Tom Mix: America's First Superhero
lv '/AR'>HA l TRIVB l , 0 FIC.Ifo.L AR IZON·\ <.TAT HI STORIAN
THE 1920S WAS an age of superheroes: Babe
Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Red Grange, Gertrude
Ederle, and Charles Lindbergh.
But the greatest superstar of them all was
Tom Mix was the first superhero and
·was perfect for the times. Post-vVV/1 audiences
wanted to return to "normalcy," a
new word coined to mean "forget problems
and escape to fantasy." Mix's movies
were pure frolic and delight. He
was the man in the vvhite hat
who rode into town and battled
the bad guys. The films were
loaded with fistfights, slapstick
stunts, and pretty ladies, and
to the relief of his adolescent
fans, Mix seldom rode off into
the sunset with any of them. He
also led the "Shooting Stars" in
marriages-five of them in all.
One spouse took a shot at him
but fortunately missed.
Tom Ivlix was born in Mix
Run, Penna., on Jan. 6, 1880.
He headed out to Guth ri e,
Oklahoma, where he worked
as a bartender and played semiprofessional
footbalL The Miller
Brothers saw him and hired him
as a trick rider for their Wild
West show. Hollyv•ood discovered
him after he was selected
A ll -Around Cowboy at the
Prescott Rodeo. By the 1920s,
Mix was making $17,500 a
week, spending much of it on a
lavish Hollyv•ood lifestyle. He eventually
made 300 silent films and nine talkies.
Mix was in his forties when he performed
the stunts that made him famous.
Every bone in his body had broken at one
time or another. He was an action actor
He was the man in the
white hat who rode
into town and battled
the bad guys.
who loved to make fun ofhis ac ting ability.
Once, he asked a director, "Do you
want expression number 1, 2 or 3?" Legend
has it that the advent of talkies ended
his career because he had a weak voice.
Truth is, his voice was fine; he thought
talkies would ruin his action films.
Mix's horse, Tony, was the only horse
who starred in his own movie,]ust Tony,
in 1922, w·ith Mix in a supporting role.
Tony leaped steep canyons, swam raging
rivers, galloped th rough fire, and walked
over to a table where he picked up Mix's
six-shooter and brought it to him. Tony,
like Mix, had lots of on screen flirtations,
only his were with comely colts.
An overeager agent embellished Mix's
biography, saying he was a Texas Ranger,
was a U.S. M ar shal, rode with Pancho
Villa in Mexico, and fought in the Boxer
Rebell ion in China, the Boer War in Africa,
and the Spanish American War. He'd
done none of these, but he was one heck of
Every bone in his body
had broken at one time
or another. He was an
action actor who loved
to make fun of his
a rider, and he loved his horse more than
anything. Once, Tony was nea rly
injured performing a stunt, and
from then on, Tony had a double
while Mix performed his stunts .
It was the only time in Hollywood
when the star's horse had a double
but the star didn't.
In 1929, the cowboy genre was
declared dead. Charles Lindbergh
was the new hero in town. Many experts
predicted talkies would be the
end of cowboy movie stars whose
virtuous character was seen as oldfashioned.
One critic wrote, "Tom
Mix, Hoot Gibson, and Ken Maynard
had better switch to aeroplanes
or retreat to the old actors home."
Mix was killed near Florence,
Ariz., on Oct. 12, 1940, when his
1937 yellow Cord Phaeton conver
tible crashed. Too late, he saw
barricades on a bridge detour. He
swung into a wash, jolting the car
and causing an aluminum suitcase
to fly up from the back seat, break-ing
his neck. He got out, took one
step and fell to the ground. Tony the
wonder horse died tw·o years later. ~
He has been called a
cowboy singer, a humorist,
and a storyteller, and
is A rizona's official state
historian, but lvJarshall
Trimble's most treasured
title is teacher. He hopes
people will realize the importa
nee and fun involved in Arizona history and
0E&~J~~y I '-'ARCH 201' NORTH VALLEY 35
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