Thursday, April 19, 2018

Collectibles: Tom Tyler lantern slides

Lantern slides, more officially referred to as coming attraction slides, were often displayed through the use of a special projector just for that use on movie screens in movie theatres of the 1900's through 1930's as a means of encouraging audiences to consider patronizing the next silent film being shown there. Often a series of different coming attraction slides were used during the minutes before the showing of whatever silent film was being shown that particular evening. Basically, these slides were the forerunner of the modern movie trailer and are considered highly collectible. While collectible they are also very fragile, being made of thin sheets of glass, which could be easily broken if not stored properly.

Early Tom Tyler FBO silent film lantern slides were manufactured by Combined Photo Industries, Long Island City, NY; National Studios, Inc, NYC; and Photo Repro Co. Inc., Long Island City,  NY. When it came to producing lantern slides, they were either drawn or hand painted, from a photograph taken of the subject, although some were also made directly from a photo, with color later being added by hand in a manner to preserve the transparency of the slide. Standard American lantern slides measured 4” x 3 1/4” in size. Each slide was cleaned then coated with a thin solution of varnish or gelatin. Once the solution dried, the slide was then ready to have an image created upon it.(1) In other words, the slide became the canvas for the work of art, which might contain the leading man or woman's headshot, film title, director's name, plus any other information. Sometimes if there was enough room on the slide, a small scene from the film might be added, too. For many of Tom Tyler's silent films, lobby card images were replicated onto lantern slides, such as “The Arizona Streak” and “Born to Battle”. One particularly beautiful lantern slide is from the silent film “The Cowboy Musketeer” which depicts Tom on horseback, rescuing Frances Dare from the path of a stampede of steer. This scene also appeared on the bottoms of lobby cards created just for this movie. As a coming attraction slide, this particular one was sure to attract the interest of young audiences anxious to view the next action packed Tom Tyler western. Lantern slides like those for “The Wyoming Wildcat” and “Let's Go Gallagher”, Tom is depicted sitting upon his horse, moving like the wind, as a clever piece of marketing. Even more delightful, what American youth would not be enticed to view Tom Tyler's next exciting silent film like “The Wyoming Wildcat” while waiting for “Let's Go Gallagher” to be shown at the matinee? So not only were these lantern slides a vital part of movie marketing, they were targeted particularly to the audience attending the film to be shown at that time – once again, in the same vein as the modern movie trailers shown at the cinema nowadays.

Storing lantern slides requires few special materials such as four-flap wrappers made of acid-free paper, and a cardboard box measured to fit these slides. Lantern slides should always be stored vertically instead of horizontally inside the box to prevents the weight of stacked glass from breaking the ones beneath. Avoid storing the box of slides in the attic or cellar, away from humidity. For further reading about the history and collecting of lantern slides, check out the article “Coming Attraction Slides: A Guide for Collectors” by Kevin John Charbeneu in The Silent Film Quarterly Spring 2016 issue.

1. Optic projection: principles, installation and use of the magic lantern, projection microscope, reflecting lantern, moving picture machine. Simon Henry and Henry Phelps Gage. Comstock Publishing Company: Ithaca, N.Y. 1914.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Tom Tyler the expert horseman

Can you imagine having to be an expert horse rider in order to become a movie star? That is what Tom Tyler had to do when he first signed a contract with FBO in 1925 after being slected from among many other young and eager hopefuls at a chance for the brass ring. Being able to ride efficiently was a central requirement according to FBO's contract, and even though Tom had practically no experience in horseback riding, still said yes to his employer on the day he interviewed. Tom also had to figure out how he could get in enough practice before the shooting of his debut film, “Let's Go Gallagher” in 1925. Given the two weeks he had for preparing to memorize his lines in the script, Tom made sure he could fit horseback riding lessons into his busy schedule, since that was also the time he became a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, winning one of his many weightlifting medals that year. Once Tom got in front of that moving picture camera on his horse Flashlight, his director told him he rode just like a real cowboy, as if Tom had been born on a ranch instead of a hamlet by Lake Champlain in New York. ("The Sucker Who Succeeded", Motion Picture Classics, July 1928) Of course, being an expert horseman not only means being able to ride exceptionally well, but to master a number of mounts besides the basic left-side mount, and to perform stunts when the script demanded it. Most importantly, Tom Tyler's horsemanship is what makes his westerns so exciting: the utilization of exceptional riding skills combined with his athletic prowess.

For example, one stunt that Tom mastered early on was moving from his saddle on his horse to a crouching pose directly on the saddle, sideways, then launching himself off onto another rider who was usually the bad guy, taking him down. A lobby card from his silent film “The Wyoming Wildcat” 1925 depicts Tom in this exact pose. A similar stunt was executed in “The Texas Tornado” when Tom is in high-speed pursuit on horseback in rescuing the ranch lease from Latimer, so that he could get to the bank in time to renew it.

Another fairly difficult horseriding stunt Tom learned to perform is grabbing onto an overhead tree branch and swinging the body upwards, leaving the horse completely. Tom did this on “Cheyenne Rides Again”, and while up in the tree, waited until the bandits came riding by to drop onto them and impede their destination. Again, the physical body strength required for this was of no challenge for the world's champion weightlifter.

Tom performing the rear mount in "Feud of the Trail"
One horse mounting method that Tom Tyler excelled at was the rear mount. He apparently had to practice at not leaping directly over the horse, given his upper-body strength ability, but rather land directly in the saddle. Rear mounting is no easy task and not recommended for riders who do not have the physical strength nor the coordination for it. In Tom's case, he had to learn the proper judging distance in mounting his horse, for more than once he would either launch directly over the horse, as if playing leapfrog, or even on the horse's neck, thereby injuring the both of them. By the time Tom was filming “The Man from New Mexico”, he discovered that the rear mount in particular could be hazardous, due to his incredible upper body strength. Over time, fewer to no accidents occurred to Tom during the rear mount procedure, and it is certain that his horse was equally grateful, too.

From The Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1927
The flying mount can be exciting to the viewer, if only for its daredevil appearance. This method requires the rider to hang onto the horn of the saddle while the horse is in motion, both feet and legs off the ground, forming almost a scissor-like position, and mount in the saddle while the horse remains in motion, often at a gallop. Tom would more or less “fly” beside his horse while in the process of mounting the moving animal. He learned this method of mounting early on in his career, and there is even a picture of him executing such a mount on his horse, Flashlight, during his tenure with FBO. Of course, this method of mounting also remained in use throughout his career in talkie westerns, as a means of providing excitement to the western story lines Tom Tyler appeared in.

One fascinating horseriding stunt is the ability remain in the saddle even when the horse is trying to buck its rider. This is what happened in “Ridin On” where Tom's horse was frightened by another man's horse drawn buggy, the two almost colliding into each other. Tom was able to get his horse under control without leaving his saddle – quite an achievement in itself. Most men would be tossed from the horse, resulting in serious injuries. Tom Tyler, however, made all of his stunts look easy though, with all of his hard work, to delight and thrill his audiences.



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Tom Tyler: The Cowboy Cop (1926)

One of two Tom Tyler silent films made for FBO which had Jean Arthur as his leading lady was “The Cowboy Cop” (1926). As his eighth starring role, Tom appears in a rather unusual plot for a western: a cowboy who finds himself in a big city out west and gets involved with an exciting and adventurous lifestyle. His love interest happens to be an heiress, he engages in a high-speed pursuit on horseback, and a motorcycle chase after crooks. Directed by Robert De Lacey and written by Frank Richardson Pierce and F. A. E. Pine, the plot as it appears below is adapted from several trade publications sources: Moving Picture World, August 7, 1926; Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926; and Exhibitor's Herald, August 7, 1926.

Jerry McGill (Tom Tyler) arrives in the big city of Los Angeles from a ranch in Arizona but meets up with a robber by the name of Dago Jack (Pat Harmon) who pretends to get him a room at a hotel but ends up robbing him instead (think Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis in the 1970 Neil Simon comedy, “The Out of Towners”). Dejected, Jerry walks around the city until he sees a hungry newsboy (Frankie Darro) who doesn't have enough money to eat, and as a gesture of kindness, Jerry parts with his last few cents from his pocket and gives it to the boy to purchase a meal. Frankie is forever grateful and in turn, the two become fast friends.

Jerry manages to get a job with the Los Angeles mounted police, and with his horseback riding skills, gets hired in no time. The only problem is, he sees little action on horseback due to being appointed to a rather wealthy district, where there is practically no crime. Before he knows it, Jerry is introduced to a wealthy heiress, Virginia Selby (Jean Arthur) in a rather unusual manner: she is on a runaway horse in which he must go after her and rescue her. Soon Jerry and Virginia start spending time and getting to know each other. Virginia's privileged background is hardly a barrier to her interest in him, in fact, she starts inviting him over to her house to meet her father and have dinner.

A visiting count from an eastern European country by the name of Mirski is a guest at a social event at Virginia's house when he decides to send two hitmen to break into the safe and steal the valuable jewels. Even though Jerry is dressed in his finest dinner suit, he still engages in a fight with the crooks, chasing them first by car, then by motorcycle , finally capturing them. After Jerry finds he has been in the city long enough, he decides to return home to his ranch in Arizona. To his surprise, Jerry is persuaded by Virginia to stay with her on the family ranch in California and marry her.

Tom's onscreen pal Frankie is included in practically every scene, the latter dancing the Charleston, much to the delight of the viewers. He also accompanies Tom in all the fights, and is equally amazed at having gone from being a lowly newspaper boy to high society literally overnight. It may be that getting to see how the other half lived which prompted Tom and Frankie to eventually compromise and stay with Virginia on her California ranch.

Film stills from “The Cowboy Cop” (Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926) show Tom in a city police uniform walking his beat in the park, with little Frankie Darro as his partner, complete in a miniature police uniform. As in most big cities, Tom's police character rides horseback, along with Frankie on his pony. It is worth noting that the police uniform that Tom Tyler wore had to be custom made in order to properly fit his muscular build. Of course, Frankie's dog Sitting Bull, also appears in “The Cowboy Cop”.  A picture of Tom from Exhibitors Herald, August 7, 1926 shows Tom in his police uniform and holding hands with Jean Arthur, erroneously listed as Dorothy Dunbar, who appeared in “The Masquerade Bandit”, “Lightning Lariats”, and “Red Hot Hoofs” with Tom.

Cinema owners who previewed “The Cowboy Cop” also critiqued the film, often saying this will appeal most to Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro fans, even though the story line is rather unusual for a standard western for its time period (Exhibitor's Herald, April 30, 1927). However it should be remembered that FBO purposefully gave Tom Tyler scripts that employed highly creative concepts, not just to deviate from the silent film western, but to imagine an actor like Tom Tyler in unlimited places and time periods (the same was also done with “The Sonora Kid” and King Arthur). Perhaps most importantly, “The Cowboy Cop” is one of the handful of Tom Tyler FBO silent films which survived and is archived at EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. Hopefully “The Cowboy Cop”, given its unique plot and stars of Tom Tyler and Jean Arthur, can be restored and digitized for public viewing.
From Motion Picture News, August 28, 1926


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tom Tyler and Jeanne Martel: their wedding day


Tom Tyler was married for about five years to actress Jeanne Martel, who was also a B-film star. Although she was twelve years younger than Tom, the age difference did not keep them from getting to know one another and eventually marrying. At the age of 33, Tom probably felt it was time for him to settle down, despite the fact he did not lead a “swinging bachelor” lifestyle. In fact, his only other publicly known love interest was in Ethlyn Clair, who starred with Tom in “Gun Law” and “The Pride of Pawnee”, both in 1929. Yet nothing came of that relationship, so far as we know, which meant that Tom simply did not yet find the right woman for him.

Tom met his wife-to-be on the set of “Santa Fe Bound” in 1936. The newly met couple spent the usual amount of time getting to know each other, including time spent with their families, and married on September 3, 1937. Tom and Jean made two more movies together, “Lost Ranch” and “Orphan of the Pecos”, both in 1937 before they signed up to perform with the Wallace Brothers Circus for a year. In the 1930's, spending one's honeymoon while circus touring must have been uniquely romantic, not to mention the hard work involved with touring by train. Eventually, however, Tom and Jeanne divorced sometime around 1945. Below are photos of Tom getting into an airplane on the way to the wedding, plus an actual wedding day photo. He certainly looks handsome in a tuxedo, and Jean looks lovely in her bridal dress. It goes without saying they were one of the best looking couples in Hollywood in the 1930's.

From The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA, August 29, 1937
From The Los Angeles Times, CA, September 4, 1937


Monday, March 12, 2018

Buck Moon Trail, Part 2

Note: This is the second 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 aventurasdetomtyler@triggertom.com. Thank you and enjoy the story!

After the covered wagon arrived in Marshall, Missouri, its travelers decided to spend the night there. Twilight was starting to fall. The men outside set up camp and spent some time collecting dry wood nearby, while Julie started to prepare supper along with Joe, who rode the stallion all the way across the country. Joe had plenty of experience in long-distance travel on horseback, and preparing supper afforded him some time to speak to the only woman in the group. As he pared some root vegetables for dicing, Julie added some beef stock to drinking water in the cooking pot for stew. Joe glanced at her, thinking that she tried to be engrossed in what she was doing while at the same time thinking about Tom.

“Pretty long day, huh Julie. You seem worried about Tom. I know you care about him.” Joe leaned back and wiped the back of his right hand against the side of his jeans. His green eyes had a devilish twinkle in them, dirty blond hair disheveled across the top and back.

Julie hesitated before answering. “I do, Joe. Maybe too much.” Out of habit, the right corner of her mouth turned down while she thought. “What happens if we don't get Tom to our destination in time?” She uncrossed her legs, smoothing the skirt of her dress.

“Aw, we'll get him to Oklahoma in time, Miss Julie. It's just that – well I was wondering.” Joe picked up his knife and started to dice the parsnips and potatoes. Julie watched his slow, deliberate movements. The neat piles of chopped onions and carrots were joined by the other vegetables, forming a colorful row, ready to be added to the cast iron pot.

“Wondering what?” Julie caught a whiff of smoke from Joe's cigar which rested on a chunk of sedimentary rock next to the cooking utensils.

“I think there is something you should know about Tom and I don't rightly know how to put it to you.” Joe placed the diced vegetables so quietly into the pot, no splash of water could be heard. He looked at her and smiled, revealing his straight white teeth. As they spoke, Tom crawled to the rear of the covered wagon and leaned against a board, savoring the clean air. He was not supposed to move around too much, and was also afraid Julie might see him. Tom kept out of their direct line of sight and snuggled beneath a blanket. He thought he heard his name being spoken outside and did not wish for anyone to know he overheard any conversation about him.

“Why?” Julie curiously asked Joe. “It's not serious, is it? I mean outside of his being ill.” Her eyes cast down towards the cooking pot over the campfire.

“Well sort of. Maybe I should not have said anything.” Joe picked up the wood spoon and stirred the slow-cooking stew. Julie was hungry, as were the other men who sat on the other side of the wagon tending to the horses. “No. I was wrong to say anything, Julie. I know how you feel about him. I have to respect that.” Joe took a drag on his cigar, holding it in his weathered hand. Tom heard every word quite clearly, jolted into an awareness he never felt before. 'Did I do something wrong?' Tom thought to himself. He crawled back towards the middle of the wagon and pretended to sleep while supper cooked. 'I wonder what Joe was going to tell Julie?' Tom became a little scared but told himself not to reveal any feeling as such nor act as if he heard the conversation, for fear of alienating Julie or one of the men. He pulled the blanket up to his face and thought he heard the two men on the other side of the wagon. Tom shut his eyes and concentrated on the slowly fading sunlight on the western horizon. He breathed deeply, developing a natural rhythm, an exercise Julie taught him to help ease his physical pains. Supper will be ready by the time he awoke from his nap, and Tom was already starting to forget the conversation that transpired between Julie and Joe not more than ten minutes ago.

To be continued...


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Collectibles: Tom Tyler movie banners


Of the different vintage film poster sizes, one of the rarest is the banner. Usually made of canvas weight fabric with bright colored painted designs and lettering, these banners were displayed in the front of a cinema near the box office. Meant to be eye-catching to the movie patron, these banners were often manufactured in limited quantities which means that very few of them survive today, particularly those from the 1930's to early 1940's. Banners from these two decades on average measured from 119” x 36” to 117” x 35” in size, with some variation in size. These movie banners had a total of eight grommets along the top and bottom edges, which were then tied to a bar and displayed so that it hung flat without sagging. When a cinema was lucky enough to acquire a banner, it would arrive rolled up, and would be stored the same way after the movie it was advertised for ended its run.



There are three Tom Tyler movie banners that are confirmed to exist: “Phantom of the West”, “Battling with Buffalo Bill”, and “Adventure of Captain Marvel”. In very good to excellent condition, these banners can command up to $1000.00 upwards in price.





Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Dutch titles of Tom Tyler films


"Jungle Mystery" from  De Noord Ooster
Wildervank, Netherlands, March 13, 1934
One interesting and fascinating thing about the many Dutch translated titles of Tom Tyler movies is they were seen not only in the Netherlands but also in the many Dutch colonies around the world during the first two decades of Tom Tyler's film career. For example, a number of newspapers and broadsheets mention cinema ads shown in what was then the Dutch East Indies (modern day Indonesia) and Dutch West Indies like Curacao, Bonaire and Saba. When these Tom Tyler films were shown in such exotic locations, it was usually for the benefit of Dutch traders in these locales. Even “Adventures of Captain Marvel” was shown in Indonesia, usually untranslated as a film title. Sometimes films shown in the Dutch West Indies would also bear a Spanish translated title, as in “El Problema de los Valientes”, published in Amigoe di Curacao June 13, 1950 – Santa Fe Scouts! On the positive side, were it not for Dutch colonization, many of Tom's movies would probably not be shown in these parts of the world during the 1930's. It is also worth mentioning that according to the Dutch Puntenlijst (ranking list) of popular culture figures in Bataviaasch nieuwsblad, August 7, 1928 Tom Tyler ranks at #12. With thanks to Delpher for the following titles:

1920's

Red Hot Hoofs (1925) Een geboren Vechtersbaas
Tom's Gang (1927) De verspeelde Hoeve
The Desert Pirate (1927) De woestijnpiraat
When the Law Rides (1928) Buiten bereik der wet
Tyrant of Red Gulch (1928) De Verborgen buit
The Pride of Pawnee (1929) Dappere Tom
The Law of the Plains (1929) 'T recht zegeviert

"Mystery Ranch", from Soerabaijasch Handelsblad, Surabaya, Indonesia, October 22, 1934

1930's

The Phantom of the West (1931) Het spook van het westen
A Rider of the Plains (1931) De ruiter zonder vrees
The Man from Death Valley (1931) De Geheimzinnige Pachter
Jungle Mystery (1932) De geheimen van het oerwoud
Deadwood Pass (1933) De pas in het Doodenwoud
War of the Range (1933) De verspeelde hoeve
Ridin' Thru (1934) Een verijdeld complot
Unconquered Bandit (1935) Zijn Vader gewroken
Coyote Trails (1935) De Spookhengst
Born to Battle (1935) Op 't kantje af
The silver bullet (1935) De zilveren kogel
Rio Rattler (1935) De bende van Rio
The Last Outlaw (1936) Op Vrije Voeten
Phantom of the Range (1936) De spookruiter
Brothers of the West (1937) De Geheime speurder
Lost Ranch (1937) De plicht voor alles
Orphan of the Pecos (1937) Het witte gevaar


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Polish titles of Tom Tyler films

"A Rider of the Plains" cinema ad
It seems only natural to have an entry just for Polish titles of Tom's movies, given his Polish-Lithuanian background. Most of his films did in fact appear in Poland, usually a few years after their initial release here in the United States. As it goes with title translations, sometimes one pops up that looks somewhat unusual, as in the case of one Polish title: “Szatański Cowboy”. For some people, a Google translation is hardly needed, for its literal meaning is “Satanic Cowboy” and briefly described as an early talkie, according to Polona. As bizarre and humorous as this sounds for a Tom Tyler 1930's western, this movie is most likely “A Rider of the Plains” (1931) because the plot is about an outlaw cowboy named Blackie Saunders (Tom) whose friend is a pastor, Jim Wallace (Ted Adams). Jim was a former member of Blackie's gang before he went straight. Tom's all-black outfit plus the hat helped in this particular role, which he turns in an outstanding performance. With thanks to Biblioteki Narodowej and Filmweb for the Polish titles of the following Tom Tyler movies:


"Stagecoach"
1920's

The Wyoming Wildcat (1925) – Król cowboy'ów i maly bohater
'Neath Western Skies (1929) – Walka o diamenty
The Phantom Rider (1929) – Jeździec widmo
Pioneers of the West (1929) – Pionierzy zachodu

1930's

A Rider of the Plains (1931) – Szatański cowboy
Two Fisted Justice (1931) –  Pod szubienicą
The Man from New Mexico (1932) – Postrach Meksyku
Vanishing Men (1932) – Przyjaźń w obliczu śmierci
Honor of the Mounted (1932) – Tajemnica zamkniętego kufra
Stagecoach (1939) –  Dyliƶans
The Night Riders (1939) – Nocni jeźdźcy
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – Bębny nad Mohawkiem
Frontier Marshal (1939) – Szeryf z pogranicza


"Red River"
1940's

Brother Orchid (1940) – Orchid, brat gangstera
The Westerner (1940) – Człowiek z zachodu
The Talk of the Town (1942) – Głosy miasta
The Princess and the Pirate (1944) –Księżniczka i Pirat
Never Say Goodbye (1946) – Nigdy nie mów do widzenia
Blood on the Moon (1948) – Krwawy księżyc
Red River (1948) – Rzeka Czerwona
I Shot Jesse James (1949) – Zabiłem Jessego Jamesa
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – Nosiła żółtą wstążkę

1950'S

Best of the Badmen (1951) –Najlepszy z najgorszych


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tom Tyler's eyes: The mirror to the soul

Some of the most popular actors in Hollywood can be identified just by a picture of their eyes. In Hollywood, many times an actor's acting ability can be told how they use their eyes especially when it comes to conveying emotions and unspoken words. Tom Tyler certainly knew how to use his eyes when it came to acting, no doubt the result of many hours practice when he took correspondence lessons in acting.

In “The Mummy's Hand” (1940), Tom's eyes were “blacked out” using a camera technique in some scenes to make him seem even more frightening. On film, this technique made his eyes seem to “gel” and shine unnaturally, just like a real monster brought back to life after being dead for many centuries.

In “Stagecoach” (1939) when he saunters up to the bar and turns in the film's top acting performance, Tom looks around nervously, as he awaits the arrival of the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) to have a showdown with. Tom does not have any trouble making direct eye contact with the camera when the script calls for it, as he did in “San Antonio” (1945) when he is standing outside the saloon, getting ready to take on Errol Flynn in a gunslinging match. Perhaps the best close-up of Tom's eyes is in “The Silver Bullet” (1935), when he is in the saloon ready to reprimand an outlaw. With his right eyebrow slightly raised, Tom's eyes shine like discs, with
the light hitting his face at just the right angle. It is a vicious, authoritarian stare made at the outlaw, who then makes the wise decision to turn himself in to Tom's newly appointed authority as the town's sheriff. Such a camera shot makes this movie a favorite among Tom's fans, in addition to its bittersweet story of a blind man seeking justice by learning how to shoot a gun.

Tom Tyler's brown eyes were perfect for silent film, to be sure, and even better for the talkies he made during the 1930's, and the color films he made in the 1940's before he fell ill with scleroderma. More than one publicity photo show Tom's eyes sparkling, full of life and light, eyes that could tell the story of his journey to Hollywood from Hamtramck, Michigan. Eyes that not only acted well, but also could hold the beholder spellbound, speak of an era long gone yet cherished and held close to the heart.


Born in the dust and cradled in the dark,
It feels the fire of an immortal spark,
And learns to read, with patient, searching eyes,
The splendid secret of the unconscious skies.

- H. Van Dyke








Friday, February 9, 2018

Acting Dangerously: Tom Tyler the stuntman

FBO, like other small film production outfits during the 1920's, had its stars performing dangerous stunts without the benefit of using professional stuntmen. With Tom Tyler being young, athletic and muscular, he could certainly pull off any stunts required of him in a film script. Sometimes Tom also had to protect co-stars placed in the same situation that he was in, keeping them safe from being killed on the set. Perhaps it was a feeling of invincibility on Tom's part – as any young man might feel, having traveled such a long way from home to  the destination of where his future lay, ready to conquer Hollywood and anything it handed him. He certainly was not afraid to perform these stunts, even though the first few ones came very close to costing him his life.

It was in Tom's debut starring role of “Let's Go Gallagher” in 1925 where he completes his first rescue mission, releasing Frankie Darro and his dog Beans who were tied to a train track by a gang of outlaws. In this case, it was Tom's horseback riding skills of a speedy pace that made this rescue possible. Yet this was just a precursor to a greater rescue later on in the film, where Tom also had to rescue the heroine (Barbara Starr) who was stuck on a runaway carriage, headed down the steep grade of a mountainside. Once again speed and precision played an important role, and Tom in all his grandeur rescues the frightened girl from getting killed, and establishes him as a major film star of athletic capability.

The theme of having to rescue a girl from a perilous situation, usually involving a cliff, followed in the next few Tom Tyler films made for FBO. For example, in “The Wyoming Wildcat” (1925), Tom makes a daring rescue while on horseback, leaping off the top of a cliff while remaining on his horse, plunging into a whirlpool of water below, to save Virginia Southern from drowning. It is not difficult to imagine the audience's reaction when viewing this silent film for the first time in movie theatres. But Tom's early silent films were meant to be fun, entertaining, adventurous, and hold the viewer spellbound all at once. Since 1925 was the year Tom became a star, a leading man for FBO, it was only natural for his publicists to market him as being one of the most exciting actors that year – and he was!

Can you imagine having to experience almost getting killed while shooting a scene – then having to reshoot the scene with better safety measures in place? That is what happened in “The Cowboy Musketeer” (1925). In this silent film, Tom is ambling along on horseback when he happens to glance off to the side of the trail and sees Frances Dare stuck in her car, tangled up in a collapsing rickety wood bridge, and races to catch her before she falls into the water. While they are suspended from Tom's lariat, tied to his horse's saddle, somehow the rope comes loose, and the couple end up going over the falls, holding on to each other tightly. Tom and Frances survive the ordeal, and while the scene was shot over to prevent any similar mistakes, provides an example of how dangerous it can be for the starring actor to perform stunts of this nature. It could be just luck that Tom managed to survive so many dangerous stunts while filming, although the cliff-water-falling combination must have proven to be too risky, for FBO certainly could not afford to lose its brand new star to a potentially fatal accident.

Starting with “Born to Battle” (1926) and “Wild to Go” (1926), the stunts Tom performed were not as dangerous yet they remained exciting. In these two movies he had to jump from a ship and swim to safety to escape his captors. Tom is an expert swimmer, however, as can be attested to his physical training in addition to weightlifting.

Another exciting stunt typically performed by Tom involved his rescuing a girl on a runaway horse while he too is on horseback, gently and safely scooping her up in his right arm. Such a stunt is risky in itself, yet Tom makes it look incredibly easy. On the positive side, such a stunt is thrilling to view on film while not quite as dangerous as those stunts that Tom performed during his first few starring roles.

It was not until the filming of “Idaho Red” in 1929 when Tom became victim to a different type of accident, one that almost killed him, and most likely caused him to develop scleroderma during his mid-40's. During the filming of a scene where Tom has been captured by a group of bandits and left in a cellar, a demijohn of chemicals spilled and temporarily asphyxiated him until the rest of the crew discovered him and had to revive him. This must have been terribly frightening for Tom, not knowing what happened to him even though it was just another close brush with death.

Out of the first three Tom Tyler starring role silent films mentioned above where he performs life-threatening stunts, only one of them exists as a 35mm print in a film archive: “The Wyoming Wildcat”. Even though this silent film is not restored, it remains a valuable piece of film history with regards to Tom's film career. Hopefully one day it will see restoration as well as digitization. Until then, however, we can appreciate the thrilling stunts Tom performs in his existing talkies, not to mention “The Texas Tornado” (1928).



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Gangsters abound: Tom Tyler in “The Last Outlaw”

One of the most unique turning points of Tom Tyler's film career was playing a heavy in “Powdersmoke Range” in 1935, during a time when he was portraying cowboy heroes for Reliable in the mid- to late 1930's. For Tom, it was simply a matter of making the most of his versatile acting talent which would come in handy three years later in “Stagecoach” (1939). It was one movie in between those two, however, that would see Tom portray a heavy as well as be paired up with Harry Carey once again: “The Last Outlaw” (1936) from RKO. In this movie, Tom portrays a gangster who succeeds the recently paroled Dean Payton (Carey) in the story, his fate ending up in a very similar manner to the man he meets on the city bus while trying to maintain the appearance of an ordinary city man.

From the time Dean is paroled from jail and returns to him hometown by bus, he is hoping for a new lease on life without having any reminders of his past brought up again. That all changes, however, as soon as he meets his modern-time replacement on the bus, a gangster by the name Al Goss (Tom Tyler). Compared to Dean Payton's manner of dress, a throwback to an earlier time out west, Al is wearing the finest threads available, plus a white hat with a wide black band around it. To Dean, Al looks like a well-dressed businessman, unaware that he is in fact a gangster who is in the same business that Dean once was. Once Dean boards the bus he finds a seat next to Al. Al dozes off in his bus seat when Dean nudges him and asks if he could sit there. Al abruptly wakes up and admonishes Dean: “What do you mean poking a guy in the ribs?” Al relents at Dean's request, and moves over to the seat next to the window on the bus. Dean has trouble with his belongings, but once he gets settled in, he grins at Al, who in return glowers at him, as if he is someone who needs to be kept an eye on.
Once Dean reaches his destination, he gets off with Al following him. Al finally confronts Dean and challenges him, saying: “For a nickel I'd take a sock at you.” Dean falls for the ploy and hands Al a nickel, if only to give him the satisfaction of slugging him. Just as he is ready to fistfight Al a policeman comes up behind him. The policeman asks Al what this is all about then replies that he was attending to his own business. Al is a tough hombre but younger and physically stronger than Dean is, before handing Dean back his nickel. Al, however, guarantees that he and Dean will be meeting up again soon, much to Dean's chagrin; what Dean does not know is that he will eventually meet up with Al to turn him in to the authorities and put an end to his criminal activities. In addition to becoming adjusted to a normal life, he tracks down his daughter Sally (Margaret Callahan), spends time with friends Cal Yates (Henry B Walthall) and Chuck Wilson (Hoot Gibson), going to the movies, experiences the era of the singing cowboys, and longs for the real wild west, if only because that is where his heart is. Dean will get to experience his dream sooner than later – and at the same time feel truly redeemed in addition to serving his time in jail.

In the meantime, Al and his henchmen make their plans to rob State Bank and as soon as their nefarious act commences, Dean is in the bank at the same time they are. Unfortunately for Dean, he is left behind in the position where the police suspect him as the culprit even though he is innocent. Dean knows who the police should be following and is willing to help them catch Al, whose daughter Sally has been abducted by Al and his gang. Only one diversion takes place on their way to a hideout – the same one used by Dean only two decades earlier – a stop at a small gas station to fill up their tank. Just as they are leaving, a news announcement comes over their car radio regarding the occupants and the bank robbery. The gas station attendant overhears, and as Al stands outside the car, he looks around nervously, hoping for enough time to escape while paying for the gas – which he does. The gangsters hurriedly leave and continue on their way to the hideout, and after a brief repudiation towards Al by one of his own men as to its location, eventually arrive there.

As leader of operations, including control over Sally in their possession, Al calls the defense shots when Dean, Cal and Chuck arrive and hide behind an outcropping of rocks at the top of the hill above the hideout cabin. Both sides son engage in gunfire, with Dean and his pals at an advantage: they attempt to drive everyone out of the cabin, carefully planted bullets in the barrel holding a water supply connected to the house, the stove pipe jutting out of the roof, the water bucket carried by Sally, the tires on the getaway car, even the car radio as it plays “My Heart's on the Trail”, the theme song to the movie they just saw recently.

Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin, June 3, 1936 states the following: “Tom Tyler is seen in the strange role of one of the gangsters and he risks audience sympathy by playing the part for all it's worth.” It is only when Tom, his gang and Sally are hiding out at a deserted ranch house that he utilises his voice to perfection: the monotone gravelly dictates such as “We need water”, eventually grabbing Sally and hiding behind her as he escapes from Dean Payton out the cabin's front door. This iconic scene, which became a promotional item for “The Last Outlaw” in both lobby cards and one-sheet posters, a characterization of Tom Tyler never before seen in any films he previously made. Who could imagine Tom making a getaway while using a woman as bait? Yet he pulled off the scene beautifully in the movie, including his escape, which permits the viewer to imagine that is exactly how Harry Carey's Dean Payton was captured two decades earlier. While “Powdersmoke Range” places Tom Tyler not only in close proximity with Harrey Carey near the end – but also an emotional closeness, “The Last Outlaw” places him at a considerable distance – even placing Sally between them – while the closeness remains one at heart: being the true successor of a mastermind criminal from twenty years earlier, and just like Dean Payton, is caught, although not by Dean himself but by his friend Cal. Not surprisingly, Tom's performance ranks high as usual, playing off Harry Carey's portrayal of an aged criminal nicely without obvious rivalry. Written by E. Murray Campbell and John Ford, and directed by Christy Cabanne who would later direct Tom in “The Mummy's Hand”, “The Last Outlaw” is a B-western that ranks up there with “Powdersmoke Range” in having big-named stars playing major roles. Most importantly, “The Last Outlaw” offers Tom Tyler fans a glimpse into a very different type of character played onscreen, apart from his typical hero-type starring roles.






Saturday, January 27, 2018

Collectibles: Illustrierter Film-Kurier

Born to Battle 1926
Film programs have long been used as a form of advertising for the latest and greatest releases from Hollywood. One of the most popular ones published in Germany and Austria was Illustrierter Film-Kurier. Originally published in Berlin by Alfred Weiner from 1919 to 1945, this film program was a supplement to the already established Film-Kurier, a German publication on film, theatre and local entertainment. These film programs covered every genre of film from dramas and comedies to westerns. Often sold in cinemas,  early copies of Illustrierter Film-Kurier were 8 pages long, 6” x 9” in size, stapled at the binding, containing a film summary along with many photo shots of the film. Later publications around the mid-1930's were slightly smaller, about 5 3/4” x 8 1/4” in size. In Vienna, Austria, Illustrierter Film-Kurier was printed by Film Propaganda GesmbH from 1929 to 1956. These later issues were often only two pages long, with not as many photos outside the front and back covers. A number of Tom Tyler films appeared in these Illustrierter Film-Kurier, which include the following:

Der Cowboykönig der kalifornischen Berge,  Born to Battle 1926
Rätsel der Dschungel, Jungle Mystery 1932
Das Phantom der Ranch , Phantom of the Range 1936
Boxer und Cowboy, Rip Roaring Buckaroo 1936
Das Land des Renegaten, Frontier Marshal, 1939
In die Falle gelockt, The Westerner 1940

Jungle Mystery 1932
Phantom of the Range 1936



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tom and his bevy of beauties

The average Tom Tyler western often conjures up visions of fistfights, physically demanding stuntwork performed by the star, and a gripping story line that involves cattle rustling and ranch ownership, but one concept not often thought about is a group of pretty girls: in plot terms, a bevy of beauties. Sometimes having one member of the fairer gender was not enough to complement Tom Tyler and pals Frankie Darro with Beans the dog in the early FBO silent films. At first glance, it does not seem like a bevy of beauties might fit into the story of one of Tom's movies, yet it has, not just once but four times. Only one of these four movies exists on DVD, “Ridin' Thru” although plot descriptions of these other films exist.

In “Born to Battle” (1926), Tom encounters a group of young beauties in bathing suits after escaping from a boat where he was kidnapped. The young ladies are outside enjoying the beautiful weather in their bathing suits, next to the girls' school they attend when the unexpected “merman” emerges from the river, dripping wet, right before their eyes. Blushing, Tom politely excuses himself from their presence and gets back on the trail of tracking down a band of ranch property conspirators. The same girls' shool shows up again in “Wild to Go” (1926) where Tom once again swims in the river nearby, and sees a group of girls in bathing suits. Tom is there for a reason though, for he is to meet with his boss's daughter Eugenie Gilbert who attends the school but soon finds himself and Eugenie confronted by kidnappers.

Tom did not always discover a bunch of young lovelies on a riverbank, however. Sometimes the bevy of beauties would try to transform a cattle ranch into a girls' school, as they did in “The Avenging Rider” (1928). Instead of just bathing suits though, these ladies wear day dresses and evening dresses. They also wear exercise clothes when they work out in the ranch's barn which serves as their gym, plus they turn a small mountain lake into their swimming hole.

Finally, there is “Ridin' Thru” (1934) where Tom and his pal Ben Corbett arrive at a dude ranch for jobs and view a bunch of pretty girls sunbathing in their swimsuits, as well as dancers who vie for the attention of the two newly arrived cowboys on the ranch. Ben seems to take naturally to the presence of these beauties while Tom is a bit more shy, glancing at the ladies over his shoulder as he tends to ranch business, helping the owner track down a ring of horse thieves. These scenes are only a minor addition to the film, but gives the viewer an idea of Tom's general reaction to a group of young ladies in his early silent films.
From "Ridin' Thru"

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tom Tyler as Stony Brooke: The Three Mesquiteers

Soon after Tom Tyler completed his most successful – and best-known role – as Captain Marvel in “Adventures of Captain Marvel” (1941) for Republic Pictures, he joined the famous western film trio known as The Three Mesquiteers, characters that were created by William Colt MacDonald. Also filmed by Republic at the time, Tom made a total of thirteen black and white Three Mesquiteers films, portraying Stony Brooke. Of course, Tom was in two other Three Mesquiteers movies prior to his new tenure but as different characters: Sundown Saunders in “Powdersmoke Range” (RKO; 1935) and as Jackson in “The Night Riders” (Republic; 1939). It is worth noting that Tom's role as Stony Brooke marked a new chapter in his acting career, after completing what is presently considered the greatest film serial ever made.

Tom's new contract with Republic ran for a year, from 1941 to 1942, according to his biography by Mike Chapman, then later extended for one more year, from 1942 to 1943. “Outlaws of Cherokee Trail” (1941) marked Tom's first starring role as Stony Brooke, and with twelve more films made over the next two years, culminated in “Riders of the Rio Grande” (1943), which was also the last Three Mesquiteers film made by Republic. Tom's co-stars in these westerns were Bob Steele (Tucson Smith), Jimmie Dodd and Rufe Davis (Lullaby Joslin). Their adventures were exciting and as a sign of the times – The United States entered World War 2 by the end of 1941 – two Three Mesquiteer films included Nazi references in the plot: “The Phantom Plainsmen” (1942) and “Valley of Hunted Men” (1942).
The rest of these Three Mesquiteers films provided the perfect escapism during that looming period of world history, the kind of entertainment desired at a weekend matinee. Best of all, their adventurous exploits were always injected with a hearty dose of humor, whether it was Lullaby dressed in drag eavesdropping in on an inside conversation that would lead the trio to the killer, or in blackface selling watermelons to help his other jailed pals break free. They even dressed up as Indians to go undercover and succeed in their mission in one story; in another story the Mesquiteers also come upon a miniature horse who was witness to her master's murder, and help track him down, even at the cost of their being accused of the actual murder. Periodically, Lullaby would also play a guitar or sing a song, or both, while the pals were traveling on horseback or spending an evening at home with friends.

According to Showmen's Trade Review, December 26, 1942, The Three Mesquiteers “have done valiant work in maintaining the high standards of the picture” (p.52), and ranked #8 on the western popularity chart according to Motion Picture Herald, December 27, 1941. Naturally that gave Tom Tyler's career a bit of a popularity boost; in 1942, The Three Mesquiteers ranked at #10 (Motion Picture Herald, December 26, 1942), and by 1943, the western trio ranked at #7 (Motion Picture Herald, December 25, 1943).

As Stony Brooke, Tom Tyler cut his usual heroic cowboy figure: physically strong and handsome, rider of the white stallion named Silver (Silver Chief), often ribbing along with pals Tucson Smith and Lullaby Joslin as the script demanded. It only seems natural that Tom Tyler portrayed one of the Three Mesquiteers; as Stony he is the most level-headed of the three, providing
logical solutions to their seemingly endless number of unfortunate situations they got into, or being the best fighter of the three. For example, in “Code of the Outlaw”, Stony is able to buy back the boy Tim's rambunctious horse from Dick Alexander, one of Tom's regular co-stars in films like “Coyote Trails” (1935) and “Mystery Range” (1937), always came up against him in a major fistfight. While Tom Tyler once again had his name in the forefront, sharing top billing with Bob Steele, Rufe Davis and Jimmie Dodd, they all had the right on-screen chemistry required to make the Three Mesquiteer movies as enjoyable as they are.

Following is the list of Three Mesquiteer films where Tom Tyler starred as Stony Brooke:

Outlaws of Cherokee Trail (1941)
Gauchos of El Dorado (1941)
West of Cimarron (1941)
Code of the Outlaw (1942)
Raiders of the Range (1942)
Westward Ho (1942)
The Phantom Plainsmen (1942)
Shadows on the Sage (1942)
Valley of Hunted Men (1942)
Thundering Trails (1943)
The Blocked Trail (1943)
Santa Fe Scouts (1943)
Riders of the Rio Grande (1943)