‘Mix’ing it up on the big screen

Published 9:53 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

This is another in our series of stories about the cowboy stars of yesteryear.

Today’s subject is a combination of actor-legend – Tom Mix. Love his real name – how country can you get? Thomas Hezekiah Mix was born in – where else? – Mix Run, PA in an area – obviously – settled by the Mix family.

He was born Jan. 6, 1880 – died Oct. 12, 1940. He was of Irish or English descent.

The star was a hero off-screen as well as on. He served in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He was an artillery sergeant. During one battle he was shot in the neck.

The star also made movie history. He’s credited with being the man who took the western and made it into a showy and action-filled genre. His aim – to entertain young people. It worked. He worked for Fox films and, by the late 1920s he was earning $12,500 a week. That was a bundle in the 1920s – a fat bundle.

Before all that happened – before he fought for the law on screen, he did the same in real life. He served the law in various capacities in Tennessee, Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma – and – he was a federal marshal – and – he was a Texas Ranger. He also worked as a foreman of a ranch and, at that time, he met Hoot Gibson.

Into films he went. His first one was a one-reeler for Selig Productions. The pay – a far cry from what he later received – was $150 a week. He had his own horse, ‘Old Blue’ who retired in 1914. The equine most people remember, of course, was Tony – billed as ‘the wonder horse.’

When William S. Hart retired in 1925, Mix became the top paid and most popular western star. His competition – although they couldn’t top him in the popularity poll – was Buck Jones and, old friend, Hoot.

In 1932 he began a series of ‘talkies’ for Fox. The first one was the best one – “Destry Rides Again.” In 1939, Jimmy Stewart starred in an update.

Two years later Mix decided to buy a circus, touring the country with it, earning money lost when the stock market crashed. While on tour in 1940, he was killed in an auto accident. He was speeding in his Cord Phaeton.

The cowboy star was gone but far from forgotten. On radio there was “The Tom Mix Show,” popular for several years. It was sponsored by Ralston. The screen actor star was portrayed by radio actor, Artellis ‘Art’ Dickson. The radio show sold merchandise galore and, in the process, did wonders for the sale of the company’s food products.

Incidentally, the merchandise is still around for selling or trading. The Mix merchandise, these days, is both popular and expensive. His old comic books bring premium prices.

Was the real Mix a ladies man? Indeed. He was married five times, producing two daughters.

The cowboy’s enthusiasts still abound. There is a museum in Dewey, OK and an annual festival in DuBois, PA.

All told, Mr. Mix made 291 movies. Horse no. 1, ‘Old Blue’ galloped thru 87 films – Wonder horse Tony galloped thru 181 movies. Here are just a few of the titles: “Hidden Gold,” “Painted Post,” featuring Natalie Kingston, “The Big Diamond Robbery,” “The Rainbow Trail,” with music by a fine group, Riders Of the Purple Sage, and “The Texas Bad Man.”

Personal note: While I was dee-jaying at KWBU in Corpus Christi, I lived in an apartment owned by the Mix family.


Frank Roberts, who is 87, spent 60 years writing and talking. He and his wife, Valeria, have three children, five grandchildren, and three great-granddaughters. He loves to write.