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:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

More French titles of Tom Tyler films

It has been awhile since a foreign language movie title list has been included in this blog – and after coming across a European movie directory site while in the process of researching something else, felt it was time to continue a list of movies Tom Tyler appeared in – in French. The first list of French movie titles is here. An alternate title for “The Younger Brothers” has been included below. Many thanks to Notre Cinéma for the below titles.

The Grapes of Wrath
King of Alcatraz (1938) - L'Évadé d'Alcatraz
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) - Sur la piste des Mohawks
Gone With the Wind (1939) - Autant en emporte le vent
Frontier Marshal (1939) - L'Aigle des frontières
The Texas Rangers Ride Again (1940) - Le Retour des Texas Rangers
Buck Privates (1940) - Deux nigauds soldats
The Westerner (1940) - Le Cavalier du désert
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) - Les Raisins de la colère
Border Vigilantes (1941) - Coureurs de frontières
Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) - Les Aventures du Capitaine Marvel
The Phantom (1943) - Le Fantôme
They Were Expendable (1945) - Les Sacrifiés
Never Say Goodbye (1946) - Ne dites jamais adieu
Badman’s Territory (1946) - La Ville des sans-loi
The Three Musketeers (1948) - Les Trois mousquetaires
Red River (1948) - La Rivière Rouge
The Younger Brothers (1948) - Les Trois mousquetaires du Far West/ Le gang des quatre freres
Samson and Delilah (1949) - Samson et Dalila
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) - La Charge héroïque
Lust for Gold (1949) - Le Démon de l'or
The Great Missouri Raid (1951) -  Les Rebelles du Missouri
What Price Glory (1952) - Deux durs à cuire

Red River


Monday, September 9, 2019

It’s in the money: Tom’s salary during his career

A common subject that often arises during a new Hollywood interest is, what kind of money did they make? Was their salary generous? Or were they barely scraping by? In the case of Tom Tyler, it is considered common knowledge among those familiar with his career that he was not an A-list star who commanded top-dollar for his film roles, even though he may have done so, had he had the right business agent.  However, Tom’s priority was his desire to become an actor, since his teen years. Chances are he never gave much though to an ideal salary, what his true worth might be as an actor, despite the fact he was one of the truly best actors in Hollywood during the mid-1920’s to late 1940’s before he became terminally ill with scleroderma.

One of Tom’s first acting jobs was as a Native American in the 1924 Pathé film serial “Leatherstocking” - where he was paid $50.00 a week ($750.00 a week in 2019) according to the article “The Sucker Who Succeeded”  in Motion Picture Classic, July 1928. Billed under his real name of Vincent Markowski, it must have been an ego booster for the young man who traveled all the way from Hamtramck, Michigan only a few years earlier.  At least Tom knew he could finally make money as an actor, and that is all that mattered to him.

When Tom signed a contract with FBO in 1925, his starting salary per week was about $75.00 ($1,100.00 in 2019) according to The Old Corral - a step up from the money he made while filming “Leatherstocking” and doing bit parts in “Three Weeks” (1924) and “Ben Hur” (1925). As Tom continued to make B-westerns for FBO, chances are he got a little bit of increase in pay, but not much, maybe up to $100.00 or so by the time his contract with FBO/RKO ran out in 1929.
According to an article in Variety, August 3, 1927, "...the negative cost of the Tyler westerns is only 20% of [Fred] Thom[p]son's." Thomson was also paid rather generously by FBO in 1925, his contract paying him $10,000.00 a week. Joseph Kennedy sensed an opportunity for both Thomson and himself, selling Thomson out to Paramount, a competing studio. Unfortunately for Fred Thomson, he contracted tetanus and died on December 25, 1928, barely able to make better money, but at the same time, Tom Tyler proved to be a better money maker for FBO before the studio reorganized as RKO for talkies in 1929.

One of Tom’s known representing agents was Jerry G. Mayer, as mentioned in Hollywood Filmograph, December 31, 1932. Jerry was the brother of Louis B. Mayer, and both men had vested interests in Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). Jerry G. Mayer also had his own production company by 1925, eventually becoming the studio manager for MGM in the mid-1930’s. The Mayer connection made sense, since one of Tom’s first documented film appearances was in the MGM (then called Goldwyn Pictures in the 1920’s) movie, “Three Weeks” in 1924, starring Aileen Pringle. Unfortunately for Tom, who was under contract with Monogram/Trem Carr in the early 1930’s talkies years, having an agent whose priority was with another studio probably did not help his career a whole lot. The other problem was, the star system was still evolving and became implemented in the 1930’s by none other than Louis B. Mayer – Jerry’s brother.  On the other side of that coin, Hollywood was also becoming very political in nature. Who you knew could make or break a movie career, as in the case of John Wayne and director John Ford. It could be that Tom was not interested in the political side of Hollywood,  considering it a job that made him happy, for he certainly loved his work, as Clayton “The Lone Ranger” Moore later attested during the last years of Tom’s life.

It would be a superhero film serial that would provide Tom not only a substantial salary but also a major milestone for his career once his contracts with Reliable and Victory Pictures ran out in the late 1930’s. Clad in a gray and gold leotard for black and white film, Tom Tyler became the World’s Mightiest Mortal in “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, released in 1941. Long considered the greatest serial ever made, Tom was paid $250.00 a week, according to his biography, “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman, for a total of $1000.00 ($17,500.00 in 2019) - four weeks worth of working on this famous Republic film serial.

By the time Tom returned to Republic Pictures as one of the Three Mesquiteers in 1941, the first of thirteen movies he made with the famous team being “Outlaws of Cherokee Trail”, his contract was for $150.00 per week ($2,600.00 in 2019) during the first year of movies, according to The Old Corral, which also included “Gauchos of El Dorado” and “West of Cimarron”. In 1942, Tom’s salary increased to $200.00 a week ($3,150.00 in 2019) for the seven movies he made for Republic that year: “Code of the Outlaw”, “Raiders of the Range”, “Westward Ho”,  “The Phantom Plainsmen”, “The Talk of the Town”, “Shadows on the Sage”, and “Valley of Hunted Men”. When Tom Tyler made his last Three Mesquiteers movie in 1943, “Riders of the Rio Grande”, he made $350.00 ($5,191.00 in 2019) a week. On the surface this did not seem like a bad amount of money, and it wasn’t, given the fact Tom was a workhorse and did manage to stay in the business for over twenty years, and perhaps he was hoping the right agent would come along and give him the career boost he would need.

Tom Tyler was not by any means a wealthy actor, but was able to live comfortably during the mid 1920’s to mid-1940’s until his body was in the developing stage of scleroderma. By 1947, when he made only one movie that year, “Cheyenne”, multiple doctor visits between then and the early 1950’s proved costly, leaving him penniless and lack of ability to obtain contracts during the final stages of his illness. Regardless of his salary or his B-western star status, Tom Tyler left behind an impressive body of work to appreciate and remember him well.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Filmed on location at Warner Springs: “The Texas Tornado”

A scene from "The Texas Tornado"
As the only Tom Tyler FBO silent film available on DVD, “The Texas Tornado” may surprise viewers in that it was filmed on location in Warner Springs, California. Located in San Diego County, Warner Springs is an unincorporated community that was home to the Luiseño and Cupeño tribes in southern California. Related to the Cahuilla tribe, a now-abandoned Cupeño village sits on 200 acres east of Lake Henshaw on California State Highway 79. The Cupeño lived in the San Jose Valley Mountains by the San Luis Rey River, and had two villages, one at present-day Warner Springs, the second, at Wilakal, at San Ysidro. Founded in 1844 by Juan Jose Warner, this piece of land is situated at an elevation of 3130 feet, with a smattering of mountains referred to as Lost Valley, part of the Peninsular Ranges in the state. Of these mountains, Hot Springs Mountain, famous for its scenic and beautiful hiking trails, has an elevation of 6535 feet high and is the highest peak in San Diego County. Since 1912, Hot Springs Mountain has had a fire lookout tower which has been modified over the decades, a popular destination of hikers in Warner Springs.

Lost Valley is prominent in “The Texas Tornado” in a number of scenes: where a simulated cliff dwelling (not native, as the Cupeño built and lived in adobe homes on the land) is shown as the hideout for Latimer’s henchmen and their holding of Frankie Darro captive, and the climactic rescue of Frankie by Tom when the gondola breaks, dangling from the cable between the mountains. When “The Texas Tornado” was filmed, the crew and cast were enthusiastic about making the movie in such a beautiful setting, with the non-stop action, fights, and suspense that took place. The fights were so rough and injurious to Tom Tyler’s legs due to Latimer and his henchmen wearing roweled spurs on their boots, that the spurs had to be banned from further film productions. The good news is, Tom was in tip-top shape in 1928 when this silent film was made, for he had won the Los Angeles Athletic Union weightlifting championship, which allowed him to climb over that cable with Frankie clinging on to him for dear life. The one spectacular stunt missing from the existing DVD of “The Texas Tornado” is a fight between Tom and Jack Anthony at the top of a burning oil derrick, resulting in Tom’s escaping by use of a guy wire, again with Frankie hanging on for safety.

For those who exhibit interest in visiting film location sets, Warner Springs is a destination for Tom Tyler fans, as Lone Pine Studios is, to experience walking upon the land where Tom made one of his surviving silent films.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Storing paper-based film collectibles

Note: This article has been modified from my original article written for Hubpages on October 10, 2017.

ESCO Arcade card from "The Arizona Streak", 1926
For those of you who collect paper-based film memorabilia on Tom Tyler, perhaps some of the most important questions are, “What is the best way to store these? Can I display this item in a frame?” The answer to the first question takes preservation into consideration, and contrary to popular belief, storage materials for film collectibles from the mid-1920’s to the 1940’s are not expensive at all. In fact, acid-free paper envelopes and polyethylene bags are affordable, found in office supply stores, and websites like Amazon. Similar items should always be stored together, such as arcade/exhibit/postcards, lobby cards, film booklets, and film stills. For the ambitious collector, a cataloguing system might also be used to keep track of what is being collected. Regardless if you have only a handful of colorful arcade cards of Tom Tyler, or an extensive film still collection, following is a list of different paper-based film collectibles and the ideal way to store them.

ESCO postcard, "When the Law Rides" 1928
Arcade/Exhibit cards and postcards

These movie collector cards, manufactured by the Chicago Exhibit Supply Company (ESCO), were dispensed through vending machines for a penny each back in the 1920's and 1930's. Western stars were very popular subjects on these cards. Many times film scenes were reproduced on these cards too, especially silent films. Each arcade/exhibit card measured 5.2” x 3.2” in size, about the same size as a postcard produced during the same time period. What makes arcade/exhibit cards stand out is the number of colors a single image would be available in. These cards usually came in duotone; for example, an arcade card of Tom Tyler and Frankie Darro in a scene from “Cyclone of the Range” comes in yellow/orange as well as gray/purple. A very wide range of colors were used to manufacture these cards, which range from red, blue, green, yellow, magenta, lime green, navy, even aqua. A small photo album with acid-free poly sleeves is an ideal way to store these intriguing film collectibles.

Photo of Tom Tyler, 1927
Cigarette, chocolate and biscuit cards

Also referred to as tobacco cards, a number of companies used to produce film star photos on these small cards, using bright colors, although very early cards were produced in black and white. The original purpose of cigarette cards was to provide a stiff package so the product would not get crushed. Cigarette companies like Rothmans (England), Player (England), and Ogden's (England) are just a few names popular among cigarette card collectors. The average size of these cards was usually 2” x 3” in size, sometimes even smaller. Some companies like A & M Wix issued several different sized cards with film stars on them. In addition to cigarette cards, film star cards like those produced by Cloetta, a Swedish candy company, were included in their chocolate products, and similar cards produced by De Beukelaer found in their biscuit (cookie) packages, were very close in card size. Most cigarette cards are stored in baseball card plastic pages, especially those seen at ephemera shows.

Biblioteca Films, "The Man from Death Valley"
Film stills and film star photos

Most film stills and film star publicity photos measure 8” x 10” in size, on glossy photo paper. Those which contain autographs of a star are usually worth a few bucks. Film stills have long been used as marketing tools for recently released films and are sought after by favorite film collectors. Depending upon the age of the film still or publicity photo, there may be a little surface wear, as well as wear along the edges of the photo. There might also be writing along the edge either in pen or pre-printed on the film still to identify which movie it is from. Acid-free plastic sleeves that measure 8 1/2” x 11” in size are an ideal way to store a large collection of film stills. One particular favorite still, or publicity photo, might also be framed and hung on the wall.

Film booklets

Often seen at ephemera shows and in antique shops, film booklets come in a variety of sizes depending upon the publisher, and nation of origin. Basically, a film booklet is a thin publication with a stapled binding, containing a film story. Usually, several film shots are also included in the publication. One of the most popular film booklets in English is Boy's Cinema, published in the UK from 1919 to 1940 and contained several film stories, often profiling one film on the front cover. Spy films, war dramas, and westerns were favorite genres for this publication. An issue of Boy's Cinema measures 7 1/2” x 10 7/8” in size. Another popular film booklet was Biblioteca Films, published in Barcelona, Spain. In this case, each issue was devoted to an entire movie, with the film title in Spanish. For example, the film booklet for “Galloping Thru”, a 1931 Tom Tyler talkie, translates as “Deuda de Sangre”. These film booklets measure 4 3/4” x 6 7/8” in size, smaller than Boy's Cinema.
Lobby card for "Honor of the Mounted" 1932
Spain also came out with a series of western film booklets, Los Films del Far-West, numbered in a series. Other examples of film booklets also include Photo Aventures, in French, similar to the Biblioteca Films, and Film-Kurier, in German. Like film stills, 8 1/2” x 11” acid free clear plastic binder sleeves are the ideal way to store film booklets. If a film booklet is starting to separate from its binding, or the paper is frail and crumbles when touched, it can also be stored in an acid-free envelope that is 5” x 7” in size.

Lobby cards

Lobby cards produced in the United States measure a standard 11” x 14” in size, although cards produced before 1930 also measured 8” x 10”. Usually produced in a series of eight, these lobby cards were displayed in the lobby of movie theatres across the country.
One sheet, "Tracy Rides" 1935
Nowadays, Tom Tyler silent film lobby cards can have a market value of $300.00 to $500.00, depending upon the movie. Older lobby cards may have thin paper base, which is prone to tearing due to its age. Lobby cards that are in excellent shape without any tears along the edge can be displayed in a frame; more fragile ones not in use can be stored in an 11” x 14” Itoya portfolio book.

One sheets, half sheets, and larger posters

Probably the most popular popular sized movie poster being produced today is the one sheet. Measuring 27” x 40” in size, these are easily displayable in a frame; when they are not is use they can be rolled up and stored inside a polyethylene bag that covers the entire poster. Other movie poster sizes include the following: insert (14” x 36”), window card (14” x 22”), half sheet (22” x 28”), two sheet (41” x 54”), three sheet (41” x 81”), six sheet (81” x 81”), and twenty-four sheet (246” x 108”). If you have the wall space for one of these larger posters, then display in a frame is the perfect choice; if not, they should be stored rolled inside a polyethylene bag the width of the poster.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Collectibles: Tom Tyler on the Picturegoer series postcards

Among the movie cards manufactured in Europe, Picturegoer series postcards was one of the most popular sets to come out of England, next to the Boys Cinema cards. Printed in London, England, these postcards used a real photograph of an actor on the front, with the writing space and address on the reverse. The Picturegoer company began manufacturing movie memorabilia in 1921 to 1960. Not only did they produce more than 6500 postcards bearing real photos of actors and actresses, the company also published a number of consumer film magazines: Picturegoer Magazine, Film Weekly, Picture Show, and Film Pictorial.

The Picturegoer postcard which have photos of Tom Tyler on the front date from the 1930’s to 1940’s. These postcards have a glossy surface, and measure 3 1/2” by 5 1/2” in size. The photographs are in black and white, with the star’s name at the bottom of each postcard, and the name of the film production or distribution company in the lower right corner in the white border framing each photo.
There are four known cards on which Tom Tyler appeared: cards numbered 381, 381a, 381b, and 828.

Card number 381 depicts a very young Tom Tyler with his hair slicked down, the image itself dating to around 1925. There is no film production name on this card.

Picturegoer postcard #381

Card 381a has a photo of Tom, probably from “Phantom of the Air”, dressed in his aviator’s uniform and scarf. This postcard has the film company Universal in the lower right hand corner.

Picturegoer postcard #381a

Card 381b has a photo of Tom with his horse, probably from “Partners of the Trail” (1931), with the British release company listed as Wardour, in the lower right hand corner of the card. The horse is light colored, and the harness, plus Tom’s outfit, match the description in this lost film.

Picturegoer postcard #381b

Card 828 has a photo of Tom dressed in his frequent early 1940’s western clothes, facing right, with the name Republic at the lower right corner of the card, from one of the Three Mesquiteers movies.

Picturegoer postcard #828

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Happy 100th Anniversary of your acting lessons, Tom!

Tom Tyler, circa 1925

As the year 2020 approaches, the year marks a special milestone in the life of Tom Tyler. Believe it or not, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary that Vincent (Wincenty) Markowski began a correspondence course in acting through Johnson Screen Training School at the age of 17 in 1920, according to the article "The Sucker Who Succeeded", Motion Picture Classic, July 1928. Taking his career seriously, Vincent worked hard, driving a truck and transporting cans of film to local cinemas where he lived in Hamtramck, Michigan. Young Vincent was an enthusiastic worker, clearly loved being able to get his foot in the door of the movie business. Upon the completion of the acting course, Johnson Screen Training School sent Vincent a letter, which also served as a certificate to verify that Vincent did indeed complete the course, with all assignments completed, including the correct application of actor’s makeup. It is unknown exactly how many lessons total that Vincent was required to take, an estimated guess would be between ten to twelve lessons, meaning that the course could easily be completed within a couple of months.

It would not be until 1923 when Vincent, then aged 20 years old, would leave his home town with his close friend Emil Karkoski, and the fifty dollars that Vincent’s sister loaned him for the trip. According to “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman, when the two young men arrived in Denver, Colorado, Emil decided to return home to his family, while Vincent trudged on, with his continuing enthusiasm and courage, never failing to believe in himself. There is the possibility that Vincent was also aware he did not have much time to achieve his specific goal, having died during his fiftieth year due to complications from scleroderma. With time moving as quickly as it does for some of us, it will not be long before the 100th anniversary of Tom Tyler’s debut as a leading man for FBO in 1925 will be celebrated.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Say it isn’t so: Censorship in “The Law of the Plains”

It would be difficult for the modern Tom Tyler fan to consider the case of censorship, or even the need for it, in one of his starring roles movies. What might be an even bigger challenge is to think it could happen in one of Tom’s later silent films made for Syndicate Pictures – yet it did, and Bell Pictures Inc., the distributor (New York City), was forced to remove a few frames from the final print of “The Law of the Plains”, released in 1929.

“The Law of the Plains” is the only Syndicate Pictures silent film on which there is scant information; next to nothing at Lantern Media History, and a bare mention in major newspapers outside of cast members and very brief plot description. In fact, Natalie Joyce, Tom’s leading lady in the movie, is not given a character name, not even at IMDB. Consequently, composing the story line for “The Law of the Plains” page of Aventuras de Tom Tyler proved to be the most challenging of all Tom Tyler silent films, most of which have a wealth of information on them, including the many lost silent films he starred in. A routine inquiry was sent to the Library of Congress about plot information, and they were extremely accommodating and helpful, even leading me to put an inquiry at the New York State Archives, which holds many records on silent films – and “The Law of the Plains” happened to be one of them. Upon the recent receipt of a photocopy of the record for this silent film, some rather interesting information was included, a tidbit that would make a fantastic piece of trivia among Tom Tyler fans and later 1920’s silent film western fans.

It seems that upon the final screening of “The Law of the Plains” by the State of New York Education Department, Motion Picture Division, which granted exhibition licenses (a license to show the movie at cinemas) a request was made to Bell Pictures Inc. to remove the frame from the first reel of the film where Limpy (possibly, Al Ferguson, who is referred to a “Gang Leader” at IMDB) swats at a fly which landed on his face – and utters a curse word. There is no reference to the actual curse word in the photocopy record, aptly labeled as “Indecent”; unfortunately, neither is there a mention of all cast members and their characters, outside of Tom Tyler being mentioned. Since Tom’s silent film westerns have always been considered family- and children-friendly, any lip movements that mimic a curse word had to be removed. Once this change was made, the film reel was sent back for review by the examiners at the Motion Picture Division and declared appropriate for exhibition.

While on the subject of archival records on silent films, one other interesting piece of information stood out: in 1929, it cost $3.00 per 1000 lineal feet of film to acquire a license to exhibit the silent film. So with the five reels of 35mm, the total cost for the exhibition license in 1929 was $15.00 – or $225.00 in the year 2019.

Obviously no one would be able to see the Limpy character make the curse word in “The Law of the Plains” but not because the film does not exist; four of the five reels are at the Library of Congress, and one of those happens to be the first reel – the reel designated as needing a modification before the film could be granted a license for exhibition at cinemas across the United States. Hopefully, “The Law of the Plains” will seek restoration within the next few years.

A huge thank you to the New York State Archives in Albany for their help in providing the above information FOC (free of charge), and of course the Library of Congress, who has always been a pleasure to deal with when it comes to my research of Tom Tyler and his work.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

On raising boys: Words of wisdom from Tom Tyler

Tom Tyler with Frankie Darro in the great outdoors
in "Terror Mountain", 1928
Rare are the few interviews of Tom Tyler than do exist, and when they fall into the hands of fans and individuals interested in learning about his philosophy and views about life, prove to be real treasures. More often than not, these tidbits of wisdom are timeless and still hold true today.

In an article in The Republic, Columbus, Indiana, dated October 7, 1937 Tom explains why time spent in the great outdoors is so important for boys, and how it can help them with their studies in school and encourage them to read. Tom Tyler would certainly know about the great outdoors, not just in the movies he makes, but because he was born and raised in the Adirondacks in upstate New York: that magnificent region of land which serves as both a state park and residential space. Continuing, Tom states that if a boy has issues with a particular subject in school, such a geography or history, that the parents allow the child to integrate his personal interests in what he is learning. Such interests might be exploration by land or water to then-exotic places few in America have heard of in the 1930’s, like Burma, Indonesia, or Tibet.

Whiteface Mountain and Esther Mountain in the Adirondacks
- from Wikimedia Commons
While Tom Tyler does not mention the following, there is a second factor involved, and that is physical activity and its important connection to the human memory. Children spending time outside playing and getting lots of exercise are more likely to perform better at their studies in school. It was not long ago when scientific studies were conducted on this subject. While we do not know what Tom’s grades were like in school when he was a boy, it can be surmised that he was a good student, someone who never got into trouble, and who had the self-discipline to apply himself in class – just as he did with his acting lessons which he learned through a correspondence course. Coming full circle, this can certainly help many a young boy – or girl – who struggles in school to spend some time outside, exploring, getting the workout that only nature can provide and revel in before preparing to hit the books once he or she is back inside their homes.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Equal opportunity heroes: Minorities in Tom Tyler silent films and early talkies

An exhibit card, "The Arizona Streak", 1926
For the individual interested in Tom Tyler’s silent film and early talkie career, that person might be surprised to discover that racial minorities had minor but very significant roles in the plot. It is not until the early to mid-1930’s that minorities – African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Jews become more prominent in their roles, despite overcoming periodic stereotypes on film. Information about the presence of racial minorities, specifically, African-Americans, in Tom Tyler’s silent films is a bit scant with the exception of two movies not available on DVD, “The Arizona Streak” (1926), and “Lightning Lariats” (1927), for which physical evidence is available in the form of lobby cards, a Spanish film booklet, and Hollywood trade publications. Additionally, these early African-American actors were not credited by name in the cast, to make their identification even more difficult. It may sound curious to the average reader that African-Americans appeared in casts of otherwise Caucasian-majority silent films, particularly in B-westerns. Discounting movies like “Birth of a Nation” (1915) which portrayed African-Americans in a negative light, there is a probable answer for this: Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., owner of FBO, the studio which signed on Tom Tyler back in 1925, was a strong believer in social justice, a family trait which remained through future generations of Kennedys up to the present.

"Lightning Lariats", Biblioteca Films
It remains unknown how many FBO silent films included African-Americans in the casts, for the majority of these films are lost, and Hollywood trade publications frequently did not mention minorities who did appear in these silent films. The good news is this: even though these uncredited black actors were cast in stereotyped roles (cooks, hired help) of the 1920’s and 1930’s on film, they were also portrayed as having hero potential, often having a positive role model in Tom Tyler’s silent films and talkies. In addition to the three known silent films where African-Americans appear alongside Tom Tyler, there are two talkies which include a well-known actor and comedian by the name Fred Toones, plus another movie which combines the forces of a Jewish merchant and Chinese gentlemen to combat a vicious crime lord in a small western town.

The Arizona Streak (1926)

An ESCO (Exhibit Supply Company, Chicago, IL) exhibit card depicting a scene from “The Arizona Streak” has Tom Tyler seated on a stool at the right, while a man at the left is play punching an African-American man. Behind these two men is a stone mantle with a row of bottles. Along with Tom, who is grinning broadly, the three men appear to be having fun. It is uncertain the role the man in the middle plays in this silent film – the African-American –  although that can be ascertained should the print of this silent film at the Cinematek in Brussels ever get restored.

Lightning Lariats (1927)

In “Lightning Lariats” (1927), young Alexis (Frankie Darro) becomes friends with another small black boy named John (erroneously credited as played by Leroy Scott, who was born in 1875, and was 52 years old at the time he made “Lightning Lariats”), the son of Mariana, Tom's hired help. John wishes the very best of luck for Alexis, as the two boys played at dice at Tom Potter’s (Tom Tyler) ranch house, somewhat oblivious to the plot being contrived against them, by Luboff and Polsky, the two officers of Roxenburg, who followed Alexis to America. John explains to Alexis the game of dice and how to throw them, in order to come up with the winning numbers of seven or eleven. (El Valiente de la Pradera, Biblioteca Films) A complete print of “Lightning Lariats” is at Gosfilmofond in Moscow, Russia.

The Texas Tornado (1928)

"The Texas Tornado" 1928
The one advantage of “The Texas Tornado” over the above named silent films is its availability on DVD. In this silent film from FBO, the singular African-American actor in the cast is a cook for the Briscoe family named Rufus. Rufus attempts to physically discourage Latimer (Jack Anthony) from getting hold of the lease which needs to be renewed, but ends up taking a hit, temporarily defeated until Tom King (Tom Tyler) arrives in the nick of time, galloping up to the ranch house. Leaping off his horse, Tom stops to listen to Rufus before entering the Briscoe homestead. After Tom reassures the cook, he breaks open the front door and beats up Latimer, absconding with the ranch lease before leaping onto his horse and race to the bank to renew it. Not appearing during the majority of the film except the start and end, Rufus makes his way on horseback to the spot where Tom just rescued Buddy (Frankie Darro) from a broken gondolier, and along with Ellen Briscoe (Nora Lane), catch Latimer  in the act, who then confesses to the sheriff he was behind framing Tom for the shooting of Jim Briscoe (Frank Whitson). Rufus remained ready to play a role in freeing Tom from his arrest status, if only for his being the first person on the Briscoe ranch to communicate with Tom about what was taking place at the time Latimer was inside the house, giving Jim trouble about the lease. But once the sheriff slaps the handcuffs on Latimer and hauls him away, Buddy manages to give Latimer a swift kick in his rear, upon which Buddy and Rufus shake hands and laugh.

Single Handed Saunders (1932)

"Single Handed Saunders"
Single Handed Saunders” marks the first Tom Tyler movie where an African-American actor is credited. Fred 'Snowflake' Toones is simply referred to as Snowflake by Matt Saunders (Tom Tyler) in this Trem Carr movie. Matt is a blacksmith by trade, with Snowflake as his helper, close friends and confidantes in a small western town where the homesteaders are given preference by Judge Parker (Gordon de Main) over the cattle owners. Because of this, there is an obvious rift between the cattle owners and homesteaders, which is only exacerbated when Matt’s brother Philip (Robert Seiter) returns home from college and now a practicing attorney. Philip eventually goes into cahoots with the judge to make sure the homesteaders continue to receive credit, at the cost of the cattle owners.

The first casualty is Parker himself when he attempts to remove burrs from Snowflake’s dog, Sparerib. When the cattlemen invade the center of town, not only does Parker get shot, but so does the poor dog. Called several times by Snowflake, Sparerib is gently lifted in his arms and covered with a piece of fabric at the blacksmith’s. Upon seeing Snowflake, Matt is puzzled, not used to seeing his helper cry. Snowflake tells Matt he wants justice for this crime, but Matt reassures him that it will come, but it must arrive through honest means. As the two men continue to work together, keeping their eyes and ears open about the murder of Judge Parker, Snowflake finds himself at the right place and time when he hears Philip, who has now taken his father’s place as judge, making a deal with Senator Graham (John Elliott) in extending further credit to the homesteaders. This deal happens to be in the form of signed legal documents, and the main key to seeking justice for Judge Parker’s death. Clever enough to catch on, Snowflake later confides this information to Matt as they are busy at their job, prompting Matt to enter the office at the rear of the general store and look for this document. Once Matt finds the piece of paper, Philip enters the office, the two men engage in a massive brawl where Philip is thrown across the room at a group of men, and justice begins, delivered by Matt himself. As minor a role Snowflake’s is, it is the most important part of the story, for had he not eyewitnessed Philip signing that document, Matt would have no knowledge of it – and not be able to talk Philip in escaping the deal he made with Graham.

Roamin’ Wild (1936)

"Roamin Wild"
Probably the most unique feature of “Roamin’ Wild” is that it has two minority groups teaming with the main hero, Tom Barton (Tom Tyler), in order to fight a much larger threat in Placerville. Tom is sent on assignment as an inspector to find out what happened to his brother Jim (Wally West) who was last seen near the area but mysteriously disappeared. Ambling along on his horse while playing the harmonica, Tom sees the road sign for Placerville and heads onward, when he suddenly observes a group of bandits who raid a traveling merchant. Abe Wineman (Max Davidson). With his goods strewn all over the trail, Tom approaches and demands to know what happened. Once Abe explains who he is, Tom demands payback from the bandits, ordering them to hand their guns over to Abe, who keeps them in exchange for the damage done to his business. Since Tom and Abe are headed in the same direction, they travel together to Placerville. Once they arrive, Tom offers Abe a job as a deputy to help find his lost brother, and close in on the operations of Ned Clark (Al Ferguson), the local crime lord. The biggest series of crimes has been against the Madison Stagecoach Company, robbing the goods carried on them. At one point the owner of the company, Jim Madison (Earl Dwire), is shot while defending one of his stagecoaches. When his daughter Mary (Carol Wyndham) inherits the company, she teams up with Tom to put an end to these robberies. Happy to gain even more local support, Tom deters the same group of bandits he ran into before at Wineman’s merchant wagon one more time: from robbing a group of Chinese men from the nearby Chinese Diggins settlement.
"Roamin Wild"
Acting out of gratitude towards Tom for preventing them from being robbed, these men invite Tom to their home for a meal. Once they discover they were followed back by Clark’s gang, they pull out their guns, effectively scaring them away with their sharp aim. At that moment Tom plans on escaping in order to return to Placerville, but his new Chinese friends show him a secret tunnel accessible through a trapdoor in the middle of the floor. Tom takes advantage of the tunnel, and goes back to Abe and Mary, devising a plan to trap Clark and his men – which he does successfully. With Clark and his gang out of commission and headed to jail, Tom thanks Abe, his Chinese friends, and Mary, who of course wants him to stay in Placerville with her. On a side note, actor Max Davidson was born in Berlin, Germany, on May 23, 1875 and got his start in American silent film comedy since 1915. Unfortunately, none of the Chinese actors are credited in “Roamin’ Wild”.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

When Two Heroes Meet: Tom Tyler and Abraham Lincoln

It is not too far-fetched at all to imagine a meeting of Tom Tyler with President Abraham Lincoln. While a number of Tom’s movies take place during Lincoln’s presidency, the one that most stands out is “Two Fisted Justice”. In this B-western from Trem Carr Pictures, Tom is Kentucky Carson, an agent on a special mission down south during the Civil War, sent by President Abraham Lincoln. The existing print of this movie is available from Sinister Cinema, but unfortunately is missing the reel which contains the famous meeting of Kentucky with President Lincoln. That is not to say we cannot conclude what this event actually looked like, for we have film stills, along with film synopses and descriptions from Hollywood trade publications, along with a film booklet from Spain, Biblioteca Films, that provides insight on this missing reel. On the positive side, a more complete 16mm print of “Two Fisted Justice” is at UCLA – which hopefully will be restored and digitized one day. In the meantime, let’s take a look at this scene where Kentucky Carson meets Abraham Lincoln before he receives a reprieve to free Cameron (John Elliott) who is about to be hanged for murdering Cheyenne Charlie (Pedro Regas), from the President himself. Considering the point where Kentucky receives this letter, the missing footage is from the beginning of the film, where he is called into Lincoln’s office. The two men shake hands, and Kentucky is deputized and sent out west during the Civil War to maintain peace along with his Poncho Riders.

In the Biblioteca Films title “Al que a hierro mata”, the Spanish title for “Two Fisted Justice”, President Lincoln issues a memo dated April 15, 1861, a means to eventually summon Kentucky Carson into the Oval Office – and in turn sends him to a post out in Kansas territory. The memo reads as follows:

“Fuerzas rebeldes han formado una confederación de los Estados del Sur, optando por la sesión de la Union.

“Las fuerzas de los territorios fronterizos han recibido órdenes de concentrarse en Washington.

“Los ciudadanos leales de dicho territotio se organizarán para mantener el orden y hacer cumplir la ley durante las emergencias, Hay que preservar la Unión!”

English translation:

“Rebel forces have formed a confederation of the Southern States, opting for the session of the Union.

“The forces of the border territories have been ordered to concentrate in Washington.

“The loyal citizens of said territory will be organized to maintain order and enforce the law during emergencies. We must preserve the Union!”

The exchange between Lincoln and Kentucky continues in the Oval Office:

El muchacho esperó a que Lincoln extendiera un salvaconducto y, antes de entregárselo, se lo leyó el presidente, diciéndole:

-Mire lo que dice; creo que con esto basta.

“El portador, Kentucky Carson, puede viajar y obrar como lo crea conveniente. Los officiales del gobierno federal deben prestarle apoyo. Comuníquese con el suscrito si se desea confirmar esta autorización. - A. Lincoln's

-Gracias, señor – exclamó Kentucky una vez que tuvo en su poder aquella autorización.

-Qué piensa hacer ahora? - le preguntó el presidente.

-Iré al territorio de Kansas. Allí hay mucho qué hacer, pero le prometo que lo mantendré en pas…

Pues buena suerte – le dijo el presidente despidiéndole. Ya sabe que hay que obrar con energía. Cada uno debe ser un héroe que exponga su vida.

In English:

The boy waited for Lincoln to extend a pass and, before handing it over, the president read it to him, saying:

“Look what he says; I think this is enough. The carrier, Kentucky Carson, can travel and act as he sees fit. The federal government officials must support him. Contact the undersigned if you wish to confirm this authorization.” - A. Lincoln

"Thank you, sir," exclaimed Kentucky once he had that authorization.

“What do you plan to do now?” the president asked him.

“I'll go to Kansas territory. There is a lot to do there, but I promise that I will keep it in country.”

“Well good luck”, said the president, saying goodbye. “You already know that you have a lot of work to do. Each man who risks his life is a hero.”

Precisely why Abraham Lincoln summoned Kentucky Carson to the Oval Office: because he knew Kentucky was of hero material who would not let the President nor his country down. It seems fitting that these two men should be meeting, under the circumstances they did, given their historical place in American History – and film history.

Released on October 20, 1931, “Two Fisted Justice” stayed in movie theatres long enough for the media to take advantage of the Lincoln factor to exhibit it near February 12 – President Lincoln’s Day, the day he was born on in 1809. The New York State Exhibitor states that this movie “ an ideal attraction for Lincoln's Birthday, what with sequences depicting Tyler and the martyred President.” (January 10, 1932). Movie trivia about American Presidents in film and who portrayed them may be a fun and interesting topic of conversation, but how many people today know that Abraham Lincoln was depicted in a B-western, and one that starred Tom Tyler? Mention this to someone interested in Lincoln and who portrayed him, and the answer would be Joseph Mills.

Due to the movie’s human nature side plus the presidential element, “Two Fisted Justice” was one of the few early Tom Tyler movies to be exhibited in France, under the title “Seul Contre Tous”, dubbed in French. A full page ad for this movie even appeared in Hebdo Film, July 9, 1932. Other publicity materials for “Two Fisted Justice” also appeared in Spain and Poland. “Two Fisted Justice” was one of Tom Tyler’s more important movies of the early 1930’s, with the Civil War, President Lincoln, and justice concepts which dominate the plot. Considering the reach of “Two Fisted Justice”, it can be asked if President Lincoln himself would want to meet Tom Tyler after viewing the movie. There is the strong possibility that he would.

From Hebdo Film, July 9, 1932

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The National Film Registry Nominations 2019

It is that time of the year once again! The Library of Congress is accepting nominations for the National Film Registry. The deadline for nominations is September 15, 2019. It is your duty as a devoted Tom Tyler film fan to suggest his best films for inclusion on this list. Ideally, “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”, and “The Phantom” should be on the list but of course you may suggest any movies Tom starred in – surprise us and the Library of Congress!

The following movies Tom Tyler appeared in are already in the National Film Registry:

The Grapes of Wrath 1940 – Inducted in 1989
Gone with the Wind 1939 – Inducted in 1989
Red River 1948 – Inducted in 1990
Stagecoach 1939 – Inducted in 1995
Ben Hur 1925 – Inducted in 1997

The nomination form is here:

The complete listing of films in the National Film Registry which also include the ones for last year, 2018:

Thank you to everyone who submits Tom’s movies to the LOC National Film Registry!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Boys and Girls! It’s Tom Tyler!

Tom with boy and girl co-stars in "Idaho Red", 1929
All too often a film historian of B-westerns will write about how popular a star was with the red-blooded American boys but rarely, if ever, mention the star’s popularity with girl cinema patrons. Yet female interest in Tom Tyler long pre-dates his stage name, when he was still a growing young man in Hamtramck, Michigan. As Vincent Markowski, his sister Katherine would often comment to their family, friends and neighbors how good looking he was – and he certainly was – to the point of all girls  in town close to his age would be drawn to his looks, often staring at him while walking down the street (The Tom Tyler Story, by Mike Chapman). It goes without saying Tom Tyler’s physical appearance certainly helped him become a star in Hollywood, along with his acting skills and overall demeanor. To a large degree, Tom’s good looks had a continuous appeal to the female gender many decades later, long after he died in 1954. Females in the twenty-first century found him attractive and sweet enough to give him an exclusive little spot in cyberspace, but was Tom Tyler’s movies of the silent film era and early talkies specifically marketed to just boys? Or were girls included on equal footing?

From Shamokin News Dispatch,
Shamokin, PA, March 30, 1929
Surprisingly enough, it was just as common for girls to be a target marketed audience as boys were, according to many Hollywood trade publications and newspaper cinema listings. There are a few reasons for this: Tom Tyler’s level of attractiveness to the opposite gender, but also because many girls received a weekly allowance from their parents which meant enough money to attend the matinee (which usually cost between a dime to twenty cents in the mid- to late 1920’s and early 1930’s). Many cinema listings in the local newspapers included “Boys and girls...” in black and white to draw their attention to the latest Tom Tyler film being shown. At the Victoria theatre in Shamokin, PA, a cinema listing for "Terror Mountain" also advertised free toy musical instruments to the first 500 boys and girls in attendance. Because the date of the ad was the day before Easter in 1929, live bunnies were also available for the children.

One exhibitor took advantage of Tom's image, posting a large photo of him in the lobby of the Jewel Theatre in Verndale, Minnesota (Exhibitor's Herald, November 27, 1926) for the showing of "The Arizona Streak”, knowing that the girls were interested in seeing what he looked like. Another exhibitor in St. Cloud, Florida, commented that the girls raved quite a bit over Tom and how attractive he is, at the showing of "Wild to Go" (Exhibitor's Herald, October 2, 1926). With the silent film being in full force by the time Tom Tyler became a star, memorabilia was also easily accessible in the form of arcade and exhibit cards, stills, and of course the ever-popular request for an autographed photo of the handsome leading man.

From Middletown Times Herald,
Middletown, NY, October 9, 1941
Girls would often take part in contests held at the neighborhood cinema, and be actively involved with any events, usually held in the lobby. During Christmas time, many a theatre would encourage both boys and girls to bring in an unwrapped toy or food to be given to the needy, in many cases, through The Salvation Army.

Likewise it was not just American boys who idolized and wanted to meet him – and sometimes did, when Tom shot on location as he did in “Tracy Rides” (Reading Times, Reading, PA, May 28, 1934). Being swarmed by both adults and children wanting to see the filming on the sidelines was exciting – and who did not want to see Tom Tyler up close and in person at the height of his career? The best part of all being, what girl would not be bragging to her friends at school that she met Tom in person during a filming? It was exciting events like this which encouraged and preserved Tom’s popularity in decades to come. While American girls enjoyed Tom Tyler’s movies when they were first exhibited in cinemas across the nation, future generations of his female fans (one of them happens to run the Aventuras de Tom Tyler website and blog) appreciate this timeless man and his work that was meant to be cherished.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Tom Tyler in "Weird Western"

I am very happy to report the following news: Dario Lavia, a regular on the Facebook and Twitter social media pages for Aventuras de Tom Tyler, is working on a re-edition of the book “Weird Western” which includes the mention of Tom Tyler’s silent films such as “Tyrant of Red Gulch”. Many thanks to Dario for giving the credit to the blog article “Lost in translation: How ‘Tyrant of Red Gulch’ became ‘The Sorcerer’ across the pond” which he mentions in this silent film entry in “Weird Western”, as well as a link to the blog in his entry (free publicity is always welcome). For those interested in purchasing a copy of Weird Western when it is published, the information can be found here. Dario is the owner of Cinefania, a website devoted to fantasy/science fiction/horror films.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Phantom of the Air" to be released by VCI Entertainment

Some good news with regards to Tom Tyler film serial releases: “Phantom of the Air” will be released within the next year (possibly later on this year) by VCI Entertainment. VCI already offers a number of Tom Tyler 1930’s westerns as well as Three Mesquiteers films on DVD. More details will follow as they come up, plus of course a notice on the website once it is available for purchase. “Phantom of the Air” is a 12-chapter Universal film serial from 1933 which also stars Gloria Shea, LeRoy Mason, William Desmond, and Sidney Bracey.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Tom Tyler's Captain Marvel costume

The very first silver screen Captain Marvel, as portrayed by Tom Tyler, had a superhero costume that was custom made for his muscular physique, which he displayed to perfection during the filming of the Republic Pictures serial. The costume itself was gray instead of red so that it would film better in black and white. Unlike many superhero costumes, this one was not padded in the biceps, for Tom Tyler certainly did not need any emphasis with his champion weightlifting build. While the colors were slightly different, the form-fitting costume was still identical in detail to the red and yellow costume that Captain Marvel wore in the comic books. The four-piece costume consisted of a half-length white cape with the gold braid designs upon it, in addition to the gold lightning bolt upon the chest, six gold bands at the cuffs on each arm, and gold belt. The tunic is of gray wool, with the front flap buttoned at the upper right shoulder. The lower half of the costume, which resembled tights with feet, were in the same color gray to match the tunic. The boots were yellow in color, with the standard top fold. It seems like nothing was missing from Tom Tyler’s Captain Marvel costume, right down to the very last detail. Little information exists as to who created the costume and sewed it, although existing copies have a “Western Costume” stamp inside the collar. Naturally, stuntman Dave Sharpe wore the identical costume matched to fit his frame for all of the fancy leaps and backflips in “Adventures of Captain Marvel”.

As with most cinematic wardrobes, several versions of the Captain Marvel costume were made, which have sold at auction sites online like eBay. According to “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman, one of the original Captain Marvel costumes described above was listed at a market price of $10,000.00 – ten times the amount of money Tom was paid to play the superhero in the film serial. Today, the costume remains at a market price between that amount and $15,000.00 – not bad for its being the very first superhero costumes made for film, even before that of Superman’s.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Say the magic word: Shazam!

Based on the 2011 DC Justice League The New 52 story by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, “Shazam!”  manages to combine not only the origin story as narrated by these two gentlemen, but also the comedy elements of the early Captain Marvel stories in Whiz Comics since 1939, and superhero growing pains, bringing the C. C. Beck and Bill Parker creation up to date in the 21st century.

After several aborted attempts to get the movie made, “Shazam!” finally debuted in cinemas worldwide during the first weekend of April 2019. Directed by David F. Sandberg, and written by Henry Gayden and Darren Lemke, the DC movie stars Zachary Levi as Captain Marvel and Asher Angel as Billy Batson.  There is a yin-yang between comedy in the early comic books by Fawcett Publications since 1938 and The New 52 dark universe, with no shortage of special effects from playfully cast lightning by Captain Marvel to the animated looming Seven Deadly Sins, ready to unleash havoc courtesy of Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Zachary Levi with Mark Strong in "Shazam!" 2019
“Shazam!” introduces the background story of Thad Sivana, a miniature monster in the making who causes a serious car accident, almost killing his brother and father, who is the owner of a major conglomerate. Young Thad ends up journeying to The Rock of Eternity where he encounters the wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), only to find himself discarded by the ancient mage who is seeking a young boy to succeed him. Once Thad is sent back to his immediate present, castigated by his father, he then spends the rest of his trying to regain access to the mysterious location which remains concealed by magic. In steps Billy Batson, whose life story is also told in a brief flashback before he finds himself adopted by Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa (Marta Milans) Vasquez, who are foster parents to five other children. Billy quickly becomes close to Freddy Freeman, who is slightly younger than him, plus Mary Bromfield, who is on the verge of graduating from high school and applying to colleges. Still unsatisfied with his position in life as a teen, Billy continues to seek out his real mother, eventually finding her. To his shock, Billy learns that his mother, who does not make good choices when it comes to boyfriends, was in her teens when she had him, and that his father is in jail in Florida.

Once Billy discovers himself in the role of a superhero after making the same journey to The Rock of Eternity and becomes the Chosen One by the wizard Shazam, he is not fully aware of the potential of his new abilities; he does not know what he can really do, although he delights in generating electricity, using it to charge people’s cell phones as he walks past them in public. Captain Marvel continues to go about his daily routine, accompanied by Freddy most of the time while preventing crimes such as handbag thief and a convenience store holdup. Once Captain Marvel discovers who his main enemy is – Dr. Sivana – he must engage in the most important battle of his life – leaving his childhood behind temporarily to save the world from destruction. At this point, it is the wisdom of Solomon that really kicks in to Billy when he learns how to remove the evil magical force from Sivana.

“Shazam!” references Tawky Tawny the tiger, in the form of the plush toy tigers prizes at the balloon and dart booth during the Christmas Carnival, along with Mr Mind, the worm during the early part of the movie, characters in the original Whiz Comics publications. What is noteworthy in “Shazam!” is that like “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, the superhero’s name is never formally introduced to the audience; it even goes further to never refer to him as Captain Marvel at all, possibly to avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics “Captain Marvel” movie released only weeks before “Shazam!” Instead a variety of nicknames are given to him: Captain Sparklefingers, even more simply- hero. Billy is only supposed to say the word Shazam in times of need, not as a means to impress others around him, certainly not himself. At one point Freddy speaks to his foster brother Billy like an authoritarian figure, much like Jackson Bostwick’s Captain Marvel, or even John Davey’s Captain Marvel from the 1974-1977 television series “Shazam!” Billy might be Captain Marvel yet even after his initiation, still has to work hard on understanding the powers bestowed upon him and the responsibilities that come with having these powers, the properties of the thoughtforms who have seemed to disappeared in the distant past of human history (or did they?). Zachary Levi, at age 38, looks younger than his age, and with his “big kid” personality, really does come off as a 14 year-old inside his 6’3” frame. Like Tom Tyler in “Adventures of Captain Marvel” (1941), he pulls the same expression,  looking at himself then his surroundings. Yet the resemblance to Tom’s Captain Marvel stops there, reverting back to more childlike superhero as he was originally intended to be in Fawcett Publications rather than a World War 2 era superhero who uses a machine gun to vanquish his enemies, and throwing them off tall buildings.

Mark Strong pulls off a formidable Sivana, able to unleash the Seven Deadly Sins whenever he chooses, using his demon eye which glows blue. At times he takes on the appearance of Aleister Crowley(early 20th century ceremonial magician and founder of Thelema) on steroids. Unlike the comic book Sivana who is short in height, Mark Strong is 6’2” in height, making him a substantial physical adversary of Captain Marvel. The movie soundtrack includes Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” which plays as Freddy tests Billy’s new powers as Captain Marvel, and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” sung by Bing Crosby during the Christmas holiday with the Vasquez family. The top-notch production team of “Shazam!” includes Peter Safran, Geoff Johns and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

How many families do you know of who discuss superheroes and their various powers at the supper table?