Friday, December 13, 2019

In Tom Tyler’s backyard: Arctic City Film Studios

Tom Tyler, aged 21
Back in the mid-1910’s to early 1920’s, Port Henry, New York – the hamlet where Tom Tyler was born in 1903 – had its own movie studio, Arctic City Film Studios. Having a movie studio in his backyard while growing up, then-named Vincent Markowski must have been enamored with big name actors and actresses filming there.

Built in 1915 with its concept of origin dating to at least 1914, Arctic City became the location for movies with the following settings: the west, Klondike, Yukon, Siberia, Lapland, Russia, and Eskimo. With the beautiful Adirondacks as the backdrop, it was not long before producers took advantage of the new studio and started filming there. The brainchild of “Caribou Bill” Cooper, Arctic City was quickly built, and with the earliest days of movie making being on the east coast, primarily New York City, and New Jersey, it seemed only natural to have a studio that emulated the western and northwestern frontier in exciting films. The end result of Arctic City wound up being different than what Caribou Bill originally envisioned yet it was still magnificent and up to film production standards as to what the little western town should look like. Some of the most popular film production companies made silent films at Arctic City: Solax, Vitagraph, Equitable, Edison, Peerless, Metro, Famous Players, Fox, and many others. By 1919, independent producers were able to film at Arctic City.

From Picture Play, August 1921
It seems like the good people of Port Henry were excited at the idea of having a movie studio in town, and some of the wealthy townspeople helped back the project financially. Caribou Bill had an experienced background in Alaska and out west, even had connections with Dawson City in Yukon, where 533 reels of silent film from the 1910’s and 1920’s were discovered in 1978. In 1909, Caribou Bill returned to the states and attended the Alaska-Yukon Exposition in Seattle. While at this Expo, he spoke to the men representing Vitagraph, wound up signing a contract with them, and headed straight for New York as a technical advisor for a movie set in the northwest. Even though Caribou Bill died in 1933 at the age of 61, he got to see his Arctic City studio idea come to fruition – and put Port Henry on the map. Being located only seven hours away from New York City meant that Port Henry was ideal for the many actors and actresses who worked out of the city.

From The Capital Times, Madison, WI, May 2, 1930
Even to the citizens of Port Henry who toured the Arctic City to see where their favorite stars filmed movies were impressed: a single street lined with buildings on either side, reminiscent of a late 1800's western town. Offices for mining engineers, a bank, a Ritz hotel, doctor's office, a small church, and a saloon aptly named “Aurora Borealis” made up the town. The stage at Arctic City was 80 by 100 feet in size, with full film facilities and properties that permitted the creation of a silent film from start to finish. Arctic City even had its own zoo of trained animal actors. Wild animals included Russian bears, Russian timber wolves, as well as domesticated dogs and horses for the stunts. Michael Schliesser was in charge of handling the animal stunts. These animals were very well trained and would listen to and follow commands on demand. However, the dogs always seemed to be fighting, perhaps due to the different breeds: Malemutes, or Alaskan Huskie sled dogs, and Hudson Bay dogs. Located so far north near the Canadian border, Arctic City could get very cold during the winter months – as low as 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Even Lake Champlain, the Great Lake upon which Port Henry sits, often developed a sheet of ice near the shoreline. More often than not, the movie studio shot on location in the Adirondacks: Sometimes directly on Lake Champlain, or Plattsburgh, where the famous actress Jean Arthur was born.

What must have really been exciting for the citizens of Port Henry was this: many times a movie being filmed at Arctic City would require extras to appear in the movie. It remains unknown if Vincent Markowski appeared as an extra, or if any of his immediate family members did, although the mere thought is in fact exciting and would reasonably influence his desire to become an actor when he was in his teens. One name that does pop up repeatedly in the extras is Ezra Horsefall, who resided at the local senior home in Port Henry at the time. It is probable that young Vincent, only a boy at the time before his family moved to Hamtramck, Michigan, did know at least one neighbor who was an extra at a film production in Arctic City.

Appropriately enough, in 2009, The Moriah Historical Society hosted its first Silent Film Festival. Moriah is right next to Port Henry, and also showcased films related to the area – one being “Adventures of Captain Marvel”. One chapter from this critically acclaimed film serial was exhibited, to honor Tom Tyler, who was born in Port Henry. Several chapters from “The Perils of Pauline”  were shown too. No doubt Port Henry has much to be proud of, with its Hollywood connections, and Tom Tyler.

A partial list of silent films made at Arctic City:

“The Perils of Pauline” (1914) – Directors: Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie. Writers: Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey. Stars: Pearl White and Crane Wilbur. (Note: filmed at Ausable Chasm, Ithaca, and Saranac Lake for New York locations. Saranac Lake was the first location of Caribou Bill’s movie studio before its location moved to Port Henry a year later.)

“Hearts in Exile” (1915) – Director: James Young. Writers: John Oxenham, Owen Davis. Stars: Clara Kimball Young, Montagu Love.

“The Destroyers” (1916) – Director: Ralph Ince. Writer: James Oliver Curwood and Edward J. Monagne. Stars: Lucille Lee Stewart and Huntley Gordon.

“The Long Trail” (1917) – Director: Howell Hansel. Writer: Eve Unsell. Stars: Lou Telligan and Mary Fuller.

“The Great White Trail” (1917) – Directors: Leopold Wharton, Theodore Wharton. Writers: Gardner Hunting and Leopold Wharton. Stars: Doris Kenyon and Paul Gordon.

“Vengeance Is Mine” (1917) – Director: Frank Hall Crane. Writer: John A. Moroso. Stars: Irene Castle and Frank Sheriden.

“The Tiger’s Cub” (1920) – Director: Charles Giblyn. Writers: George Goodchild, George Potter. Stars: Pearl White and  Thomas Carrigan.

“Northwind’s Malice” (1920) – Directors: Paul Bern, Carl Harbaugh. Writer: Rex Beach. Stars: Tom Santschi and Jane Thomas.

“Idol of the North” (1921) – Director: Roy William Neill. Writers: Frank S. Beresford, Tom McNamara. Stars: Dorothy Dalton and Edwin August. Lost silent film.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1927) – Director: Harry A. Pollard. Writer: Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stars: Margarita Fischer and James B. Lowe.


“Arctic City – At Twenty Below” by Leonie Nathan and Jules Cowles, Picture Play, August 1921
“Arctic Productions” Wid’s Daily, December 21, 1918
“Hero of Alaska Gold Rush is now a Movie Executive in Hollywood”, NEA Service, The Capital Times, Madison, WI, May 2, 1930.
“Caribou Bill Cooper of Old-Time Alaska Dies” The Fresno Bee, Fresno, CA, November 2, 1933.
William F. Cooper,
“Moriah and Port Henry in the Adirondacks” By Jacqueline Ann Viestenz, Frank Edgerton Martin,

Sunday, December 8, 2019

From the American West to the Unknown: A review of “Weird Western”

“Weird Western” third edition, Libro de Oro, Cinefania, ed. by Dario Rodolfo Lavia. Argentina: Buenos Aires. October 2019. 286 pages. Spanish.

The basic story elements of a western film – the land, the cowboy hero, and bad men – can allow for variations that extend to the realms of the imagination. It is not surprising then that westerns often implement elements from other genres and cultures in the story, a practice which dates back to the early years of silent film. These elements often add spice and excitement to the story, which by itself may otherwise seem repetitive to the regular cinema patron of westerns.

“Weird Western” from Cinefania is much more than a reference book on westerns of this type; it provides a wealth of information for movie trivia and general film discussion. Weird is not always strange, in this case, but rather pertains to these crossover elements blended into the red and purple mountains of the western landscape, with the prairies holding as much action as a hidden cave.

Edited by Dario Lavia, “Weird Western” covers every subgenre in chronological order: Indian Legends (confined to silent films), Weird Silents, Pre-war B-Westerns (1930 to 1941), War to Post-War (1942 to 1958), Weird Charros (a charro is a cowboy from Mexico), Weird Gaucho, Picturesque Westerns, Weird Westerns on Television, Canonical Westerns, Weird Spaghetti Westerns, Canonical Westerns, and Weird 21st Century Westerns. Five Tom Tyler westerns are included in this book: “Terror Mountain” (1928), “Tyrant of Red Gulch” (1928), “Phantom of the Range” (1936), “Orphan of the Pecos” (1937), and “The Phantom Plainsmen” (1942).

Terror Mountain” includes gangsters in a snowy setting at Big Bear Mountains near Los Angeles, while “Tyrant of Red Gulch” has a band of Russian bad men operating out of a cave hidden in the Rockies. “Phantom of the Range” contains some interesting elements such as a supposed real ghost protecting the Hiram Moore, a treasure map hidden in the painting of Hiram, a female spy doubling as a housekeeper, and an estate auction. “Orphan of the Pecos” can lay claim to being one of very few westerns which has a snake-oil salesman who also happens to be a ventriloquist – the ventriloquist element no doubt being borrowed from Edgar Bergen, Hollywood’s most famous ventriloquist of the 1930’s to 1950, before he made his mark in television thereon. The Three Mesquiteers movie “The Phantom Plainsmen” has Nazis, a Captain Marvin who owns a ranch in Wyoming, Marvin’s son Tad who is studying medicine in Germany, and enough intrigue to make it a noir western.

There are many other notable westerns of interest in “Weird Western” with big-name stars of their own eras: “Where Is This West?” (1923) with Jack Hoxie; “The Winking Idol” (1926), a film serial with William Desmond; “Gold Ghost” (1934) with Buster Keaton; “Border Phantom” (1937) with Bob Steele, and many others. The chapter of Weird Westerns on Television contain some surprising inclusions. The long-running western show “Bonanza” was known to explore unusual themes and elements, as seen in the episodes “Hoss and the Leprechaun” (1963)  and “Twilight Town” (1963). The series “The Wild Wild West” (1965 to 1969) starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, which successfully blended the western and science fiction genres to create steampunk, merits two pages in “Weird Western”.

The chapter on Canonical Westerns include movies that seem outlandish by their titles and plots but retain cult followings, such as “Billy the Kid Versus Dracula” (1966). In this movie, John Carradine plays Dracula, while Chuck Courtney is Billy the Kid. Of course, Frankenstein has to have his own western too, and does, in “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” (1966), with John Lupton as Jesse, and Narda Onyx as Dr. Maria Frankenstein. For the Weird 21st Century Westerns, “Jonah Hex” (2010), “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011),   and “Bone Tomahawk” (2015) are covered, among others.

Each entry for these and the other films mention the director, production company, date of release, main stars, and a description of what makes these westerns so far from the usual wagon trails. Full-color movie posters of all sizes plus black and white posters and film stills make this a highly readable Spanish language film book.

Many thanks to Dario Lavia for including the blog article “Lost in Translation: How ‘Tyrant of Red Gulch’ became ‘The Sorcerer’ across the pond” as a reference in his film entry for “Tyrant of Red Gulch” in “Weird Western” 3rd Edition.

To order a copy of “Weird Western”, go to:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Buck Moon Trail, Part 5

Note: This is the fifth part of a series of fan fiction. Please keep in mind that outside of the primary character, Tom Tyler, all others are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Screencaps are from Tom's movies and are used simply as visuals. With the usual disclaimer aside, if you would like to link back to this story and need help doing so, please contact me at Thank you and enjoy the story! 

Joe’s mouth hung open, wide enough for a large pink-bodied dragonfly to enter. He glanced at Tim, who raised his right eyebrow, then at Bob, who rubbed the back of his right hand against his chin. Joe motioned for the two men to huddle with him and draw a plan to see who stayed with Tom while Joe and another man went to look for Julie. Joe bent down and pulled two blades of dry grass from the ground. “Pull straws. Short straw stays with Tom, long straw follows me to find out where that girl is.” Joe held onto the blades of grass firmly without breaking them. Tim pulled the short straw.

“Guess I’m Julie’s temporary replacement in looking after Tom. I’ll prepare some bacon for the two of us. I’ll keep the campfire going and make more coffee for when Julie returns. I’m sure she’ll need it.” Tim looked at Joe and Bob before casting his eyes downward, as if he could do his part to keep Julie out of the bottle. Joe placed his gloved hand on Tim’s shoulder.

“Great. If you need anything...” Joe started, Tim nodding and finishing his pal’s sentence:

“Fire the gun into the air.” Everyone in the troupe knew what to do should one of them be out of sight of the other, which has not happened until now. Luckily the sun was out, the sky clear and blue, with no sign of last night’s rain, which meant the weather was suitable for seeking out a missing person from their troupe.

“Bob, you’re coming with me. We need to find Julie. Like Tom mentioned, an outcropping of rocks. Let’s look around. I don’t think she could have gone too far last night, what with the thunder and rain. All right let’s go.” As Joe and Bob walked away from the horses and wagon, scanning the perimeter of their camp, they headed towards a rocky area located about a mile away. Tim walked over to the campfire and prepared some bacon. While the bacon cooked, he pulled out a loaf of bread and cut some slices, enough for Tom and himself. Tim worried about Julie and hoped the two men would bring her back soon so they could all eat before heading on their destination to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, which was three hundred miles away. Tim did the math in his head while he chatted with Tom. It would take about two weeks to get there. It did not help that Julie’s disappearance was holding them up. Tim hoped they did not lose too much time in getting her back so they could hit the dirt road. Tom poked his head out the back of the wagon and inhaled the bacon and hot coffee.

“Smells good.” Tom welcomed the smell of coffee by inhaling it. Then he tilted his cup so that Tim could see it and refill the cup.

“It’s ready, partner.” Tim made the bacon sandwiches and offered one to Tom before pouring him another cup of coffee. “Good, huh.” Tim sat down near Tom on the back of the wagon and joined him for breakfast. Tom pulled the blanket around him, while touching one of Julie’s crystals with his left hand, while holding the sandwich in his right hand.

“Purple,” Tom began, admiring the small amethyst geode. “What do you suppose Julie does with these?” His delicate brows formed a furrow. Tim glanced at Tom before taking a bite of his own bacon sandwich. She has several other rocks in her bag. Peculiar.”

“I always thought she used them, until I discovered her taste for liquor took care of that for her,” Tim replied, taking a sip of coffee. Tim’s words went right above Tom’s head, as they finished their breakfast then waited for Joe and Bob to return with Julie.


Julie awoke and crawled out from under the rocks, barely remembering how or why she had been there last night. The only thing she remembered was the rain, the temporary feeling of emotional separation from Tom. Now she pushed her long hair off her face, sighed, and sat on top of the rocks. It must have been her state of mind that made her jump up at the words “There she is!” Joe spotted her, and with Bob, raced to where she sat. “Julie! You gave us quite a scare!” Julie was so happy to see Joe she hugged him.

“Oh! I don’t remember what happened. I’m so happy to see you, Joe, and Bob.” Julie hugged Bob too, and something in him came alive. Bob’s blue eyes sparkled at her, his hands gently clasped around her arms.

“It’s good to have you back, Julie. Tom’s been waiting for you. And Tim will have breakfast for us by the time we get back to the wagon.

“Can you walk?” Joe asked Julie. She nodded in return, eager to return to the wagon and of course Tom. “Bob – help keep an eye out for invaders. I know you have your gun, I’ve got mine, but Julie doesn’t have hers.

“Sure thing. We’ve been gone for what – Fifteen? Twenty minutes?” Bob looked up at the sun to check its position in the sky. “We’ll have enough time to eat when we get to the wagon before heading out. In the meantime...”

Julie glanced around. The covered wagon was within sight, from where she could see. “Let’s hurry,” she whispered. The three of them walked in a straight path down the rocky butte towards their covered wagon. They moved quickly, and before they knew it, were within earshot of their camp. Tom saw Julie and waved to her as he smiled. Tim prepared bacon sandwiches and coffee for Julie, Joe, and Bob. Julie savored her breakfast as she snuggled up with Tom. It felt good to have the food and coffee in her stomach. The three men put out the campfire and packed up the equipment. Bob looked at Julie wistfully as she shared an intimate moment with Tom, holding the amethyst geode between her left index finger and thumb. But Julie was thoroughly lost in Tom as the horses and covered wagon continued heading west towards Oklahoma, oblivious to everything else around her at the moment.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Three Weeks (1924) possible repatriation

Tom Tyler in "Three Weeks" 1924

In 2010, the Russian film archive Gosfilmofond in Moscow began the repatriation of over 200 American-made silent films to the Library of Congress. One of the 235 silent films on this list is “Three Weeks” (1924), directed by Alan Crosland, starring Aileen Pringle and a very young Tom Tyler, who was billed as Bill Burns. What makes this copy of “Three Weeks” so special is that it remains the only surviving complete print of the movie, at a total of eight 35mm reels. “Three Weeks” is the only surviving silent film Tom Tyler appeared in during his earliest year in the film industry, 1924.

If “Three Weeks” is eventually repatriated to the United States it will be in digitized format, which will be a bonus, especially if the Library of Congress decides to allow a distributor to finally make the movie available. Gosfilmofind presently offers copies of “Three Weeks” at $35.00 per reel, making the total for all 8 reels rather costly for a movie that runs 80 minutes long. Unfortunately, this present project between Gosfilmofond and the LOC has been put on hold, but hopefully will be resumed in the near future.

Also in the Gosfilmofond archive are "Lightning Lariats" (extant), and "The Avenging Rider" (1 reel). It remains unknown if these two Tom Tyler silent films will be repatriated along with “Three Weeks” and the other silent films on the list but hopefully they eventually will be.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Tom Tyler and Marlene Dietrich (and the Countess Di Frasso)

From St. Louis Globe-Democrat,
St. Louis, Missouri, August 6, 1935
At some point in the mid 1930's, Marlene Dietrich,  Hollywood's highest paid actress at the time, noticed Tom Tyler and started to keep company with him. Obviously Marlene did not mind the fact that Tom was a B-western leading man cowboy making small potatoes compared to her salary of $200,000.00 to $300,000.00 per movie. Chances are she was not thinking of money or star status while being Tom’s dinner date partner. In 1935 Tom had to politely decline an interest in Jean Carmen, his leading lady in “Born to Battle”, who was attracted to him at the time, according to “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman. Tom did not mention to Jean who he was seeing at the time, although the standard Hollywood gossip columns would mention who was keeping company with who. There is little other information about the nature of the relationship between Tom and Marlene outside of a few social events the couple attended. It is unknown if Tom had any personal interest in her outside of being her sometime escort; chances are he appreciated her company and being seen as her dinner partner, shy as he was, while Marlene dominated the conversations with him. As Hollywood relationships go, this one proved to be brief, long before Tom would marry Jean Martel in 1938. Before Tom Tyler and Marlene Dietrich knew it, a third famous Hollywood figure (not an actress) would enter the picture.

In October 1935 Tom attended a party hosted by the Countess DiFrasso with other big name stars such as Richard Barthlemess and Jack Oakie. Marlene was also in attendance, and quite possibly Tom's date for the evening. At the time, the Countess, her full name being Dorothy Cadwell Taylor Dentice di Frasso, was a popular hostess in Los Angeles, often inviting the stars to her dinner parties. Dorothy’s second husband was Count Carlo Dentice di Frasso, a former member of Italy’s Parliament, who she married in 1923. In May 1935, Marlene and Tom, along with Dorothy, Clark Gable and his wife Maria Langham, and Brian Ahearne, left the Hollywood Stadium after viewing the boxing matches and headed to the northern part of California for the weekend.

From Silver Screen, October 1935
It must have been gratifying for Tom to have a social life with A-list stars, if only for a brief while,  being escort to one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses. Apparently the Countess had an eye for Tom Tyler too, for soon she was keeping company with him in 1935, too, well through the end of the year. Being a wealthy heiress – Dorothy’s first husband Claude Graham White was in aviation, plus her father Bertrand was a leather-goods manufacturer – she could certainly afford to take the break and seek some feminine satisfaction from being in the social company of Tom Tyler. During the fall season of 1935, Dorothy and her friends Ed Sullivan and Loretta Young, along with Tom Tyler, visited the New York Aquarium (Silver Screen, October 1935). Loretta and Tom chatted about the fish in the tanks, admiring them, just as they admired each other’s company, for Loretta was also a big star during the 1930’s.

Along with Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy showed the social scene what type of man a woman really wants: Tom Tyler. Hollywood columnist Lloyd Pantages addressed both Marlene Dietrich and Tom Tyler in his June 1, 1935 column (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph), wondering why no one in Hollywood has not done something more “constructive” about getting Tom into the A-list of actors of the 1930’s. Pantages concludes with: “He seems to be just what the ladies are asking for”. The fact that Tom Tyler could be escort to Hollywood actresses when invited to social functions and be the perfect gentleman said a lot about him.

From Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, June 1, 1935

To see external and internal views of Dorothy di Frasso's mansion, click here.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Collectibles: Tom Tyler on Dixie Cup Lids

One of the most popular movie star trading “cards” of the 1930’s to 1940’s among children were the round Dixie single-serve ice cream cup lids which bore a photo of an actor or group of actors on the inside portion. Tom Tyler appeared on two Dixie cup lids, one photo is from “Fast Bullets” in the 1930’s, and as one of the Three Mesquiteers in “The Phantom Plainsmen” in the 1940’s. Dixie cup lids came in two different sizes: 2 1/4” and 2 3/4”.

The history of the appearance of Hollywood stars appearing on Dixie cup lids dates back to 1933, but up until that year, circus animals and performers appeared on the Dixie Cup lids beginning in 1930. In 1932, nature animals made their debut on the inside of the ice cream cup lids. The Hollywood actor sets contained 24 different lids. Each set might see a different design in the photo and informational text on the star. For example, the Tom Tyler “Fast Bullets” lid contains a full circle photo with the text on the outer edge of the photo, whereas the mid-1940’s design had only a ¾ of the circle photo, with text below in several lines.

Tom Tyler was not the only cowboy to appear on these Dixie Cup lids. Ken Maynard was the first western star to appear in the 1934 series of these lids, while Roy Rogers can boast appearing the most times on the lids – a total of twelve, in different profiles and poses. Wild Bill Elliott also appeared twelve times, but like Tom, was often paired with other western stars on a single lid. The last Dixie cup lid to show a Hollywood star on the inside was in 1954. These lids could also be sent in to its manufacturer in exchange for an 8 x 10” color photo of a favorite star (usually the same one on the matching cup lids). The preprinted color photo also contained more photos on the back, along with biographical and studio information.

The Dixie cup ice cream single-serves were assembled at Consumers Supply Co, formerly known as Rutherford County Gas & Oil Co., was located in Murfreesboro, TN. Among its products were ice, sodas, and ice cream. One of its most popular products were single-serve ice cream cups, complete with a lid that was sturdy enough to seal the ice cream from moisture. These cups were manufactured by Individual Drinking Cup Co. New York in 1910.  While the company name may not ring a bell, it was later renamed Dixie, due to its most popular product, the Dixie cup, which was created in a sterile environment, meaning, that each cup was manufactured and assembled completely by machinery without an employee having to physically touch the cup. One interesting piece of history about this disposable cup is that it was manufactured with the intent to prevent germs and infection from being spread, thus being named Health Kup. Lawrence Luellen invented his paper cup in 1907 while he was a practicing lawyer and believed the common sharing of glasses at public drinking water sources.

Today, Tom Tyler Dixie cup lids can be found at antique shops and online auction sites.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Meet Nick Musuraca A.S.C.!

Nick Musuraca, American Cinematographer, February 1941
One of the best known cinematographers for RKO – and its earlier incarnation of FBO – is Nick Musuraca. Born in Riace, Calabria, Italy on October 25, 1892, he immigrated to the United States in 1907. Nick got his start in Hollywood as a chauffeur to silent film producer and director J. Stuart Blackton. It was not long before his talent with camera lighting was noticed by Blackton, who signed Nick on as cinematographer for one of his production company’s silent films, “The Virgin Queen”, 1923. Soon after, Nick did “On the Banks of the Wabash” for Vitagraph, an elaborate production as it involved shooting on a full-sized riverboat steamboat on location, Manhasset Bay, Long Island, New York. However, Nick’s career at Vitagraph was short lived, for soon after the making of this silent film, Vitagraph was purchased by Warner Brothers. The good news is, since Blackton had connections with Vitagraph, and continued to play a directorial role with Warner Brothers, bringing along Nick for a bunch of silent films, which included stars like Tyrone Power Sr., Myrna Loy, May McAvoy, and Louise Fazenda. In 1926, Nick Musuraca was cinematographer for a small production company, B.P. Schulberg Productions, making one movie for them, “His New York Wife” starring Alice Day. The turning point of Nick’s career came when Joseph Kennedy Sr. signed him on as a regular cinematographer for FBO pictures, maintaining that position when FBO transitioned to RKO in 1928, and throughout the 1940’s, working behind the camera for everything from westerns to dramas, noir, horror and comedies.

Tom Tyler in "Blood on the Moon" 1948
So where exactly does Tom Tyler fit in here? Actually, it is more of a case where Nick Musuraca fits in here. Once Nick signed that contract with FBO, his first assignment was being cinematographer of “Lightning Lariats”, a 1927 silent film western starring Tom Tyler. Naturally Tom and his pals gave Nick a very warm welcome. The two men worked together well, as Tom was always an agreeable actor and loved his work. In 1927, Nick and Tom worked together on: “The Cherokee Kid”, “Tom's Gang “, “Splitting the Breeze”, and “The Sonora Kid”; in 1928, “Tyrant of Red Gulch”, “When the Law Rides”, “Terror Mountain”, “The Avenging Rider”, and “Phantom of the Range”; in 1929, “Trail of the Horse Thieves”, “Gun Law”, “The Pride of Pawnee”, and “Idaho Red”.  However, 1929 was not the last year Nick and Tom would work together, even though for almost two decades they worked for two different studios. In 1948, Tom snagged a minor role in the memorable Robert Mitchum western noir film, “Blood on the Moon”. Nick Musuraca was the director of photography, working his magic with lighting and the camera. In one scene with Tom Tyler inside a building, everything is dark, with the exception of lighting upon Tom’s face, and ceiling partitions. Meant to build up the drama, Tom eventually gets plugged, falling away backwards into darkness.

“Life is a shadow that flits away
In a night of darkness and woe."
- H. C. Andersen

Critically acclaimed even though it did not garner any Oscar nominations, “Blood on the Moon” is one of the best of its genre, and included many western stars besides Tom Tyler: Walter Brennan, Tom Keene, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Corbett, and Bud Osborne.

Nick Musuraca was nominated for an Oscar in cinematography for his work in “I Remember Mama”, a 1948 movie starring Irene Dunne, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Oskar Homolka, about an immigrant family from Norway living in San Francisco in the year 1910. He continued to work in film for RKO until 1954, when he switched to working in television. As director of photography, shows he worked on include: “The Life of Riley”, “The Lone Wolf”, “Four Star Playhouse”, “The Lucy Show”, and “F Troop”.  In addition to “Blood on the Moon” and “I Remember Mama”, Nick Musuraca’s work really shown in the Val Lewton produced movie “The Black Cat” (1942).  Starring Simone Simon, “The Cat People” was a box office smash for RKO in 1942 but also set a standard for the use of shadows in lieu of an actual monster in horror movies.

Nick Musuraca died on September 3, 1975 at the age of 82 while living in Los Angeles. He wife was Josephine, and together they had three children: Nicholas Jr., Ann Marie, and Mary Jo. Nick was a Member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), and with well over 200 credits under his belt, had a rich and varied career in Hollywood dating back to the silent film era.