Saturday, January 28, 2017

Real-life gangster hideout served as filming location for “Terror Mountain”

By the time Tom Tyler filmed “Terror Mountain” in 1929 for FBO, he became so popular that he actually starred as himself in this silent film, which was very rare in Hollywood at the time, discounting comedians who usually starred as themselves in film shorts. The director of “Terror Mountain”, Louis King, came across an unusual property which he decided to include in the filming in the northern mountains of California: a deserted mountain cabin once used by Jimmy "Squint" Dugan in the early 1870's. Dugan was one of many highway robbers in the late 19th century who took advantage of those traveling through the state in search of gold and deciding to make their homes on the west coast of the nation. King thought it would be cool to do some filming at the historic cabin spot, both outside and inside, preserving a piece of California gang history on film.

There is very little information about Jimmy "Squint" Dugan, even in an archive like, although it was a name known to locals back then for he appeared to have done enough damage as a highway gang leader to warrant attention in California state history. It seemed appropriate enough for a hideout, once owned by a famous local gang leader, to serve as the same area where real-life highway gang leaders once roamed. “Terror Mountain” is one of a handful of films stored at the Cinematheque Royale in Brussels, Belgium, and has a plot that makes it quite easy for the viewer to imagine Tom Tyler, hero extraordinaire, taking out those 19th century highway robbers single handedly.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tom Tyler on “The Man from Nevada”

As one of Tom Tyler's later silent films – that is, one he made for Syndicate in 1929 and directed by J. P. McGowan, “The Man from Nevada” contains a good dose of what Tom likes to call human interest in the story line which also has several children in the cast.

“I always like to put human interest stuff in my pictures and in 'The Man from Nevada', we have every element that goes to make an entertainment and successful picture, for we have action, scenic beauty, love interest, and human interest as well,” Tom quoted for a press release on the film in The News Chronicle, Shippensburg, PA, January 24, 1930. Some of that interest in includes a baby in the story, and considering the type of onscreen chemistry Tom has had with children in his FBO films, namely, Frankie Darro, that common element would continue to extend into his early talkies such as “Two Fisted Justice” (1931) and “A Rider of the Plains” (1931). It seemed only natural for Tom, for he was just a big boy himself in the western films he made, possessing that kind of rapport with children.

The News Chronicle, Shippensburg, PA, January 24, 1930
More will be written about “The Man from Nevada” in this blog later on – yes, there is a special significance to this particular silent film.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tom Tyler: An omega male playing alpha males

Being in Hollywood surrounded by lead men actors who are primarily alpha males, one has to wonder how Tom Tyler managed to “land it” as a lead man himself, even if it was in only B-westerns. This role extended from his silent film days well into his early talkies, with the movies he made for Reliable, Victory, and Trem Carr. Tom was basically very shy in real life, a trait well noticed among his family, friends and peers, and eventually his co-stars, directors and producers. Perhaps being an actor helped him come out of his shell, although for a brief period as it was, being in front of a camera, something he clearly had no trouble doing. Tom was hardly camera shy, having posed in front of the moving camera, and of course the regular Kodak camera, with his brief stints as a model for weightlifting equipment, always wearing a big smile.

It seemed only natural for Tom Tyler to portray heroes onscreen, and it was not just because of his looks and physique but also for his mannerisms, his natural protectiveness of women, and children, protecting the weak and injured, while conveying a certain degree of tenderness in his relationships with them. For example, in the silent film “The Texas Tornado” we see Tom breaking down the front door of the Briscoe ranch, knocking out Latimer and his crooks who want to steal the ranch property for its oil once the lease expired that same day. In this role, Tom also displays a hint of his natural shyness as well, not immediately disclosing his real name to the Briscoe family (he is in fact their uncle, who paid for the property) yet treats them as someone in need, and he consents to aiding them, which also means getting the renewable lease to the bank on time before it closes. Frankie Darro is of course in awe of Tom, idolizes him (as he did in real life) and stays by his side throughout most of the film to catch the bad guys who are causing his family so much trouble. It could be that the “big boy” in Tom stops at no lengths to protect the ones he loves, indeed, who are his family members, which he finally discloses to them. Here is Tom as an alpha male at his finest, a role he seems totally at home at, and one that would remain continuous throughout his early career in talkies.

Likewise in real life, Tom was a star athlete but again he was no jock (a jock is a sign of an alpha male) and as a Hollywood star, polite, but shy – emphasis on the shy part – but not a womanizer despite his above-average good looks and perfect physique. Those who met him and worked with him knew him as a real gentleman, someone who was worth spending time with, admiring, or just being in his presence. After all, Tom Tyler was worth it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tom Tyler's Favorite Foods

One of the most important things to know about a favorite Hollywood person is his or her favorite food, perhaps because food is a common bond among all humans. According to Tom's biography “The Tom Tyler Story”, Mike Chapman mentions (pg 85) that Tom enjoyed cooking as much as he did cabinetmaking. One of his favorite foods to grill was sirloin tips, and that he also loved fresh corn on the cob (pg 109). Of course, Tom most likely knew how to cook anything, and had a flair for gourmet. Even Adele Lacy mentioned to Tom that he is a much better cook than he is a bandit in his 1933 film, “When a Man Rides Alone.”

It is guessed that Tom had some hired help to keep his Spanish-style Hollywood house clean when he was finally able to afford it, but probably cooked the majority of his own meals, from making coffee to a complete three- or seven-course meal. Chances are he periodically had guests over for dinner, as he was a bit of a homebody. After all, a man's home is his castle.

Tom enjoying a meal in "God's Country and the Man"

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tom Tyler and Murnau: “Tabu”

Did you know that Tom Tyler almost came close to starring in a film directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau? An early documentation of this appeared in Hollywood Filmograph July 27, 1929, as part of the column titled “We Pictorially Present to You: A few personalities and some of the things they are doing.” There is a nice photo of Tom along with a caption (see below for the original clipping):

Some background research (which included speaking to another knowledgable Tom Tyler fan) revealed that Tom Tyler was indeed the original choice to portray the lead male in “Tabu: A Story of the South Seas” (1931) but then Murnau decided to go the purist route and hire all natives (with the exception of actress Anne Chevalier) for this critically acclaimed – and Oscar winning – silent film with a synchronized score. “Tabu” was in fact Murnau's final film so one cannot blame him for wanting to make his untimely exit from this world one of perfection. Still, I can easily imagine Tom as Matahi in a role like that, wearing a simple loincloth, portraying a Polynesian youth. Had he the opportunity to actually star in “Tabu”, there is no telling where Tom's career could have gotten him – but my guess is, most likely as an A-list star. For those of you interested in seeing “Tabu” in whole, it is available at Youtube.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Marketing Tom Tyler: 1925

Soon after Tom Tyler was signed onto FBO to star in a series of westerns, the main priority was marketing the film studio's new star. Publicity agents certainly had no trouble in describing Tom physically: tall, dark, handsome, strong, congenial, dashing, enthusiastic, and of course, charming. It is safe to say that his charm is of the boyish type, appealing to a wide enough audience that would soon clamor to see more of him – which they would. Most importantly, Tom Tyler embodied a youthful innocence which made him so appealing to both children and adults of both genders. As soon as FBO made their final decision as to who was to succeed their previous box-office setter for westerns, Fred Thomson, the 'Masked Marvel' was soon unmasked in several Hollywood trade publications, including Motion Picture News, Moving Picture World, and The Film Daily. For example, three ads appear below:

                                                   from Motion Picture News, October 24, 1925

                                             from Moving Picture World, November 28, 1925

Not only is the new star very attractive, but he also has an infectious smile, very youthful (Tom was 22 years old in the above images), enthusiastic, not to mention happy he was selected as FBO's new western star. He is holding a mask in the style of The Lone Ranger (even though he never did get the chance to portray this famous character on celluloid), greeting his new public. Who could possibly resist going to the cinema to see this first time star? It did not take long for Tom Tyler to win a new following, eager to make viewing his movies a regular routine. The average entertainment section in a newspaper contained glorious black-and-white sketches of Tom along with gripping text to encourage cinema patrons to see his latest movie. For example, a very early theatre ad for “Let's Go Gallagher” appeared in The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, September 20, 1926:

We have the following tagline: “The build of a young Hercules – the face of a Greek God – the horsemanship of a cowboy champion – real acting ability – that's what you get with this new star!” An apt description to encourage movie lovers to support this promising young star.

What is really striking about these ads is that just by looking at them, one might get the feeling that that way Tom was marketed, could just as well apply to some up-and-coming star of the 1950's, 1960's, or 1970's. It goes without saying that Tom Tyler's appeal was nothing short of timeless, and even more easier to forget about the time context when looking at photos of him from 1925. “Let's Go Gallagher” remains on “lost film” status at the present but “The Wyoming Wildcat”, made and released late in 1925 does in fact exist at Cinematheque Royale de Belgique in Brussels. Hopefully this silent film will see digitalization one day soon so the rest of the world may watch Tom Tyler during his early glory days.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I love Tom and Lucy: “Valley of the Sun”

When Tom Tyler made “Valley of theSun” with its leading female star Lucille Ball – he portrayed Geronimo – he had no idea she would end up inviting him to have lunch with her one day on the set. Filmed in Taos, New Mexico, Tom, Lucy, and her husband Desi had lunch at La Fonda Hotel, according to a story in Photoplay, January 1942. One can only wonder what was going through Desi's head when he saw his wife invite their co-star to dine with them – perhaps a hint of jealousy yet curious and admirable, getting to sit next to one of Hollywood's top athletes of the decade. There is one existing photo of Tom sitting next to Desi (which I assume is from La Fonda Hotel, unless Lucy invited him to dine again with her and Desi):

It looks like Tom is enjoying himself with his present company. No doubt Tom made a delightful dinner partner with his polite yet shy demeanor, perhaps sharing a story or joke with his companions. Lucy most likely enjoyed the few free moments she had to speak with Tom during the filming of “Valley of the Sun”, when not posing for photo shoots like this one:

Lucy's expression is not so surprising, I can almost hear her think, “I wish I married you instead of that Cuban.” Desi's ubiquitous answer would be: “Start 'splainin'.”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tom Tyler: Not your average Hollywood neighbor

One of the most surprising things about Tom Tyler during his early years of success in Hollywood was that he was not quite like other stars. In fact, when he did finally buy a house in Hollywood, it was simple in design, a typical California Spanish style split-level house, according to his biography, The Tom Tyler Story by Mark Chapman. It was an ideal house for the budding star, being single and unmarried with no immediate prospects in sight, and easy to take care of. Tom most likely had some hired help for cleaning, but what is known of his domestic habits is that he enjoyed cooking (especially sirloin tips) and cabinet making (he converted the basement into a workroom). In short, his house was not exactly a mansion by then-Hollywood standards outfitted with the latest d├ęcor for mass entertainment. Tom Tyler was not known for being a partygoer nor hosting massive parties with the growing Hollywood elite. If he was doing anything late at night, it was watching movies, instead of being in bed at 8 PM so he could rise before the crack of dawn to arrive at the studio fresh and chipper.

Ditto for his motor vehicle of choice. It is presently unknown what type of car he owned back in the day but according to the article published in The Warren Tribune (Warren, PA, July 14, 1926) it was not the most expensive, sleekest car recently manufactured for the wealthiest Hollywood figure. Chances are Tom's car was stylish to his own taste, clean, but then so was your average car-owning American.

One has to wonder if Tom Tyler even bothered to think about keeping up with the Joneses. It seems like he was happy doing his own thing when he was in Hollywood (it is probably a safe bet to say he was in Hollywood, versus being a part of Hollywood). Of course, no doubt his neighbors appreciated him too, since they did not have to worry about Tom holding wild parties at night, disturbing the peace, and property damage taking place. Tom had a reputation for being somewhat quiet and shy, which are admirable qualities in anyone. Did I mention part of his own thing was pumping iron, setting and breaking weightlifting records? Now that is something to put on a Hollywood resume to impress producers and directors.