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.

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