Monday, February 27, 2017

Tom Tyler and his sisters

A little bit about Tom's relationships with his sisters is worth writing about, if only for the close and highly supportive relationship he had with them. Both Maliane (Molly) and Katherine played a significant role in Tom's life, being the most supportive of their brother wanting to become a Hollywood actor, and playing the role of caregiver at the end of his life when he was in the advanced stages of scleroderma. Molly was born around 1906, three years younger than Tom, and Katherine was born around 1916, thirteen years younger than Tom. Having two younger sisters must have been a delight for Tom, and it was even possible that Tom helped look after and care for Katherine as a baby, helping to feed her and even change her diapers. Such a loving, caring relationship between the two of them would prove beneficial to Tom when he was diagnosed terminally ill in the mid-1940's and in need of care by 1952 when his resources were running dry.

As the story goes, Molly believed in Tom's potential as an actor and helped him achieve his dream by allotting Tom her hard earned fifty dollars so he could travel to Hollywood in 1923. Fifty dollars sounds like a lot of money and was back then, as it could go a long way for a young man starting out on his journey to the west coast, picking up the odd job in between to help pay his way.

It was Katherine who noticed how handsome Tom was becoming, when the young siblings would be walking around Hamtramck. Even in his teens Tom was turning heads, just like a movie star. Like Molly, she also encouraged him to become an actor. Having such supportive sisters must have been a tremendous boost for young Tom, a shy, unassuming boy on the brink of adulthood, ready to hold the world in his hands.

By the time Tom returned home to Michigan at Katherine's home in 1953, he was clearly in need of personal care due to his illness, which his sister lovingly administered to him. After all, they were closest to each other, trusting each other to a degree where no concern of harm would ever arise. That is what makes for a special family relationship.

From left to right: Molly, Tom, Katherine, and brother Frank

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Meet Flashlight, Tom's trusty steed in his FBO silent films

While information on Tom Tyler's horses in his B-western talkies have been moderately written about, his first horse co-star has not been given much attention on the Internet until now, thanks to more available resources like and Lantern Media History. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Flashlight, Tom's horse during his FBO years, 1925 to 1929.

Flashlight, sometimes shortened to just Flash, is mentioned by name in a newspaper item for “Wild to Go”, Tom's sixth starring feature for FBO. Flash is originally described as a “fine horse” but further press notices describe the chestnut horse with a white blaze down his nose and white stockings on his hind legs as being intelligent, wonderful, beautiful, and spirited. With the combined good looks and personality, Flashlight could only be the perfect equine companion for Tom. In one article in The Des Moines Register dated July 18, 1926 Tom is quoted as describing his horse as being “so intelligent, loyal and dependable that he needs no pedigree”, even though Flashlight was born in Clare, Ireland.

“The Pride of Pawnee” (1929) was Flashlight's last film with Tom Tyler, which no doubt ended a long intimate relationship between the cowboy hero and horse, both moving as one, performing tireless, endless stunts to entertain and awe audiences. If you are interested in seeing Flashlight live in action, I recommend purchasing a copy of “The Texas Tornado” (1928) on DVD.
Tom Tyler with Flashlight in "The Texas Tornado", 1928.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Collectibles: “Boy: Aventuras de Tom Mix y Tom Tyler”

Gato Negro in Barcelona, Spain, was a popular publisher of film booklets, film star comics, and what is now called fan fiction: the creating of stories using famous Hollywood stars as the main characters. Tom Tyler was no exception, as many of his silent films for FBO appeared among the pages of the “Biblioteca Films” booklets published by this company. Tom also appeared along with Tom Mix in the first fifty issues of “Boy”, a weekly publication that was published around 1933. Targeted towards boys, these now highly collectible journals were designed to be instructive as well as entertaining. Each booklet contained a total of 8 pages, full of illustrations in comic strip format, and measured 8 x 12 1/2” in size and printed on newspaper-quality paper. Look for the issues of “Boy” marked numbers 1 through 50; issue 51 starts with other characters.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A hero by the name Vincent Markowski

Tom Tyler was born as Vincent Markowski on August 9, 1903 in Port Henry, New York. While his biography by Mike Chapman provides some information on Vincent's (Wincenty's) background, what is not mentioned in detail is the origin of the name Markowski.

As a surname, Markowski has its etymology in the Latin name Marcus, from the name Mark (as in Apostle Mark). With the added “ski/sky”, it means “Originating from Markow.” It is Polish in origin, most frequently Jewish (Ashkenazi). The family crest for the Markowski name is described as follows: a white unicorn against a royal blue background, the shield flanked by acacia leaves, helmet on top, and another unicorn above the helmet.

Polish surnames like Markowski are not uncommon in nearby Lithuania, which at one time was part of Prussia. Markowski is also common in Ukraine and Belarus. It appears that at some point in Vincent's family lineage, there was a conversion to Roman Catholicism, the Christian denomination his family was a member of. How devout a Roman Catholic Tom remained during his adult years is unknown, likewise, how his faith formed his personality during his childhood years. What we do know about Tom Tyler, is he was a sweet, polite man, on the shy and quiet side, and a pleasure to work with, according to his biography.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Human interest in Tom Tyler's Trem Carr movies Part 1: “Single Handed Saunders” and “A Rider of the Plains”

A unique feature of the early talkies that Tom Tyler made for Trem Carr (1931 to 1932) is human interest in the stories. Issues such as mortality (not just human, but animal as well), relationships, life-or-death decisions, and saving face permeate surviving (available on DVD) Trem Carr films like “Single Handed Saunders” (1931) and “A Rider of the Plains” (1931). Having had plenty of previous experience in his later silent films such as “A Man from Nevada” (1929) where the film's star made a statement regarding human interest material, it seems only natural to continue that thread over into Tom's first talkies, while maintaining the same element of light entertainment in the western genre targeted toward American youth; true family-oriented films.

In “Single Handed Sanders” there is a judge in a western town who provides credit for the homesteaders but not cattle owners, which result in his being shot by a small group of the latter. The incident occurs right in the center of town where its citizens are going about their business, and one of the unfortunate victims happens to be a dog named Sparerib – a pet owned by a man named Snowflake (Fred Toones), who works for Matt (Tom Tyler), the town's blacksmith. Matt's brother Phillip is due to return to town after having graduated college as an attorney and gets caught up in the homesteaders cause, while Matt sides with the underdog: the cattlemen. A simple man, uneducated but knowing how and when to do the right thing, Matt has no qualms in trying to right the wrongs he sees being committed before him against those he cares about the most, including a lovely girl named Alice Parker (Margaret Morris).

The visible devastation Snowflake expresses over losing Sparerib is only the first innocent loss of animal life in this movie; during the later part where Matt is in high-speed pursuit on horseback, his steed has an accident while attempting to gallop over a ditch and breaks its leg. While the viewer is spared from watching the animal actually being shot, Matt draws his gun from his belt and puts the suffering horse out of its misery. The temporary feeling of loss that Matt expresses is quite plain, though, as tries to put the incident behind him while continuing on his journey. To balance these tragic events, a more touching scene worth pointing out is where Matt has to repair a broken wagon wheel for a little boy named Bill. Bill is not much older than toddler age, an adorable moppet with a bowl-style haircut and big smile as he patiently waits for Matt to repair the wheel. Matt treats the boy as if it was a little brother, in all kindness and gentleness,
ready to help whenever in need.
This feeling is evident when Matt is holding his brother Philip, victim of a gunshot, and despite their differences, “have always been pals”, in Matt's own words, showing that there were no hard feelings between the two brothers. Like the other hour-length films Tom Tyler made in the first half of his career, the script is well written (the story was written by Adele Buffington) and conveyed a wide enough range of human interest in the plot to stimulate discussion on a family level or even for a Bible class.

In “A Rider of the Plains” Blackie Saunders (Tom Tyler) and his young pal Sandy (Andy Shuford) return to the town of Indian Springs where Blackie meets up with a former gang-companion who went straight and became a parson, Jim (Ted Adams). Blackie most definitely considers Sandy to be a pal while at the same time tries to teach the boy some discipline and self-restraint, especially when it comes to Sandy's tendency to talk too much at the wrong time, which more often than not gets him into trouble. Parson Jim wants to give the boy a chance at having a somewhat structured life, and talks to Blackie in private, encouraging him to take the boy to Sunday school and get him on the right path, instead of being a best buddy to a reputed outlaw. Blackie is not one to be preached to however, and eventually decides what is best for Sandy, that is, for the boy to be open-minded about a different life than the one he is used to.

Sandy has difficulty in getting along with his new peers in Sunday school and reverts back to his old ways, getting into a fistfight with some other boys on churchgrounds, and is finally exhorted by some other churchgoers to be removed from Blackie's influence and placed under the eye of the parson. Once Blackie finds Sandy at the parson's house, a dramatic exchange between Blackie and the parson almost ends up in highly consequential actions for Blackie, yet he finally comes to his senses. Perhaps Blackie is fearful of losing Sandy as a friend, unsure of how he could carry on without the boy. The emotional exchange between Blackie and Sandy is bittersweet and powerful; the boy losing the only friend he can truly trust, trying not to cry, as Blackie gives Sandy a kiss on his cheek before leaving him. The entire scene is reminiscent of Tom's character Luke Plummer in “Stagecoach” (1939) where he relies solely upon facial expressions without going over the top.

Miraculously, Sandy is reunited with Blackie under auspicious circumstances, the couple happy once again and invite a new family member: Betty (Lilian Bond) the shopkeeper, who Blackie fell in love with. Unlike “Single Handed Saunders”, “A Rider of the Plains” has a happy ending, and as usual, makes for great after-film family discussion.

As with his other B-westerns, Tom Tyler portrays the usual hero in these two films and for an evening's worth of viewing, a Trem Carr film and a Reliable film back-to-back make for a good combination. Stay tuned for part 2 of “Human interest in Tom Tyler's Trem Carr movies.”

Collectibles: Tom Tyler on the film star animal cards

Film star collectors cards became popular during the 1920's and 1930's thanks to the growing pastime among the cinema going public. Largely produced by Exhibit Supply Company (ESCO) in Chicago, IL, arcade/cinema cards, strip cards, and related film memorabilia could be purchased for a penny from a vending machine. One novelty concept for these film star cards was the pairing of an animal, usually a sketched outline, with a real-photo image of the Hollywood star. Usually referred to as “film star animal cards”, these cards cards were issued as strips – also known as “strip cards”, in an array of colors, but the actual strip consisting of one color such as orange, and eight different stars, one star and animal per card. Each card could be cut along the lines and separated from the strip. An individual film star and animal card measures 1 3/4” x 2 3/4” in size and came in the following colors: white, blue, mint green, yellow, orange, pink, and red. The backs of these cards were usually blank. Most likely manufactured in the late 1920's by ESCO these strip cards were an addition to their ever-expanding selection of star- and sports-oriented arcade/exhibit cards and postcards. The only difference being, the strip cards were not issed in the same vending machines as the penny arcade cards were.

Some examples of film star and animal cards include the following: William Fairbanks with a buffalo, Lon Chaney with a squirrel, Wally Wales with a jackal, William Desmond with a seal – and Tom Tyler with a deer. It is unsure if the selected animal was supposed to match the personality of the star in any way but it seems ideal that Tom Tyler was suited to his selected animal, a deer. The strong yet graceful physique, antlers (a symbol of masculinity), inclined for the rugged land, and doe eyes fit Tom quite well. Whoever ascribed each animal to the film stars in this particular card collection certainly had the right idea in pairing Tom Tyler with a deer.