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?

Collectibles: Aventuras de Tom Tyler fan fiction series

Probably one of the rarest paper film collectible on Tom Tyler coming out of Spain is the twenty-one issue booklet set, Aventuras de Tom Tyler. Arranged and written as a serial, these booklets measure 6 ½” x 9 3/4” in size, made from newspaper quality paper and published by El Gato Negro, Barcelona Spain during the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. Each issue is eight pages long and contains two black and white illustrations.

Unlike the Biblioteca Films film booklets, Aventuras de Tom Tyler is an early type of fan fiction based on the American actor Tom Tyler. Each issue has a masthead with an illustration of Tom at the left and the words Aventuras de Tom Tyler in red and black, along with “El Rey de los Cow-Boys” underneath, against a yellow sky, with a desert and mountain at the bottom. Below the masthead is a full color comic book style illustration of Tom in an exciting scene from the story inside. These scenes include the following: Tom being tied to a runaway

Tom Tyler is not the only American actor to get a series of fan fiction created in his name; El Gato Negro also published series with Shirley Temple and Tom Mix in a similar format.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Hero in the Role of a Patient

Among the most poignant scenes in Tom Tyler’s movies are those where he is being attended to by a woman (usually a young and pretty one) nursing him back to health when his character is injured in some manner. These story aspects inject vulnerability into the virile, strong and handsome heroes Tom is known for portraying but also provide a glimpse into his real life health issues aside from his battle with scleroderma. For example, he had a serious cold which held up filming “The Sonora Kid” (1927); his second major illness was dealing with the flu while filming “Clancy of the Mounted” (1933). This article will explore Tom’s heroes in the role of patient in “Call of the Desert”, “Galloping Thru”, “The Forty Niners”, and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”.

"Call of the Desert" (1930)
In “Call of the Desert,” Tom is Rex Carson, a prospector seeking his father’s claim but his companion Tod Walker (Bud Osborne) absconds with the map which depicts the location of the claim. Once Tod feigns illness, forcing Tom to carry him during a good portion of the trip, the two men fight on the snowy ground. Tod absconds with the map and ends up deserting Rex. Rex has to walk by himself through the cold wintry desert, eventually falling ill before he collapses in the snow. Here, a cowboy named Hardrock (Bobby Dunn) has made camp under a large tree where the snowline ends, and takes Rex in, eventually traveling towards the ranch lands in order to get medical help. With Rex slung across a horse’s back, Hardrock and two men arrive at the Walker Ranch – and is nursed back to
"Call of the Desert" (1930)
health by Jean Walker (Sheila Le Gay), the nominal owner of the ranch. Rex is removed from the horse by the two men, gently laid on the ground, his eyes closed, looking angelic with his delicate brows as Jean looks at his face romantically. She directs the two men to carry him inside and lay him on the bed in the guest room, instructing one of them to get some medicine from the cabinet in the kitchen. Jean personally administers the medicine to Rex, as he lay on the bed, eyes still closed but lips slightly open. She gently props Rex’s head so that he could take the medicine with some water without choking. Jean looks lovingly into Rex’s face when he starts to recover, his eyes opening wide. She becomes totally enchanted with him at this point, his clear brown eyes softening, smiling as she leaves him with his pal Hardrock and lets him sleep so that he gets well quickly. At this point it should be remembered that as Tom Tyler was entering his last stage with scleroderma, he went home to Hamtramck, Michigan, to live with his sister Katherine, who gave him hospice. No man is too brave or strong to endure illness, temporary or permanent, to not seek the gentle and empathetic healing touch from a woman.

"Galloping Thru" (1931)
It is not always illness that has Tom receiving medical attention from someone he deeply cares for. In “Galloping Thru” (1931), Tom McGuire is wounded by a gang of outlaws, abandoned on a trail – the same outlaws who shot his father dead. When his body is found by a friend, Sandy Thompson (Al Bridge), Tom is taken to the home of Janice Warren (Betty Mack) who along with Sandy provides him with medical attention so that he can recover and get back on his feet to hunt down the outlaws responsible for his father’s death. “Galloping Thru” remains a lost film although film stills and lobby cards exist showing Tom being in bed, covered by white sheets and given medication by Betty Mack while he is smiling, his face expressing content, knowing that he will in fact be in top health once again.

"The Forty Niners" (1932)
Tom becomes a shooting victim once again in “The Forty Niners” (1932). Tennessee Matthews is on a journey with a group of friends who are headed to California to cash in on the gold fever. Unlike the previous movie, however, Tennessee is given aid in the back of a covered wagon, tended to by Widow Spriggs (Fern Emmett), a woman old enough to be his mother, adding the maternal touch to his recovery. Leaning back comfortably with his shirt off, against pillows and protected with mosquito netting, Tennessee awakens after the primitive surgery to remove the bullet from his shoulder, and sees Widow Spriggs sitting next to him. Conscious of being bare on top in front of her, Tennessee asks her where his shirt is. Thinking that he might be seeking the rose that Virginia (Betty Mack) gave him from her rosebush, the widow tells him that the flower has fallen apart, leading to a certain disappointment in Tennessee’s face – as Virginia is his romantic interest. In reality, Tennessee has not lost Virginia’s love, despite the fact O’Hara (Al Bridge) has tried to claim her for his own.

"She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" (1949)
Speaking of a maternal figure nursing Tom Tyler, the theme is repeated again in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949) where his character, Corporal Mike Quayne, is injured by a marauding band of Indians as Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) leads his final army patrol out west to counterattack them. Once Mike is laid up in the covered wagon, prepped for surgery, Abby Allshard (Mildred Natwick), the wife of Major Mac Allshard (George O’Brien), is the trained nurse, sitting by his side. She pours a glass of whiskey for Mike to imbibe in order to deaden the pain before Dr. O'Laughlin (Arthur Shields) removes the bullet from his chest. After a brief rousing of the cavalry song between Abby and Mike, he falls unconscious while the doctor quickly does his task before bandaging up the patient. Abby remains by Mike’s side during the entire time, which transpires during the covered wagon on the western trail during a major thunderstorm. It is difficult to imagine a troop of men on a dangerous mission without having a doctor and nurse present, and the covered wagon surgery scene is in fact the most memorable one in the movie. Even though Tom Tyler is not the leading man hero in this movie – that title is reserved for John Wayne – he is the first hero who falls victim to the Indian attacks and recovers. A previous blog article mentioning this event is located here in further depth.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The global reach of “Adventures of Captain Marvel”

A one sheet from Denmark
“Adventures of Captain Marvel” has long been considered the greatest film serial ever made, at least here in the United States, but what might even be considered more fascinating is the global impact upon the most popular selling comic book superhero of the 1940's, Captain Marvel. By the time Republic Pictures released “Adventures of Captain Marvel” in 1941 – and this was due to the early success of Captain Marvel – other countries shortly followed suit, cashing in on America's most beloved superhero.

Outside of a few restrictions during 1941 to 1945 – the time span which “Adventures of Captain Marvel” hit the global market – the film serial was earnestly accepted and shown by film exhibitors in  countries most of us would not immediately think of. With thanks to film collectibles websites, along with foreign newspaper archives, mentions of “Adventures of Captain Marvel” have popped up from some surprising countries. One sheet posters of this film serial were manufactured in faraway places like Turkey, Pakistan, and India. Newspaper cinema ads for “Adventures of Captain Marvel” appeared in Indonesia, Iceland, and what was then called Malaya (Malaysia), sometimes as late as 1950. For the majority of these cinema ads they either retained their American English title, or became simply Captain Marvel. Even the re-release of the serial under the title “Return of Captain Marvel” made its way around the globe. Colorful, imaginative lobby cards bearing the title “El Regreso del Capitan Maravilla” were released in Mexico, many of them later making their way into the American market as prized film collectibles.

A one sheet from Pakistan
Following is a partial list of other nations where “Adventures of Captain Marvel” was seen during its first run in movie theatres:

Argentina - Capitan Maravilla Poderoso
Australia – Adventures of Captain Marvel
Belgium – Capitain Marvel
Brazil – O Homen de Aço
Canada – Adventures of Captain Marvel
Curacao – Adventures of Captain Marvel
Denmark - Kaptajn Marvels Bedrifter
Iceland – Captain Marvel
India – Adventures of Captain Marvel, in both English and Hindi.
Indonesia – Adventures of Captain Marvel
Malaysia/Malaya -  Adventures of Captain Marvel (Malaya Tribune Oct 28, 1947)
Mexico - Capitan Maravilla/Las Aventuras del Capitan Maravilla
New Zealand – Adventures of Captain Marvel
Pakistan – Captain Marvel. The one sheet from this country also has “Captain Marvel” in both English, and Urdu, which utilizes a modified Persian-Arabic alphabet.
Spain – Aventuras del Capitan Maravillas
Turkey – Şazem Uçan Adam

From Java Bode, Batavia (Jakarta), Indonesia, July 19, 1950

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"Jungle Mystery" 1932 to DVD petition

March 3, 2019 marks the launch of a new film petition: “Jungle Mystery” (1932) starring Tom Tyler and Cecilia Parker. It has been four years since Universal Pictures preservation department restored this 12 chapter serial plus the 75 minute long feature cutdown. 2019 is the perfect year for “Jungle Mystery” to make it to DVD, what with last year’s "Adventures of Captain Marvel" (1941) Blu-ray release by Kino, and additional resurfaced “lost films” of Tom Tyler within that short length of time. Four years does not seem that long but it has been an exciting journey in rediscovering these movies. Aventuras de Tom Tyler is all about the celebration of Tom Tyler and rediscovering his lost films, because he is worth it, and the time has come for movies like “Jungle Mystery” to be seen by the public all over the world.

A huge thank you to everyone who signs this petition. Please share this petition link with as many people as you know, in film groups, film forums you are a member of, and we can get this done.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

The film going atmosphere counts too

A view of the display in the website owner's media room.
For the youngsters on their way to the Saturday matinee to enjoy the next Tom Tyler western during the 1930’s, plus a cartoon or two, and a film serial chapter, did not mean the immediate surroundings had to be bland. Many times film exhibitors of the independent cinemas and neighborhood cinema houses would take a cue from the Hollywood trade publications on what might provide visual appeal to the targeted audience. As an example, a film review in Motion Picture Times October 6, 1931 for "The Man from Death Valley” provided suggestions to film exhibitors (that is, cinemas) to really get into the part for this Tom Tyler film. Some of these suggestions include placing a cactus in the lobby by the inner door to the auditorium, or other western decor such as a saddle along with a lasso, or hang western art from the ceiling. Such items perfectly complemented the movie posters in their display cases. Due to the popularity of B-westerns during the above mentioned decades, many of the above named cinemas had a number of inexpensive items on hand just for that purpose, to add a little atmosphere in the lobby to enhance the movie-going experience. Those who looked forward to viewing these westerns could feel right at home, with the sense of community being retained. Many an older family member might tell the younger generation stories of how these independent cinemas would run admission price specials, or Depression glass night, or even local food drives being held in order to boost patronage. At one point, over 2,000 of these cinemas across America would take part in these promotions. Non-film promotional events, unlike the previously mentioned elegant cinema palaces, these independent and neighborhood cinemas had the liberty to decorate the lobby to promote the film being shown on that particular day.

The cinema patrons who have had the opportunity to view the latest Tom Tyler movie – and in the brand-new format called sound, or in film lingo, talkie – and took note of how the lobby was decorated just for the occasion, would tell their family and friends about it as a way of encouraging them to see the movie too. The idea of a movie house being decorated in a specific manner to add to the film viewing experience seems far fetched, but not when one stops to realize that many modern homes with a media room is decorated in a very similar manner.

Reference: “American Movie Audiences of the 1930s”, by Richard Butsch. ILWCH #59, Spring 2001

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A voice perfect for talkies: Tom Tyler in “West of Cheyenne”

Tom Tyler in "West of Cheyenne" 1931
Once Tom Tyler’s silent film career finally wound down by the end of 1930 – his last one being “Canyon of Missing Men” for Syndicate Pictures –  he had to adjust to the brand-new invention known as synchronized sound film, better known as talkies in order to keep his career going. By 1930, most cinemas made the transition to sound pictures but Tom was not quite ready for it. He held out on the new sound pictures for as long as he could, reportedly due to his foreign accent, according to his friend and screenwriter Oliver Drake, as mentioned in “The Tom Tyler Story” by Mike Chapman. Even though Tom Tyler was born in America (his birth name was Vincent [Wincenty] Markowski), like many children of recent European immigrants, spoke his native language at home while speaking English outside the family. Cinema patrons who never had the opportunity to meet Tom Tyler in person and listen to him speak could only imagine what his voice sounded like at the height of his silent film career. Tom Tyler was after all the epitome of outdoors virility in Hollywood, should he not also have the perfect voice to match his looks, personality and physical strength?

In fact, Tom Tyler did indeed have a voice that met the above qualifications and made him perfect for talkies. Once he got together with one of Drake’s friends, J. Frank Glendon, taking a series of enunciation lessons in order to lose his accent. As with the horseback riding lessons in order to get that star contract with FBO in 1925, Tom worked hard at his enunciation, and after making one test talkie short for Pathé in 1930, “Half Pint Polly”, was well on his way to successfully transitioning to talkies. “West of Cheyenne” was a milestone in Tom Tyler’s career, probably just as exciting for him as for when he made “Let’s Go Gallagher” in 1925, his first starring role in a silent film. The story was simple enough in Tom’s first talkie, about a young man whose father was framed for murder and held captive in a forbidden town known as Ghost City. Written by Bernard Cohen and Oliver Drake, the movie was produced and directed by Harry S. Webb, who would continue to direct a number of Tom Tyler movies in the 1930’s, sometimes using the name Henri Samuels.

With the release of “West of Cheyenne”, Tom’s voice was stressed in press kits, obviously to encourage fans and cinema patrons in general to attend showings of this movie. Even film reviews like the one in Variety March 4, 1931 which describes the plot in “West of Cheyenne” as somewhat of a routine western, touts Tom Tyler’s voice as being the best part of the movie. It is doubtful that Tom Tyler’s first talkie was a put off for those who have long appreciated and admired his work. Perhaps the most important question was, “How distinct was Tom’s voice?” to those who have never heard him speak on film. In response to that question, the answer is, “very distinct” - distinct enough to pick out on a radio show, had Tom been a radio actor. In the newspapers, cinema ads described Tom’s voice as splendid (The Amarillo Globe-Times, Amarillo, TX, October 9, 1931). For those of us who take sound film for granted, the majority of us having been born during the sound era, it may be hard to imagine the pleasant surprise of hearing Tom Tyler speak for the first time in a movie. Along with the usual treats of action, hard riding, hard fighting, and moments of tenderness with his leading lady Josephine Hill, Tom Tyler never disappoints.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Tom Tyler and Lon Chaney Jr: The Perfect Match

The son of a very famous silent film actor – one better known as “The man of a thousand faces” - Lon Chaney Jr. usually is not the first name that comes to mind when discussing B-westerns of the 1930’s.  While he certainly has the looks and demeanor that make him the perfect heavy in a western, the craggy faced actor has in fact appeared in a number of low-budget westerns dating back to the early 1930’s, often billed under his given name, Creighton Chaney. Lon Chaney Jr. has appeared with stars such as Dorothy Gulliver, Tom Keene, and Gene Autry in low-budget westerns. In “Cheyenne Rides Again” (1937), Lon teams up with a different kind of western star, Tom Tyler, who turns in one of his best performances in a B-western. Lon Chaney Jr. not only gets to see one of Hollywood’s handsomest men up close and in person – but also gets to witness Tom’s athletic prowess. How incredible and impressive is that, for an actor like Lon to appear in a movie with Tom Tyler? In Lon Chaney Jr.’s case, not only did he get to witness Tom’s physical strength in action – but also experience it.

Playing the cattle rustler Girard – even that name sounds clichéd for Lon, evoking a noir image of gangsters ready to pull a bank job – Lon is in many ways the perfect match for Tom Tyler. The onscreen chemistry is there, the hero and the heavy, when the two men are sizing up each other, and ready to throw the first punch. For example, when Girard and his men are in Tom’s living room, anxious to get their hands on the 10,000 dollars that Tom confiscated from them and hid in the room they are standing in, the camera pans each man back and forth. Lon Chaney Jr. looks like he just drove in from a dust storm, while Tom is wearing his skintight white shirt, complete with the black lace bow in front and the side zippers, showing off his physical assets. Being disarmed, Tom feigns a plan to hand the money over to Girard, and in turn, catches the rustlers off guard, sending them across the room using a backward push while standing on a chair in front of the fireplace. Tom sends pieces of furniture at them, a chair or table narrowly missing some of the crooks, while a displaced sofa takes a beating. Girard reaches for his gun, aims and shoots at Tom, who dives out a closed window, narrowly escaping the bullet.

Girard knows that Tom is a Cattlemen’s Protective agent and exposes him as such when they are in a house with Rollins (Ted Lorch) and Gleason (Ed Cassidy) the two men who were about to approve Tom as a fellow rustler. Tom moves quickly, engaging in an all-out brawl but meets a roadblock in the form of Girard’s gun which knocks him out temporarily. Once Tom finds a way to escape and lead Girard and his gang in the direction of the sheriff, his mission is accomplished, and the money is returned to its owners, the cattle ranchers.

As the heavy, Lon Chaney Jr. certainly holds his own against Tom Tyler, and because Tom’s onscreen characters are usually portrayed as being clever, so is Girard in “Cheyenne Rides Again”. To the viewer who watches this movie for the first time, the only question is: “When will Tom’s nemesis finally catch up with him?”

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Icelandic titles of Tom Tyler films

From Visir, Reykjavik, June 5, 1932
As with other European nations, Iceland was included  on the list inventoried by FBO to show Tom Tyler films in the mid- to late 1920's. Iceland proved to be very receptive to the established star of westerns produced by FBO, then later on, a handful of Monogram films, and of course “Stagecoach” (1939). In one cinema listing in the newspaper Alþýðublaðið (May 25, 1928), Tom is described as “one of the most famous and handsome cowboy actors”. In some cases, some of Tom's silent films were released under their own American title without translation: “The Sonora Kid”, and  “The Cowboy Musketeer”. The Iceland newspapers in which Tom Tyler’s cinema listings appeared in are: AlþýðublaðiðNorðlingur, Morgunblaðið, Vísir, Neisti, and Lögberg. With thanks to Tímarit.is, here is a small list of Tom Tyler movies shown in Iceland between 1926 and 1941:

From Einherji, October 8, 1936

Silent films:

Æringinn – Born to Battle 1926

Hefndar riddarinn – Cyclone of the Range 1927

Án dóms og laga – When the Law Rides 1928

Riddarinn fífldjarfi – Gun Law 1929

Í ræningjaklóm - Idaho Red 1929

Í vargaklóm – The Pride of Pawnee 1929


Maðurinn frá Dauðadalnum - The Man from Death Valley 1931

Í dal dauðans – Galloping Thru 1931

Póstvagninn – Stagecoach 1939

Captain Marvel – Adventures of Captain Marvel 1941

Sunday, January 20, 2019

From FBO to RKO: Transitioning company ownership

In "Powdersmoke Range", Tom's first movie for RKO
By the time Tom Tyler made his twenty-fourth silent film for FBO - “The Avenging Rider” (1928), released on October 7, 1928, his studio contract would be near its end, primarily due to company ownership change, and its final transition to talkies. The advent of sound pictures for Hollywood film studios meant several things: one, the commercialization of synchronized sound, which now became affordable for studios which made a tidy profit on making and releasing silent films; two, the ability for the cinema patrons to appreciate the voices of their favorite actors as they were in real life; and three, the marriage of moving images and sound the way Thomas Edison, the inventor of each, the way he originally intended. Most importantly, the careers of silent film stars faced a major challenge, and those who were able to transition to sound pictures were the lucky ones, especially those who made films of the western genre during the silent film period. Tom Tyler was one of those actors, along with Bob Steele, Tim McCoy, Harry Carey Sr, and Hoot Gibson.

A poster for "The Texas Tornado" in Swedish
Tom made five more silent films that were released between October 23, 1928, and June 9, 1929, “The Pride of Pawnee” being his last for FBO. With the studio undergoing ownership changes, it was decided that Tom’s contract run out and not be renewed by RKO Productions, possibly due to the fact Tom was not really ready yet for talkie pictures; he was one of the very last leading men of the silent film era to make silent films during the year 1930.

The year before Tom first started making silent films for FBO, the company was primarily engaged in the distribution of silent films. As the years went on though, in the mid- to late 1920’s, Joseph Kennedy Sr. discovered that by having several subsidiaries, the silent films produced by his studio could gain worldwide popularity – and they did. In Tom Tyler’s case, many of his westerns filmed at FBO wound up being distributed across Europe, as many European newspaper cinema show listings can attest; even more beneficially, a number of these silent film copies wound up being saved, eventually finding their way into film archives such as EYE in Amsterdam and Filmoteka in Brussels, Belgium.

From Motion Picture News, February 2, 1929
In 1927 Joseph Kennedy was approached by David Sarnoff, the then general manager of RCA who wanted to use Photophone in the affordably run FBO studio. Harvard Business Reports 1930 states that RKO was a subsidiary of Radio Corporation of America, created to take over FBO and its subsidiaries. RCA also took interest in Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO), which owned a circuit of theatres, the latter desiring to transition to the film business. The company merger between FBO and KAO proved to be successful, and by 1929, William Le Baron was vice-president of RKO Productions in charge of production, sound-proofing all stages formerly under the FBO name. For FBO, it was a final goodbye to the silent film era, and ushered in the sound era, and for RKO, the landmark sound release was “Syncopation” in 1929, starring Barbara Bennett and Ian Hunter, and for a produced movie, “Street Girl” that same year.

With Harry Carey Sr in "The Last Outlaw" 1936
So even though RKO decided against keeping Tom Tyler on and renewing his contract in hopes of prepping him for upcoming sound pictures, that did not mean a permanent goodbye to the newly named company by any means. Tom continued to appear in RKO films such as “Powdersmoke Range” in 1935, “The Last Outlaw” in 1936, “Valley of the Sun” in 1942, “The Princess and the Pirate” in 1944, “Return of the Badmen” and “Blood on the Moon” in 1948.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

“'Neath Western Skies” 1929 Tom Tyler silent film at Flickr

It appears that yet again another lost Tom Tyler film – at least a segment of one – has popped up, this time, at the Library of Congress.

Fourteen frames of “'Neath Western Skies” (1929) have initially been posted at Nitrate Film Interest Group as an unidentified film snippet on December 12, 1018. These frames came from a digitized file, made from a 35mm nitrate print at the Library of Congress. This film print snippet lasts just under two minutes. That this film print was digitized is amazing, and tinted at that, in a rich brown color, perfectly suitable for a late 1920's western. Of the 14 frames at Flickr, Tom appears in only two of them, but they are well worth viewing:


'Neath Western Skies 1929

'Neath Western Skies 1929

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Climbing through windows

One of Tom Tyler’s more entertaining yet common athletic stunts in his starring roles involves climbing through windows. Most of the time it is to escape a band of crooks – or to avoid someone wanting to acquire information Tom has but is not ready to give out. Sometimes however, Tom climbs through a window to enter a house, not because the front door is locked, but in order to meet with someone in confidence, such as a girlfriend. In the latter case, Tom snuck into a house more than once just to do that, as he did in “Cheyenne Rides Again”, “The Laramie Kid”, and “Deadwood Pass”. When it came to escaping those who he knew were after him in a closed room, however, Tom took the easy route – climbing over the window sill when the window is open, most of the times by himself, sometimes with another person, as when he left the courtroom in “Fighting Hero” with Conchita in order to protect her from a frame-up job.

"Cheyenne Rides Again"
Most fascinating, however, are Tom’s projectile jumps through closed windows. This is evident in movies like “Single Handed Saunders”, “Phantom of the Range” (1936), and “Cheyenne Rides Again”, and for the viewer who has seen “Adventures of Captain Marvel”, will find that Tom Tyler did in fact have lots of practice performing such stunts, even though Republic Pictures stuntman David Sharpe executed all of the tumbling stunts in this famous film serial. In some cases, Tom performs a simple jump through a closed window, as in “Two Fisted Justice”.

While climbing or projectile jumping through windows sounds easy, Tom Tyler certainly makes these stunts look effortless enough to amuse the viewer and never getting hurt in the process. Still, as they say, “Don’t try this at home” - leave it to professionals like Tom Tyler.

"Two Fisted Justice"