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