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BOTM

He was a Star but only when he kept his mouth shut. You can’t make this stuff up.

Cowboy Tom Mix riding the silver screen on his faithful horse Tony
Cowboy Tom Mix riding the silver screen on his faithful horse Tony

Tom Mix wasn’t a movie star.

He was a soldier, marching with Teddy Roosevelt’s Roughriders up San Juan Hill during the Spanish American war. A sniper’s bullet slammed into his mouth and ripped out the back of his head.

He would, from that moment on, forever have a shy and crooked smile, and the women would love it, and the women would love him for having it.

Tom Mix wasn’t a movie star.

He was a survivor, charging into China as the Boxer Rebellion exploded around him. He loaded his rifle, squared his shoulders, smiled that crooked smile of his, and walked into another bullet. Tom Mix was the second U.S. soldier to fall wounded in the conflict.

Tom Mix wasn’t a movie star.

He was a bronc rider, breaking wild horses for the British Army, then riding with a boatload of the kicking, screaming animals to South Africa as the Boer War rampaged across the country. He led the horses off the ship, wiped the sweat from his face, planted his feet on foreign soil, and found somebody shooting at him. Somebody was always shooting at him, and he wasn’t being paid to be a target.

Tom Mix wasn’t a movie star.

urlHe was a cowboy with the 101 Wild West Show, and the power brokers over at Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago cornered him after a performance one night in Oklahoma. The men were intrigued with his stunts on horseback. The women were mesmerized with his shy, crooked smile.

“We want to put you in the movies,” the boys from the motion picture company said.

“Fine,” the cowboy with the crooked grin said. “What’s the movies?”

The year was 1908,

And he made movies his way. Tom Mix didn’t bother with either writing or reading from scripts. He just sat down, created a series of wild, fearless, action stunts, then built his story around them. He made it up as he went along.

Tom Mix drove wagons off cliffs and battled outlaws on hard-running horses, atop speeding trains, on stagecoaches that were bouncing out of control, and hanging onto the edge of steep bluffs. He lost more skin than nerve.

Tom Mix wasn’t a movie star.

He was a lawman. While waiting to see if Selig Polyscope would make enough money on his first film to hire him again, Tom Mix went home and took the job as town marshal of Dewey, Oklahoma. It was a small hamplet, quiet and dull until night came and dragged the bootleggers and gamblers in out of the woods.

Tom Mix fought a few drunks and jailed a lot more. And he listened to the mob that rose up against the two-bit gamblers. None were opposed to betting good money or even losing. They just didn’t like being cheated.

The city fathers knocked on his door. “Outlaw all gambling in the city,” they demanded.

Tom Mix grinned his crooked grin. He had a better idea. “Let’s just name a few honest men to run the games,” he told them, “then collect fines from everybody who’s guilty of any dirty dealing.”

“What’ll we do with the money?”

“Use it to make Dewey grow.”

Dewey grew.

It might have grown a lot more, but a few Hollywood dollars came rolling in, and Tom Mix rode back to California. He made movies, more than three hundred of them. He made so many on one studio set that it was known as “Mixville.”

But alas, then came the talkies. And Tom Mix had gravel in his voice.

The ladies loved to look at him. They did not like to listen to him.

Tom Mix wasn’t a movie star. His star had fallen.

Tom Mix ran away and joined the circus.

But perhaps his star had not fallen as far as people thought. The circus paid him $20,000 a week, and he was given his own railroad star.

He was still the hero, but only when he flashed that crooked grin of his, never when he spoke.

ref=sib_dp_kd-3Caleb Pirtle III is author of Secrets of the Dead. Please click the book cover to read more about the novel on Amazon.

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