He was born Vincent Markowski, into a Polish-American family.
Tyler had a long career in film, stretching from the 1920s to the 1950s, and appeared in many films, most of them westerns such as John Ford's Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. He occasionally took "civilian" roles in feature films (he's the boxing referee in Abbott and Costello's Buck Privates), but the biggest part of Tyler's screen career was spent making low-budget B-movie westerns for modest salaries. Most of his budget westerns were made by Reliable Pictures for producers Bernard B. Ray and Harry S. Webb.
Larger studios cast the athletic Tyler in rugged roles. In 1940, he was the Mummy "Kharis" in The Mummy's Hand, cast in large part because the producers thought his sharp features and dark eyes matched those of Boris Karloff enough that new footage of Tyler could be intercut with old footage of Karloff. In the first film adaptation of a comic-strip superhero, Tyler had the title role in the 1941 film serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel, and starred as one of The Three Mesquiteers in Republic's series of western features.
In 1943, he starred in The Phantom, based on Lee Falk's famous comic strip. Tyler personified the role, looking especially striking in the character's familiar costume, and much of the serial's great success was due to Tyler himself. It was Tom Tyler's last major screen role. Columbia Pictures intended to make a sequel to The Phantom for years, but by 1955 Tyler had died and the studio's rights to the "Phantom" property had lapsed. The story was hastily rewritten as The Adventures of Captain Africa, starring John Hart, although footage of Tom Tyler's Phantom does appear in some of the long shots.
Tyler was beset by rheumatoid arthritis in the later part of his career, and was limited to occasional supporting roles. Nearly destitute, he returned to live with his sister in the Detroit area, dying there of heart failure at the age of 50 in 1954. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.