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.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Tom Tyler in The Talk of the Town

Taking a break from making Three Mesquiteers movies for Republic Pictures in the early 1940’s, Tom Tyler took on a few supporting dramatic roles for major studio movies, notably, one with Columbia Pictures and a former co-star from his silent film days with FBO, Jean Arthur. Tom just finished making “The Phantom Plainsmen” in 1942 when the director for “The Talk of the Town”, George Stevens, approached him and asked if the famous cowboy would be interested in playing a heavy in a romantic comedy which also starred Cary Grant and the well-known British actor, Ronald Colman. Playing the role of Clyde Bracken, a foreman at Holmes Mills who is suspected of being killed in a devastating fire at the factory started by Leopold Dilg (Cary Grant), Tom makes his appearance about three-quarters of the way into the movie when his character is discovered to have survived the fire. Nabbed by Nora (Jean Arthur), Dilg and Professor Lightcap (Ronald Colman) at the post office in Boston, Clyde gets into a fightfight with the two men, eventually forced into the car with the trio and back to Nora’s house in Lochester, Massachusetts. During the drive Clyde is steely eyed and silent, refusing to give out any information that might get Dilg off the hook. Being somewhat of a pro with the steely eyed look, Tom’s heavy is an appreciated diversion from the friendly smile of Stoney Brooke, a sign of true diversity in acting.

At Nora’s house, Clyde collapses in a chair by the fireplace while Lightcap places a phone call to the police. Wearing a grim expression, Clyde picks up a log by the fireplace and brings it over Lightcap’s head – and Dilg’s head as well -  and escapes. The fact that Tom’s character is indifferent to seeing Dilg being lynched by a whole town whose citizens lost their jobs at the mill is nothing short of disturbing. After all, Clyde could have stayed in hiding in Boston for good, had not one piece of evidence from Regina Bush (Glenda Farrell), a beauty salon owner who gave Lightcap a manicure, slip into his hand from hers during a dance date. Given refuge by Regina, Clyde hides out at the salon until Lightcap roots him out and hauls him into court to confess who was really responsible for the factory arson – and it was not Dilg. Sitting in the witness box, Clyde still wears that indifferent, apathetic expression, playing the role to perfection. It is clear Tom Tyler knows what emotions to convey in demanding scenes like this; compare this performance to his expressions in “Stagecoach”, despite being a western, Tom’s character of Luke Plummer is dramatic in the literal sense of the word. According to an article in Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA, December 6, 1942, Tom Tyler admitted to not having any qualms about playing roles in non-westerns like “The Talk of the Town” even if they are minor but important roles, as they give him a chance to hone his acting skills. For Tom, it must also have been a delight to work once again with a leading lady from his silent films days: Jean Arthur appeared in both “Born to Battle” and “The Cowboy Cop”, from 1926.

One fun piece of trivia about “The Talk of the Town”: William Benedict, who played Whitey in “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, has an uncredited role as a Western Union boy.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Los Films del Far West: Tom Tyler film booklet titles

In May of 2017 I wrote an article on the Los Films del Far West Spain-published film booklet series as a collectible. One unusual quirk of these film booklets, at least the ones based on Tom Tyler’s silent films for FBO, is that the film still on the cover did not always match the title of the movie; to make matter worse, sometimes a film still from a third movie might creep into the inside of the booklet, nestled among the text. There are a total of 34 issues in this set, thirteen of them based on Tom Tyler’s silent films. Below are the issue numbers and their English translations:

1. El Huracán de Texas (The Texas Tornado) 1928
3. El Valle del Misterio (Tyrant of Red Gulch) 1928
5. Los Puños de Tom Tyler (Terror Mountain) 1928; has a still from “Red Hot Hoofs” on the cover
6. Los Lobos del Far West (The Pride of Pawnee) 1929
8. El Culpable (The Avenging Rider) 1928
13. El Pirata del Desierto (The Desert Pirate) 1927
15. La Ley del Revolver (Gun Law) 1929; has a still from “The Cherokee Kid” on the cover
17. Los Falsificadores (Idaho Red) 1929; has a still from “The Cowboy Cop” on the cover
19. Veloz Como el Rayo (The Cherokee Kid) 1927; has a still from “Trail of the Horse Thieves” on the cover
21. Los Cuatreros (Trail of the Horse Thieves) 1929; has a still from “Phantom of the Range” on the cover
22. Tom y Su Cuadrilla (Tom’s Gang) 1927
24. El Fantasma del Rancho (Phantom of the Range) 1928
31. El Valiente de la Pradera (Lightning Lariats) 1927

Idaho Red

Trail of the Horse Thieves

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Get social with Tom Tyler

Within the last five years, Tom Tyler’s popularity has grown on social media, particularly Facebook. It may seem peculiar that even though the first dedicated page to Tom Tyler is this website’s official social media pages for Twitter and Facebook, there is a group that dates back to October 2015, almost a year after the first version of Aventuras de Tom Tyler (then called Trigger Tom)  hit the Internet. Here is a rundown on the most popular pages and groups besides Aventuras de Tom Tyler on Facebook to Like, Follow, or Join:

Tom Tyler, Screen Hero!

This is the most popular Facebook group dedicated to Tom Tyler, created by fellow fan and supporter Tony A. Corbett of North Carolina. Started on October 28, 2015 this group is an excellent place to network with other Tom Tyler fans as well as up to date news. Tony also owns and manages the Facebook group, Memories of the West, where posts on Tom Tyler are often made.

The Adventures of Captain Marvel 1941

This Facebook page has been around since 2017 and is dedicated to the Republic Pictures film serial. There are many photos of Tom here as well as the rest of the cast like Frank Coghlan Jr., William Benedict and Louise Currie.

Let’s Talk Captain Marvel - Twitter

This is one of those “Let’s Talk” pages on Twitter, dedicated to the DC Comics Shazam! Captain Marvel. Naturally Tom Tyler as the World’s Mightiest Mortal is included as a topic of discussion here.

This is the Facebook counterpart for ‘Let’s Talk Captain Marvel” on Twitter and just as active. Another great place to discuss Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel.

The Phantom - Facebook

This Facebook page is dedicated to the Lee Falk creation, The Phantom, originally portrayed by Tom Tyler on the silver screen for Columbia Pictures in 1943. Material on Tom as The Phantom periodically is posted here.

The Phantom - Twitter

Run by the same person who manages the Facebook page, there is always plenty of awesome photos of the superhero and Tom Tyler as The Phantom too.

The Serial Squadron

Last but not least there is The Serial Squadron on Facebook which devotes enough attention to Tom for all his work in serials such as “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, “The Phantom”, “Phantom of the West” and others to be included here.

The official social media pages for Aventuras de Tom Tyler:

Twitter: December 2016:

Facebook: December 2016:

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The top 100 western films of all time and Tom Tyler

The popular website Stacker recently came out with one of the more important movie lists, "Top 100 western films of all time" which encompasses the silent film era to recent Hollywood releases, and of course spaghetti westerns. Big western names like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Lee Marvin, and made this list more than once, but where does Tom Tyler's appearances in big-name westerns rate? One clue to keep in mind is, the movies he does appear in on this list are all directed by John Ford. Here are the three movies Tom appears in, keeping in mind the lower the number, the higher on the scale it falls:

#71 She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
#24 Red River
#19 Stagecoach

The movie listed at #1 is no big surprise, while the title will not be disclosed here, it should be mentioned another all-time favorite of many appears in it: Clint Eastwood. Enjoy reading the full list here: