Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Calling Agent Tom: Espionage in Tom Tyler’s movies

"The Man from Death Valley" 1931
The average Tom Tyler B-western of the silent film and sound eras may evoke the concept of the vast undiscovered yellow plains and purple mountains beneath the pink and crimson skies, the landscape dotted with cowboys and rustlers. Very rarely a description would include the topic of espionage; surprisingly, espionage as a plot can and does exist in westerns, often in the form of rustler gang infiltration. As exciting as the action can possibly be in a Tom Tyler movie, it seems like espionage is the perfect complement to the fistfight action and suspense so prevalent in these stories.

The book “The Espionage Filmography: United States Releases, 1898 through 1999” by Paul Mavis (McFarland; 2011) lists five movies with the espionage plot; three which star Tom, one which he co-stars, and two which are not included in the Google Books preview. Following are the five entry numbers and film titles:

370. Deadwood Pass (1933). Tom is a government agent who arrives in Deadwood Pass, originally mistaken for The Hawk due to a tattoo of a Hawk on his left arm – the same spot where the real Hawk has the same tattoo. His job is to find a huge cache full of stolen loot from a robbery and bring the robbers to justice.

"When the Law Rides" (1928)
910. The Man from Death Valley (1931). Tom is a Secret Service agent who gets word about a bank heist about to take place and before the robbers can pull it off, Tom decides to rob the bank himself and keep the money in a safe spot. “The Man from Death Valley” remains a lost film.

1185. ?

1321. Samson and Delilah (1949). Based on the Biblical story, the Philistine Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) has been referred to as one of the first female spies. Spurned by the apple of her eye Samson (Victor Mature), she makes the rash decision to cut his long hair which is the symbol of his power – and later the course of Hebrew history forever. Tom has a minor role in the film as a gristmill captain.

1667. ?

1700. When the Law Rides (1928). Tom is a federal agent, a crime fighter in the form of Captain Marvel minus the red and gold superhero costume. Tom’s character is even compared to Zorro by Mavis, possibly for the stunt where Tom swings from a rope tied to the balcony of a hotel and mounting his horse from the rear. “When the Law Rides” is a lost silent film from FBO.

"Deadwood Pass" 1933

In addition to the above named titles, “Trigger Tom” (1935), “Terror of the Plains” (1934), and “West of Cheyenne” (1931) also carry this espionage subplot: Tom Tyler is in a position where he must infiltrate a gang in order to trap the rustlers and bring someone to justice.

Note: If anyone out there has a copy of this book “The Espionage Filmography: United States Releases, 1898 through 1999” or the following entries numbered 1185 and 1667 please contact me so that I can include them in this article. Credit will be given to the contributor. Thank you!





Monday, May 18, 2020

Repackaging Tom Tyler: “Brothers of the West” as “Cowboy Musketeer”

"Brothers of the West" repackaged on 16mm film
It was the following Ebay auction which caught my eye that made me think about how westerns of the 1930’s were repackaged as 16mm or 8mm/Super 8mm for home viewing: “Brothers of the West” (1937). In this case, “Brothers of the West” received the title of “Cowboy Musketeer” for the 16mm print, possibly a paean to Tom Tyler’s silent film made for FBO in 1925.

Outside of the 1925 silent film “Cowboy Musketeer” made by FBO Productions, Tom Tyler’s name has also been attached to a movie of the same name back in the early 1980’s television schedule listings.  “Cowboy Musketeer” is often accompanied by a “no date” in parentheses, along with the name Tom Keene, who was also a western star of the 1930’s:

From The Orlando Sentinel, FL, March 9, 1983

The SAT cable channel abbreviation stands for Satellite Program, with this time showing being at 6:30 AM on a Wednesday, March 9, 1983. While it cannot be determined what this movie actually was – whether it was “Brothers of the West” purchased by Satellite Program or another Tom Tyler western, the nickname “Cowboy Musketeer” seems well suited to Tom as it connotes a heroic figure, someone who seems to arrive out of nowhere to aid someone in dire need. With that, it is not wrong to consider Tom Tyler to be the “Cowboy Musketeer” of FBO.

A still of Tom in the original "The Cowboy Musketeer" 1925




Saturday, May 9, 2020

Riding the Rails: “Hollywood’s First Australian” a look at early Hollywood director J. P. McGowan

“Hollywood’s First Australian: The Adventurous Life of J. P. McGowan, The Movie Pioneer They Called ‘The Railroad Man’”. By John J. McGowan. Display Vision Productions, Norwood, South Australia. Reprint: 2016. 220 pages. 

Aged 32. From Motion Picture Story
Magazine
, February 1912
The early years of Hollywood had its share of noteworthy directors memorable in American popular culture: Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, D. W. Griffith, and Cecil B. DeMille. But one name all too often overlooked in this esteemed group is John Paterson “J. P.” McGowan, who was not only a silent film director and actor but also an innovator in the use of a motion picture camera for high-level action-adventure silent films. Written by John J. McGowan (not a known relation to J. P., or Jack as he was often called on the set), “Hollywood’s First Australian: The Adventurous Life of J. P. McGowan, The Movie Pioneer They Called ‘The Railroad Man’” documents the life and career of a Hollywood director who became famous through plenty of sweat and blood – sometimes more of the latter, due to injuries experienced by cast members performing stunts on the set. Like Jack’s life and career, the book is written like an adventure, gripping for the reader, the creation of much research conducted both in Australia where he was born, as well as Hollywood, primarily at Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, and Hollywood Museum Collection. John J. McGowan also shares rare photos of Jack and his family from The Gilmour Collection, begun by his mother Marion and younger sister Dorothy. While Jack became an American citizen shortly after coming to the United States in 1904 to re-enact a performance of the Boer War at the St. Louis World Fair, he never turned his back on his Australian roots; if anything, he strongly drew upon these roots to establish himself as one of early Hollywood’s directors. Likewise, Jack’s experience as a horseman came from his being a dispatch rider for Montmorency's Scouts during the Boer War in South Africa. Saving many rare documents and photos about his career, Jack sent these home to his family in Australia for safe keeping.

John J. McGowan traces Jack McGowan’s early life back to Terowie, South Australia, a town with a population of 5,000 when the railway was built in 1880. This is most certainly a significant year for Jack, being born on February 24 that year to Thomas Kennedy McGowan and Marion Paterson McGowan, who immigrated to Australia from Plymouth, England only two years earlier. It was the exposure to the railway Jack’s father worked on, and later Jack himself, which led him to gain enough experience to create exciting action-adventure silent films with the rail as the focus of the plot. These films expanded Hollywood’s offerings to the viewing public in addition to the many romance stories and comedies that frequently played across the country. Westerns with stars like William S. Hart  provided some degree of action, but nothing could compare to the fast-moving trains and daring stunts performed by Jack and his wife Helen Holmes in “The Hazards of Helen”, a film series (versus a film serial, which relies upon a set of chapters each ending with a cliffhanger) which lasted for 119 episodes, each 12-minute single reel story complete unto itself but utilizing the same set of characters. Some of the other stuntmen in “The Hazards of Helen” episodes include the future western star Leo D. Maloney, and comic Harold Lloyd. It is worth noting that Jack McGowan’s use of trains and stunts predates that of Buster Keaton in “One Week” (1920), “The General” (1926) and “Speak Easily” (1932). Buster performed dangerous stunts on a train in the style of Jack McGowan in “The General”, which may as well be a paean to McGowan’s innovative use of trains, stunt work, and the movie camera.

From The Moving Picture World, September 15, 1917
Jack McGowan’s film career began in 1909 with Kalem Company in New York City, where he first got his feet wet acting in one-reel films like “The Lad from Old Ireland” (1910) and “Far from Erin’s Isle”(1911). Sidney Olcott directed the bulk of these films, but it was not long before Jack started directing himself in 1911, his debut being “A Prisoner of Mexico”.  Kalem soon became known for shooting on location in countries like Ireland, and more exotic places like Bethlehem, Egypt and Jerusalem, as it did for “From the Manger to the Cross”, a life of Jesus, in 1912. Jack McGowan portrayed the apostle Andrew; a publicity sheet was distributed to cinemas with his likeness on it, set in what appears to be a genuine Biblical era. It was Jack’s rugged good looks, combined with his physical size (over 6 feet tall), muscular build, dark hair and large, dark brown eyes that made him perfect for silent film and the strenuous demands of the rail films he made.

A poster for "Stormy Seas" 1923
Nicknamed “Let’s Go McGowan” for his penchant for yelling “Let’s Go!” to cast and crew in making a film, Jack’s love of making exciting action-adventure films was infectious, and to say he and his crew had fun doing what they did is an understatement. It was not just Jack’s work ethic but his sense of daring, his approach to performing some incredibly dangerous stunts which on more than one occasion ended up with an extensive hospital stay. Combine the hard work and adventurous element, Jack was like a modern teenage boy looking for fun and having it. He owned two different production companies, Signal Films, then later, J. P. McGowan productions, creating an output that remains unrivaled during the 1910’s and 1920’s. In 1913, Jack directed 31 films; in 1925, 36 films; and in 1929, 22 films. One of the reasons Jack was still making silent films as late as 1930 for his own production company was cost. While sound film, or “talkies”, was possible then due to technology, it was also expensive, not something a small production company could afford for every movie, especially with an average of 20 plus movies being made per year. Jack often acted in the films he directed during the late 1920’s, and by the time silent film was being phased out and sound films were being made, he lost his Australian accent. His voice proved to be perfect for sound films, a mellifluous baritone reaching villainous depths which suited many of the roles he played.

From Motion Picture News, March 3, 1917
What is striking, perhaps not so surprisingly, about “Hollywood’s First Australian”  is why Jack McGowan is considered to be one of the most important men from Holllywood’s earliest days. In this manner, he can be compared to Ernie Kovacs and his use of the television camera during the late 1940’s to 1950’s, exploiting its use to maximum capability, while Jack McGowan used every trick he knew in the implementation of a motion picture camera onto moving trains, cars,  and motorcycles. In other words, if an object moved and entered within range of the camera lenses, it was considered to be usable, offering substance to the completed film.  John J McGowan also takes note of Jack’s use of a camera mounted at the front of the car (nowadays the hood) to film the inside of the car through the windshield plus the rear window – a method still used today by motion picture directors.

Jack McGowan’s most meaningful contribution to Hollywood after his many years of filming was as Executive Secretary for the Screen Directors Guild (now known as Directors Guild of America), which began in 1936. When the Motion Picture Producers Association (now known as Motion Picture Association of America) was formed in 1922, the organization’s intent was to prevent the existence of unions among actors and film writers but eventually failed. With this new union for movie directors coming into play, the MPPA wasted no time in trying to vanquish the guild. Jack’s people skills came strongly into play once again, fighting for the creative rights and salaries of directors who on more than one occasion had to butt heads with the studio owners. John J McGowan stresses that while Jack certainly kept company with the best of the A-list directors like John Ford and D. W. Griffith which helped keep him in the business until at least 1939, Jack never joined that esteemed list, although not doing so certainly did not diminish his contributions to Hollywood in any way.

"Stormy Seas" 1923
Originally titled “J. P. McGowan: Biography of a Hollywood Pioneer” (McFarland and Company, 2005), the main reason for this reprint is The Gilmour Collection, as mentioned by John J McGowan in the Preface to the Second Edition. The Gilmour Collection is presented into several small chapters documenting the different periods of Jack’s life. John J. also includes an extensive filmography which spans 77 pages, starting with Jack’s film career in New York back in 1909 and ending in 1939. The filmography contains notes regarding unconfirmed film appearances like John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1930) as well as some but not all extant film prints and commercial availability. Nevertheless, the filmography is worth glancing through, just to get a grasp of Jack McGowan’s energetic level of film making. Sadly, much of his earliest work is lost, particularly many of the episodes of “The Hazards of Helen”.

                                                                   ~

Tom Tyler first worked with Jack McGowan in 1929, soon after Tom’s contract with FBO expired that year. It is possible this was not the first time Tom became familiar with the name J. P. McGowan, as Jack directed a number of movies for Robertson-Cole Productions, the distributor for FBO’s films. Even though Tom and Jack were different in personality, they both came from working class backgrounds and loved their work. Tom Tyler’s introvert was a perfect complement to Jack’s extrovert, people-person personality. In a way Tom’s work ethic helped fuel Jack’s new production company under his own name, affording him the ability to crank out just as many movies in 1929 as he did back during the 1910’s.

J. P. McGowan in "Deadwood Pass", 1933
“The Man from Nevada” was the first of eight silent films Tom starred in for Jack McGowan, released in August 29, followed by “Law of the Plains”, “The Phantom Rider”, “The Lone Horseman”, “Pioneers of the West” and “’Neath Western Skies”. In 1930, “Canyon of Missing Men” and “Call of the Desert” were the last two silent films Tom made for J. P. McGowan productions, but this was hardly the last time the two men would work with each other.  With Jack now directing for the recently-formed Monogram Pictures, he got the chance to work with Tom again, this time in “The Man from New Mexico” (1931). Jack then directed Tom for three Monarch Productions westerns: “When a Man Rides Alone” (1932), “Deadwood Pass” (1933), and “War of the Range” (1933). Unlike his own productions where Jack often appeared in the movie, he only had one role than can best be described as a cameo role in “Deadwood Pass” where he plays a character called “The Chief” - a nickname sometimes attributed to the director of a movie. As “The Chief” though, Jack gets shot by one of the henchmen in the gang Tom infiltrated. The last time Tom Tyler and J. P. McGowan worked together in major roles would be “Fighting Hero” (1934), a western which pays tribute to Tom Tyler’s silent film years – and also pays tribute to Jack McGowan’s late silent film years as playing the villain Morales. Sadly, J. P. McGowan died two years before Tom Tyler did at the age of 72 on March 26, 1952, from heart failure.


To purchase a copy of “Hollywood’s First Australian”, click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Betty Grable with Tom Tyler – and remakes of “Galloping Thru”

The name Betty Grable hardly needs any introduction to those familiar with Hollywood’s Golden Age. While her popularity was at its height during the 1940’s and 1950’s, prior to those two decades her film appearances were confined to B-movies. One of these low-budget movies Betty was originally slated to appear in was “Galloping Thru” – with Tom Tyler as her leading man, as stated by the author Michael R. Pitts in his book "Astor Pictures: A Filmography and History of the Reissue King, 1933-1965”. On the surface this does not sound so far-fetched; Tom himself was the first choice to play the lead role in F. W. Murnau’s 1931 epic film “Tabu: A Story of the South Seas”.  That never happened, and as fate would have it, Betty Grable would never have the chance to play opposite Tom although her looks, charm and personality were certainly a match for his. There was a reason Betty was called “The Pin-Up Girl” in the 1940’s, that familiar pose of her showing off her legs, wearing a swimsuit that became a ubiquitous image during World War 2. Matched with a weightlifting champion by the name of Tom Tyler, such a pairing might have opened the door to more movies for both stars, possibly even A-list movies, at least sooner for Betty.

After Betty died in 1973 at the age of 56, a number of movie contracts both signed and unsigned survived and were eventually put up for auction. One of the unsigned contracts was for Trem Carr Pictures, which produced the Tom Tyler Monogram movies of the early 1930’s. One of these movies was “Galloping Thru”, but the contract stipulated that she was to use her first stage name of Francis Dean. Betty Grable never signed the contract, perhaps in the hope her next role might be in an A-list movie. That however did not happen until 1940 when she replaced actress Alice Faye in “Down Argentine Way”, finally establishing herself as an A-list actress with Twentieth Century Fox studio, becoming their biggest – and highest paid – star by 1947. While Betty Grable did not have the opportunity to play opposite Tom Tyler, Betty Mack did. The second Betty worked with Tom before, playing his leading lady in “God’s Country and the Man”, “Partners of the Trail”, and “The Man from Death Valley”, all released in 1931. Astor Pictures re-released "Galloping Thru" in 1939, eight years after its initial release by Monogram Pictures.

~

Movie remakes in Hollywood is hardly a new trend; the practice dates back to silent film years. Tom Tyler’s earliest movie remake of the sound era is “Terror of the Plains” (1934) – remade from “West of Cheyenne” (1931), his first feature-length sound movie. The second remake was “Coyote Trails” (1935), from “Ridin’ Thru” (1934), minus the element of the dude ranch in the plot. The Monogram movie “Galloping Thru” has its share of remakes too, but has a double lineage, depending upon the plot elements being counted, as well as the documenting sources. The history of remakes of “Galloping Thru” as listed here come from the book "Becoming John Wayne: The Early Westerns of a Screen Icon, 1930-1939” By Larry Powell, Jonathan H. Amsbary, and from IMDB. The John Wayne book has “Galloping Thru” being remade three times; IMDB, two times. What makes the two lineages really interesting is this: there are a total of five different writers involved with these remakes, creating minor variations in the story without disturbing the main story elements which qualify as a remake.

“Becoming John Wayne” remake lineage of “Galloping Thru”:

Galloping Thru 1931:
Director: Lloyd Nosler
Writers: Wellyn Totman (screenplay and story)
Stars: Tom Tyler

The Dawn Rider 1935:
Writer: Lloyd Nosler
Stars: John Wayne

Western Trails 1938:
Writers: Norton S. Parker and George Waggner
Stars: Bob Baker

Dawn Rider 2012:
Writer: Joseph Nasser
Stars: Christian Slater
…………………………………………………………………….

IMDB remake lineage of “Galloping Thru”:

A Son of the Plains 1931:
Writer: Robert N Bradbury
Stars: Bob Custer

Galloping Thru 1931:
Director: Lloyd Nosler
Writers: Wellyn Totman (screenplay and story)
Stars: Tom Tyler

Blue Steel 1934:
Writer: Robert N Bradbury
Stars: John Wayne

Note how IMDB places “Galloping Thru” second in the history of its remakes – after “A Son of the Plains”, written by Robert N. Bradbury. Bradbury also directed “A Son of the Plains”, “Blue Steel”, and “The Dawn Rider”. Lloyd Nosler, who directed “Galloping Thru”, also wrote the story for “The Dawn Rider”. It sounds like both Nosler and Bradbury had a hand in establishing a solid enough basic western plot that would be repeated up to the present day. It is gratifying to see a Tom Tyler B-film leading a series of remakes like this, even if the behind-the-scenes names are responsible for the “heavy lifting”. "Galloping Thru" remains a lost film.



Monday, April 20, 2020

Tom Tyler and His Pals: The Sound Era

Tom with Andy Shuford in "A Rider of the Plains"
By the early 1930’s when Tom Tyler transitioned to making sound movies, the “Tom and His Pals” marketing motto since his silent film years underwent a transition, too. For one thing, Tom’s riding partner was an adult male, sometimes in the form of Ben Corbett, Billy Franey or even George “Gabby” Hayes. One western even had an African-American as Tom’s pal – Fred “Snowflake” Toones, in “Single Handed Saunders” (1932), a rarity in itself. There remained a few exceptions to this, primarily in an attempt to recapture the magic of Tom and his pals previously seen in the silent films made for FBO. To that end, two movies produced by Trem Carr introduced a young pal to Tom’s character: “A Rider of the Plains” (1931) and “Two Fisted Justice” (1931). In 1933, Monarch Productions followed suit with “War of the Range”. Each one of these movies had a different child actor in the role of Tom’s pal, and one unique feature of these boys is, unlike Frankie Darro, these kids all had blonde hair. Following is a brief profile of the three child actors who played Tom Tyler’s pal for an hour’s length of action and adventure.

Andy Shuford

Born as William Andrew Shuford on December 16, 1919 in Helena, Arkansas, Andy was best known for his roles in “Law of the North” (1932) and “A Rider of the Plains” (1931). Andy’s first film appearance was in a Little Rascals short, “Ten Years Old” in 1927. Prior to working with Tom Tyler, he was an established child star in his own right, appearing in “The Big Trail” (1930) and “The Great Meadow” (1931). Andy played Tom’s partner Silent Sandy in “A Rider of the Plains” (1931) – so named due to his tendency to talk too much when he was not supposed to. Consequently, his mouth tended to get him into trouble. Tom remained firm with him at all times in bringing him up, for he plays a parental role to Sandy in this movie and is not just a “big pal” to the boy. Andy’s last movie appearance was in “The Mayor of Hell” (1933), which starred James Cagney. When he joined the United States Army Air Corps during World War 2, Andy left his film career behind, becoming a highly decorated pilot and achieving the rank of colonel. Andy Shuford died on May 19, 1995 at the age of 77 in Monteagle, Tennessee.

Bobby Nelson

Robert John Nelson was born on January 17, 1922 in Sana Monica, California. Acting came naturally to Bobby, the son of a silent film star and director, Jack Nelson. Bobby’s first film role came in 1926 at the age of four in the silent film “Beyond the Rockies”. His onscreen personality and charm soon led to further roles in movies, such as “Tarzan the Mighty” (1928), “Oliver Twist” (1933), and the Gene Autry film serial, “The Phantom Empire” (1935). As Danny in “Two Fisted Justice”, nine-year-old Bobby played an orphan who lost his guardians to an Indian attack, taken in by Kentucky Carson (Tom Tyler). Witnessing a murder, Danny risks losing his beloved dog Sagebrush. Very reminiscent of the silent films Tom Tyler made with Frankie Darro, who was sometimes characterized as being an orphan, Bobby’s performance was worthy of a juvenile Oscar, had the award existed in 1931 (it was introduced in 1934). But this was not Bobby’s only appearance with Tom Tyler; he also had a role as Ezra Podge in Chapter 4 of “Battling with Buffalo Bill”, also released in 1931. Bobby’s last film role was in “The Boothill Brigade” (1937), and five years later in 1942, joined the Army during World War 2. His military career lasted four years before he was discharged in 1946. As an adult, he was a public accountant. Sadly, Bobby died at the young age of 52 on December 5, 1974 in Los Angeles.

Wesley Giraud

Wesley Giraud was Tom’s last young pal Jimmy Carlysle, appearing in “War of the Range” (1933). Sporting blond hair and freckles, Wesley was born on July 1, 1918 in New York City. His first film appearance was in “One Man Law” (1932) starring Buck Jones. He also appeared in movies like “No Greater Glory” (1934) which also starred Frankie Darro, “The Plainsman” (1936), and “Boys Town” (1938). As Jimmy Carlysle, the younger brother of Grace Carlysle (Caryl Lincoln), Wesley was a natural as Tom’s young pal: the type of boy who loved the outdoors with his rugged personality, faithful pal to the very end, when Tom helps the boy on the mend after he is shot. The last movie Wesley made was “Gallant Sons” (1940). After his film career, Wesley worked in the furniture business, then as a mailman. In 1971, Wesley survived a stroke, rehabilitating while watching movies he appeared in on television. He died at the age of 74 on May 5, 1993 in San Diego, California.


Honorary mention: the adorable moppet named Bill in “Single Handed Saunders” who brings his broken wagon to Tom the Blacksmith to fix. Bill appears to have either light brown or possibly red hair. Unfortunately this young actor’s name is not credited nor mentioned anywhere on IMDB or elsewhere. If anyone knows his name, please send it to me so I can add it. Thank you!

April 21, 2020 - We have a name for this little boy! Noel Newhard, age 3 in the screencap below. His father Guy Newhard was a film actor and camera man who had a minor role as a cowboy in "Single Handed Saunders". Many thanks to JimmieFan at Nitrateville for helping to identify this young man! Read more about Noel and his father in the article given to me by JimmieFan here.




Tuesday, April 7, 2020

"Powdersmoke Range" from Movie Action Magazine digitized

As with "The Last Outlaw", "Powdersmoke Range" (1935) has not been officially released on DVD, although it has been shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). In addition to Tom Tyler, this RKO western also stars Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Bob Steele, Boots Mallory, Ray Mayer, Sam Hardy, and many other big-name western stars from that era. The story runs thirteen pages and is from Movie Action Magazine, November, 1935. To read this 9.56 MB digitized scan, click here.





Monday, April 6, 2020

“The Last Outlaw” from Boy’s Cinema digitized

Not yet officially released on DVD to my knowledge, “The Last Outlaw” (1936) is now available for viewing – as a digitized film booklet format, scanned from the December 19, 1926 issue of Boy’s Cinema, the popular British publication.  This RKO “urban-western” also stars Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson, Henry B. Walthall, and Margaret Callahan. The story runs thirteen pages, one column long. To read this 12.3 MB digitized scan, click here.