In the hierarchy of American heroes cowboy stars have long occupied the top rung of the ladder.
Laconic, principled and straightforward, the cowboy facing uncertainties ranging from the Great Plains nasty weather to unprincipled sheriffs and outlaws pursued simple lives of freedom and individualism.
Thats the legend, at least.
The stereotype has taken many forms. In post-World War II film and television it rose to allegorical heights, but when it began with cowboys like Tom Mix it wasnt allegorical at all.
Tom Mix was a real cowboy, even though he was born in Pennsylvania.
He went west in the last days of the nineteenth century, finding his spiritual home in the American West, wrangling horses and driving beef across the vast stretches of the plains. A superb horseman, he was an innate showman. He positioned himself in the forefront of public events including riding with the Rough Riders in Teddy Roosevelts 1905 inaugural parade despite having left the Army on less than formal terms after the Spanish-American War.
His talent and flair made itself felt in subsequent years Wild West shows, then wrangling horses for the Circle D ranch which provided horses, cowboys and Indians (no disrespect intended, but thats the term of the day) to Hollywoods early silent pictures.
Mixs break came in 1910 when Circle Ds client Selig Pictures recognized his flair and featured him in the silent film Ranch Life in the Great Southwest.
The rest is history.
There were other cowboy stars of the era. Hoot Gibson and William S. Hart made many films, but it was Tom Mix who built an unparalleled following. Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda and even Ronald Reagan reprised the role which Tom Mix created, albeit with greater production values (and better scripts.)
Mixs broad-brimmed 10-gallon hat, his proud gait, clear-eyed gaze, principled restraint in the use of six-gun authority and his intimate relationship with his horse, Tony, established a pattern which persists to today. Mix, it should be added, did his own stunts, which added rodeo and wild west show spectacle to his films, and not a few injuries to his career. He was as fearless and daring as the characters he played.
Risen from a family of Pennsylvania loggers, Mix established other less formidable precedents. He married no less than five times. He made millions, even in the currency of the Teens and Twenties. He spent it all, and then some. The Tom Mix Circus went broke in the Thirties, but his personality and unique persona
continued to rise from the ashes of silent pictures, serials, radio and Wild West Shows to reinforce itself upon generations of American kids well into the Fifties.
Tom Mix was an authentic American hero. He starred in over 300 films. His work was the basis of a genre which still attracts millions of fans to films and television over a century after Tom Mix headed west to find his fortune.
His dedication to the history of the American West is embodied in his serving, along with William S. Hart, as one of the pallbearers at the 1929 funeral of Wyatt Earp.
Decades after his death in 1940 Tom Mix was still shorthand for the American cowboy legend, featured in Saturday movie serials, comic books, cereal boxes and on the lunch pails of postwar youth.
Generations of stars Audie Murphy, Glenn Ford, even Yul Brynners character in The Magnificent Seven
trace their heritage to Tom Mix. His legacy is reflected in many later homages, from the cover of The Beatles Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
to the boot prints, hand prints and Tonys hoof prints in the cement outside Graumans Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Sidney Craigs 1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton is the last monument in Tom Mixs career. It is documented in Josh Malks Cord 810/812 The Timeless Classic
as delivered new to Mix.
One of the great designs of the classic era, the Cords front wheel drive chassis, supercharged Lycoming V-8 engine and open 5-seat coachwork was inimitably linked with Tom Mix, featuring an exposed rear-mounted spare tire with extended rear bumper, raised rear license plate bracket on the left bumper spring, two Kilborn Sauer fog lights and single Trippe driving light which are seen in period photos with the famous cowboy star.
Despite the failure of the Tom Mix Circus in 1938, Mix drove the supercharged Lycoming V-8 powered phaeton with the flair and abandon which characterized his life. It ended on October 12, 1940 when at its wheel Mix missed the warnings before a bridge repair on a highway in Arizona and plunged into wash. A newspaper of the day preserved with the car recounts the event:
Thus did Tom Mix, a legend in his own time, come to the end of the trail in the middle of a dusty desert highway
. Tom Mix was still a big, big name, still a star
Millions of little boys still worshiped him, as did millions of grown men and a lot of women. He was still hale and hearty, and he had a legion of close personal friends in Arizona, in Hollywood and the world at large.
He loved fast automobiles, and drove them with accelerator to the floorboard.
Tom Mix had charisma, a magnetic personality that made people the rich, the famous and the lowly alike love him.
Somewhat of a swashbuckler in his personal life, Mix certainly was no phony. The cowboy seen on the silent screen was a real for-sure cowboy, a poke who had learned to rope and ride before he ever thought of becoming an actor in Western movies. No stand-in did dangerous scenes in Mix pictures. No stunt man rode over the cliff for Tom Mix. He did it for himself.
Sid Craig understood the allure of Tom Mix the man.
More than Tom Mix the star, the legend epitomized in Tom Mixs Cord 812 Phaeton is the embodiment of an American ideal which rose from ordinary roots to become a hero who did it all himself.
Carefully salvaged following the accident it has unique details like the TM embossed leather stone guards on the rear fenders and a clumsily preserved partial Tom Mix license plate frame. Repaired, documented and preserved, Tom Mixs Cord 812 Supercharged Phaeton is the epitome of an American legend. Without Reserve