Tom Mix dies
John Wayne may have been the greatest Western star of them all, however Tom Mix – who died on this day in 1940 – was the man who paved the way for that success. Mix was the pioneering cowboy movie hero and one of the silver screen’s first big stars, a prolific actor who appeared in an astonishing 336 films between 1910 and 1935. When Mix rose to prominence as a silent movie star, and he qualified as a great screen cowboy not as a well-versed stage actor but as a real-life man of action: Mix had grown up in Pennsylvania riding horses and working on a farm, had enlisted (though never fought) in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, and then became a highly skilled rancher, winning 1909 national Riding and Rodeo Championship (which tested shooting skills and horsemanship). In 1910, he appeared in his first Western for the Selig Polyscope Company, and quickly became a star. During the 1910s and 1920s, Mix seemed to have a charmed existence: he became a beloved matinee idol, earned a reported $7,500 a week (an unthinkably large amount) while under contract at Fox, and married his on-screen regular love interest, Victoria Forde. (With Forde, his third wife, he had a daughter, Thomasina, born in 1922.) Bigger than fellow Western actors William S. Hart and Hoot Gibson, Mix was so famous that even his trusty steed, Tony the Horse, became a star. Mix was multi-talented – he was a skilled comedian, did his own stunts, and directed and wrote many of his films – however he could not survive the advent of sound. In the 1930s, he appeared in only a handful of films, instead putting his energies into making circus appearances, eventually founding the Tom Mix Circus. Though he had disappeared from screens already when he died in an auto accident in 1940, his star still shone brightly for years to come as a character on radio and in comic books. Eagle-eyed music fans will notice that Mix is one of the faces on the crowded cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.