Thomas Edwin Mix (born Thomas Hezikiah Mix; January 6, 1880 – October 12, 1940) was an American film actor and the star of many early Western movies. He made a reported 336 films between 1910 and 1935, all but 9 of which were silent features. He was Hollywood’s first Western megastar and is noted as having defined the genre for all cowboy actors who followed.
Mix was born into a relatively poor logging family in Mix Run
, about 40 miles (60 km) north of State College, Pennsylvania
. He spent his childhood growing up in nearby Dubois, Pennsylvania
learning to ride horses and working on the local ranch owned by John Dubois, a lumber businessman. He had dreams of being in the circus and was rumored to have been caught by his parents practicing knife throwing tricks against a wall using his sister as an assistant. In April 1898, during the Spanish-American War
, he enlisted in the Army
under the name Thomas E. (Edwin) Mix. His unit never went overseas, and Mix later failed to return for duty after an extended furlough when he married Grace I. Allin on July 18, 1902. Mix was listed as AWOL
on November 4
but was never court martialed
or apparently even discharged. His marriage to Allin was annulled after one year. In 1905 Mix married Kitty Jewel Perinne, but this marriage also ended within a year. In 1907 he married Olive Stokes.
In 1905 Mix rode in Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural parade with a group of 50 horsemen led by Seth Bullock which included several former Rough Riders (years later, Hollywood publicity handouts would muddle this event to mistakenly imply Mix had been a Rough Rider himself.) After working a variety of odd jobs in the Oklahoma Territory, Mix found employment at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch, reportedly the largest ranching business in the United States and covering 101,000 acres (409 km²), hence its name. He stood out as a skilled horseman and expert shot, winning the 1909 national Riding and Rodeo Championship.
Mix began his film career as a supporting cast member with the Selig Polyscope Company
. His first shoot in 1910 at their studio in the Edendale
district of Los Angeles (now known as Echo Park
) was Ranch Life in the Great Southwest
, in which he showed his skills as a cattle wrangler. The film was a success and Mix became an early motion picture star. Olive gave birth to their daughter Ruth on July 13, 1912. Mix performed in more than 100 films for Selig, many of which were filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico
. While with Selig he co-starred in several films with Victoria Forde
and they fell in love. He divorced Olive Stokes in 1917. By then Selig Polyscope had encountered severe financial difficulties and Tom Mix along with Victoria Forde both subsequently signed with Fox Film Corporation
, which had leased the Edendale studio. Mix and Forde married in 1918 and they had a daughter, Thomasina Mix (Tommie), in 1922.
He went on to make more than 160 escapist matinee cowboy films throughout the 1920s. These featured action oriented scripts which contrasted with the documentary style of his work with Selig. Heroes and villains were sharply defined and a clean-cut cowboy always "saved the day." Millions of American children grew up watching his films on Saturday afternoons. Mix did his own stunts and was frequently injured.
Mix's salary at Fox reached $17,500 a week. His performances weren't noted for their realism but for screen-friendly action stunts and horseback riding, attention-grabbing cowboy costumes and showmanship. At the Edendale lot Mix built a 12 acre shooting set called Mixville. Loaded with western props and furnishings, it has been described as a "complete frontier town, with a dusty street, hitching rails, a saloon, jail, bank, doctor's office, surveyor's office, and the simple frame houses typical of the early Western era." Near the back of the lot an Indian village of lodges was ringed by miniature plaster mountains which on screen were said to be "ferociously convincing." The set also included a simulated desert, large corral and a ranch house with no roof, to facilitate interior shots.
During 1929, Mix's last year in silent pictures, he worked for Film Booking Office, a small movie production and project packaging company run by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Mix was 49 and by most accounts he was ready to retire from the movies. That same year, Mix was a pallbearer at the funeral of Wyatt Earp (during which he reportedly wept).
Mix appeared with the Sells-Floto Circus
in 1929, 1930 and 1931 at a reported weekly salary of $20,000. He and Forde were divorced in 1931. Meanwhile the Great Depression
(along with the actor's free spending ways and many wives) had reportedly wiped out most of his savings. In 1932 he married his fifth wife, Mabel Hubbard Ward. Universal Pictures
approached him that year with an offer to do talkies
which included script and cast approval. He did 9 pictures for Universal, but because of injuries he received while filming he was reluctant to continue with any more. Mix then appeared with the Sam B. Dill circus, which he reportedly bought two years later (1935). In 1933 Ralston-Purina
obtained his permission to produce a Tom Mix radio series,Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters
, which, except for one year during World War II, was popular throughout most of the 1930s and into the early 1950s. (Mix never appeared on these broadcasts and was instead played by voice actors.) His last screen appearance was a 15 episode serial for Mascot Pictures
called The Miracle Rider
(1935), for which he was paid $40,000 for four weeks of filming. Also that year, Texas governor James Allred
named Mix an honorary Texas Ranger
. Mix went back to circus performing, this time with his eldest daughter Ruth who had appeared in some of his films. In 1938 Mix went to Europe on a promotional trip, while his daughter Ruth stayed behind to manage his circus, which soon failed. He later excluded her from his will. He had reportedly made over $6,000,000 (approaching $400 million in early 21st century, inflation
adjusted values) during his 26 year career in the movies.
On the afternoon of October 12
Mix was driving his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton
near Florence, Arizona
) on two-lane U.S. Highway 80
when he came upon construction barriers at a bridge previously washed away by a flash flood. A workcrew watched as he was unable to brake in time and his car slid into a gully. A large, polished aluminium
suitcase he had put on the seat behind him flew forward and struck Mix in the back of the head, shattering his skull and breaking his neck. The 60 year old actor was killed almost instantly. Accounts vary as to whether Mix was speeding before the accident, along with the role alcohol consumption may have played.
The site of his death is located on what is now State Route 79. There is an historical marker and the gully is named Tom Mix Wash. Mix is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Tom Mix was "the King of Cowboys" when Ronald Reagan
and John Wayne
were youngsters and the influence of his screen persona can be seen in their approach to portraying cowboys. When an injury caused football player John Wayne to drop out of USC, Tom Mix helped him get a job moving props in the back lot of Fox Studios.
By most accounts Tom Mix made 336 movies throughout his career. In 2007 only about 10% of these were reportedly available for viewing, although it was unclear how many Mix films had been irretrievably lost.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Tom Mix has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1708 Vine Street. His cowboy boot prints, palm prints and his famous horse Tony's hoof prints are at Grauman's Chinese Theatre at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1958 he was inducted posthumously into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There is a Tom Mix museum in Dewey, Oklahoma and another in Mix Run, Pennsylvania. Between 1980 and 2004, 21 Tom Mix festivals were held during the month of September, most of them in DuBois, Pennsylvania.
By the 21st century, most people were more familiar with Tom Mix's name through the many cultural references which have echoed long after his death, rather than from having seen his films. Cereal boxtop premiums (radio premiums
) from the 1940s relating to Mix are still traded by collectors. Mix was referred to in Conny Froboess
' 1951 song "Pack' die Badehose ein
" and in a 1953 Dinah Washington
song, "TV Is The Thing This Year" for EmArcy Records
(signifying a change in technology from radio to television). In 1967 he was featured with many other 20th century celebrities on the cover of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
. Bruce Willis
played Tom Mix in the Blake Edwards
with James Garner
as Wyatt Earp
. In The Beverly Hillbillies
, Jed Clampett
's reason for going to Beverly Hills
was to live in the same place as Tom Mix. Daryl Ponicsan
's novel Tom Mix Died for Your Sins
(1975) evokes Mix's life and personality. Clifford Irving
offered a pseudo-autobiographical version of Mix's early adulthood, drawing him as a brash young gringo who befriends and then joins up with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa
in the novel Tom Mix and Pancho Villa
(1982). James Horwitz
's book They Went Thataway
(1975) ends with Horwitz visiting Tom Mix Wash (where Mix died) and leaving his childhood cowboy boots at the foot of the monument. A resurrected Tom Mix appeared in two of Philip José Farmer
novels, The Dark Design
(1977) and The Magic Labyrinth
(1980), along with a short story featured in the anthology Riverworld and Other Stories
(1979). In an episode of M*A*S*H
a Tom Mix pocket knife was used to perform an emergency tracheotomy. Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel The Penultimate Truth
noted Mix's name. In Batman/Houdini: The Devil's Workshop
) Tom Mix is a high profile figure in Gotham society and takes up Houdini's offer of a free punch to the stomach. In an episode of Raw Toonage
, Bonkers D. Bobcat
plays a cowboy character named "Trail Mix Bonkers", an obvious homage to Tom Mix, as well as a play on both his name and trail mix
. The menacing cowboy character in David Lynch
's film Mulholland Drive
contains oblique references to Mix. The ghost of Tom Mix haunted a Hollywood couple in the supernatural thriller The Ghosts of Edendale
(2004). Ralston-Purina briely revived its Tom Mix boxtop fan club during the 1980s and in 2007 had Tom Mix pages on the company's website. Tom Mix is mentioned as being a pall bearer and weeping at the funeral for Wyatt Earp
at the beginning of the end credits for the 1993 George P. Cosmatos
. In the Doctor Who
episode "The Gunfighters
", the TARDIS lands in Tombstone, Arizona right before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
, Steven and Dodo dress in cowboy costumes in an attempt to blend in, the Doctor complains that he doesn't understand why they want to dress like Tom Mix. Arizona band Hills of Astroturf has a song titled "Empty Saddle (The Ballad of Tom Mix)" on its 2008 EP 'Jericho Gap
- Ben Ohmart, It's That Time Again Albany: BearManor Media, 2002 ISBN 0-9714570-2-6.
- David W. Menefee, The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007.
- Olive Stokes Mix with Eric Heath, The Fabulous Tom Mix, New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957.
- Paul E. Mix, The Life and Legend of Tom Mix, New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1972.
- Jeanine Basinger, Silent Stars, 1999 ISBN 0-8195-6451-6. (chapter on Tom Mix and William S. Hart)
- Richard D. Jensen, "The Amazing Tom Mix: The Most Famous Cowboy of the Movies" iUniverse, Inc, 2005 ISBN-10: 0595359493 ISBN-13: 978-0595359493.