between October 23, 1928, and June 9, 1929, “The Pride of Pawnee” being his last for FBO. With the studio undergoing ownership changes, it was decided that Tom’s contract run out and not be renewed by RKO Productions, possibly due to the fact Tom was not really ready yet for talkie pictures; he was one of the very last leading men of the silent film era to make silent films during the year 1930.

The year before Tom first started making silent films for FBO, the company was primarily engaged in the distribution of silent films. As the years went on though, in the mid- to late 1920’s, Joseph Kennedy Sr. discovered that by having several subsidiaries, the silent films produced by his studio could gain worldwide popularity – and they did. In Tom Tyler’s case, many of his westerns filmed at FBO wound up being distributed across Europe, as many European newspaper cinema show listings can attest; even more beneficially, a number of these silent film copies wound up being saved, eventually finding their way into film archives such as EYE in Amsterdam and Filmoteka in Brussels, Belgium.

From Motion Picture News, February 2, 1929
In 1927 Joseph Kennedy was approached by David Sarnoff, the then general manager of RCA who wanted to use Photophone in the affordably run FBO studio. Harvard Business Reports 1930 states that RKO was a subsidiary of Radio Corporation of America, created to take over FBO and its subsidiaries. RCA also took interest in Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO), which owned a circuit of theatres, the latter desiring to transition to the film business. The company merger between FBO and KAO proved to be successful, and by 1929, William Le Baron was vice-president of RKO Productions in charge of production, sound-proofing all stages formerly under the FBO name. For FBO, it was a final goodbye to the silent film era, and ushered in the sound era, and for RKO, the landmark sound release was “Syncopation” in 1929, starring Barbara Bennett and Ian Hunter, and for a produced movie, “Street Girl” that same year.

With Harry Carey Sr in "The Last Outlaw" 1936
So even though RKO decided against keeping Tom Tyler on and renewing his contract in hopes of prepping him for upcoming sound pictures, that did not mean a permanent goodbye to the newly named company by any means. Tom continued to appear in RKO films such as “Powdersmoke Range” in 1935, “The Last Outlaw” in 1936, “Valley of the Sun” in 1942, “The Princess and the Pirate” in 1944, “Return of the Badmen” and “Blood on the Moon” in 1948.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

“'Neath Western Skies” 1929 Tom Tyler silent film at Flickr

It appears that yet again another lost Tom Tyler film – at least a segment of one – has popped up, this time, at the Library of Congress.

Fourteen frames of “'Neath Western Skies” (1929) have initially been posted at Nitrate Film Interest Group as an unidentified film snippet on December 12, 1018. These frames came from a digitized file, made from a 35mm nitrate print at the Library of Congress. This film print snippet lasts just under two minutes. That this film print was digitized is amazing, and tinted at that, in a rich brown color, perfectly suitable for a late 1920's western. Of the 14 frames at Flickr, Tom appears in only two of them, but they are well worth viewing: 

'Neath Western Skies 1929

'Neath Western Skies 1929

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Climbing through windows

One of Tom Tyler’s more entertaining yet common athletic stunts in his starring roles involves climbing through windows. Most of the time it is to escape a band of crooks – or to avoid someone wanting to acquire information Tom has but is not ready to give out. Sometimes however, Tom climbs through a window to enter a house, not because the front door is locked, but in order to meet with someone in confidence, such as a girlfriend. In the latter case, Tom snuck into a house more than once just to do that, as he did in “Cheyenne Rides Again”, “The Laramie Kid”, and “Deadwood Pass”. When it came to escaping those who he knew were after him in a closed room, however, Tom took the easy route – climbing over the window sill when the window is open, most of the times by himself, sometimes with another person, as when he left the courtroom in “Fighting Hero” with Conchita in order to protect her from a frame-up job.

"Cheyenne Rides Again"
Most fascinating, however, are Tom’s projectile jumps through closed windows. This is evident in movies like “Single Handed Saunders”, “Phantom of the Range” (1936), and “Cheyenne Rides Again”, and for the viewer who has seen “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, will find that Tom Tyler did in fact have lots of practice performing such stunts, even though Republic Pictures stuntman David Sharpe executed all of the tumbling stunts in this famous film serial. In some cases, Tom performs a simple jump through a closed window, as in “Two Fisted Justice”.

While climbing or projectile jumping through windows sounds easy, Tom Tyler certainly makes these stunts look effortless enough to amuse the viewer and never getting hurt in the process. Still, as they say, “Don’t try this at home” - leave it to professionals like Tom Tyler.

"Two Fisted Justice"

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Happy Holidays from Aventuras de Tom Tyler!

First of all – thank you to everyone who has visited both this blog and since its inception in January 2015. As well, thank you to everyone who has emailed me about this site, the accolades are very much appreciated, and it’s been a long time in coming for Tom Tyler to have a dedicated website. When I first built this site, I had no idea it would become this huge. The amount of digital material accumulated was lightning fast – with thanks to Lantern Media History,, international publication databases, and many other sites, including film archives here in the states plus around the world.

It could be that much of Tom Tyler’s silent film career during the mid- to late 1920’s lay “dormant” and inaccessible to the general public until very recently, which, thanks to the above named websites and databases – which have become alive with their cast members, plots, and production notes on Aventuras de Tom Tyler, along with available images of each silent film Tom made for FBO. Best of all, more of Tom’s lost films continue to be rediscovered, perhaps the biggest rediscovery to date being “Jungle Mystery” which was restored by Universal in 2016 and showcased at Cinecon 52. As to whether Universal will release this famous film serial on DVD remains to be seen although there is a better chance of another home distributor licensing “Jungle Mystery” from Universal – it’s been done before and it can be done again.

Of course, any other news about Tom Tyler’s movie career will be mentioned on Aventuras de Tom Tyler will be mentioned, too. In the meantime – Happy Holidays 2018 and Happy New Year 2019!