Tom Mix and the traveling suitcase
August 10, 2009
In 1880, when Thomas Hezekiah Mix was born in Mix Run, Pa., Wyatt Earp and his brothers were walking the streets of Tombstone, Ariz. Years later their paths would cross when Tom Mix, the first “King of the Cowboys” became one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Wyatt, in his elderly years, worked as an advisor and consultant for directors on the sets of western movies. They became very close friends. In 1929, Tom Mix and fellow cowboy actor, William S. Hart, were two of the pallbearers at Wyatt Earp’s funeral.
Tom Mix served in the Army before heading west to Oklahoma, obtaining work on Miller Brothers 101 Real Wild West Ranch near Bliss, Okla. A working ranch of 101,000 acres, it had an entertainment center where they staged rodeos with trick riders. Filmmakers used it for most of the early western movies and Tom Mix was picked for a screen part. He did all his own stunts on his horse, Old Blue, until he had to replace him with Tony Sr., “the wonder horse.” Mix owned four horses, Old Blue, Tony Sr., Tony Jr. and Tony II.
Mix started in the silent movie era in 1909. He was one of the first to star in sound movies in 1932. He made his last movie, “Miracle Rider,” a western serial, which grossed over $1 million dollars in 1935. He worked for Sells Floto Circus for two years, and then purchased the circus in 1936 from Sam B. Dill. He renamed it “The Tom Mix Circus and Wild West Show.” Due to weather problems and the economy, it folded in 1938.
Tall and handsome Tom Mix was known for his flamboyant cowboy style, his showy horse, his hand-tooled boots, his diamond-studded belt buckles, and wide-brimmed Stetson cowboy hats. He made hundreds of silent movies but only 10 “talkies.”
His private life was very different from his persona on the silver screen.
Married and divorced five times, he had two daughters. His lavish Hollywood mansion had his name emblazoned in neon lights above it. He lost millions of his money and the mansion in the Great Depression. When he got older, his career slackened since he was unable to do all the stunts required of him. The studios looked for new and younger cowboy actors. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hoot Gibson and others appeared on the scene.
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Mix had become the most famous cowboy of all time. Now he resigned himself to touring with his vaudeville company and participating in rodeos and parades.
In 1940, after performing in Tucson, he sped towards Phoenix in his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton convertible with his steel suitcases stacked behind him. As he approached Florence, Ariz., Mix noticed too late that a bridge was out, swerved, losing control of his sports car. The car rolled over into the dry wash, and Mix’s loosened suitcase propelled itself into Mix’s head. He died instantly. He was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. Rudy Vallee sang “Empty Saddles” at his funeral. The town of Florence erected a Tom Mix Memorial of a rider-less horse at the spot where he died. It stands there today.
Before television, radio was the main form of entertainment. Every home had a large radio in their living room where the family gathered around to listen to radio shows.
From 1933-1950, (even after Mix’s death in 1940), the Ralston Cereal Company sponsored “The Tom Mix Straight Shooter Show.” Kids would mail away for a secret decoder ring, or a bracelet or a Tom Mix comic book with Ralston box tops. The promotion was a tremendous financial success for Ralston as children all across America promised to abide by Mix’s Straight Shooter rules. Even today, Tom Mix memorabilia can be purchased and sold, all commanding a good price on eBay.