Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tom Tyler: the "B" Cowboy Star Who Became a Mummy, Captain Marvel and a Classic John Wayne Bad Guy

When you mention Universal Studio's "The Mummy"! You think of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr, but between them was the man who played "Luke Plummer" in John Ford's classic "Stagecoach", Tom Tyler, and this is his story.

His name is all but forgotten unless you're a fan of those old "B" Westerns. Over a career spanning thirty-three years Tom Tyler appeared in 182 motion pictures and television shows with such actors as John Wayne, Gene Autry, Victor Mature and Sir Cedric Hardwick. He worked for many now forgotten directors, but also John Ford, Cecil B. DeMille and Preston Sturges.

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He was born Vincent Markowski on August 9, 1903 in Port Henry, New York. Tom's parents were Helen Montvilos and Frank Markowski and he had two brothers Joe and Frank, Jr. Along with two sister Helen and Maliane nicknamed "Molly". The family would move to Hamtramck, Michigan in 1913 were the ten year old attended St, Florian Elementary School and later Hamtramck High School. His pre-Hollywood life included being a lumberjack , a Pennsylvania coal miner, a prize fighter and a Merchant Marine.

At some point, probably when he was in the Merchant Marines, Tom Tyler moved to Los Angeles. During the early 1920's he became an amateur weightlifter competing in competitions sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. In 1928 while working at odd jobs in the film industry such as prop man and carpenter, Tyler won the Amateur Athletic Union heavyweight weightlifting championship. The amount of weight he lifted was 760 pounds and the record stood until 1942.

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When he became an actor Tom Tyler would work for several long forgotten motion picture companies during the Silent Era. It can not be confirmed, but several websites believe his film career started as an extra in the 1923 movie serial "The Eagle's Talon". The following year saw his first confirmed screen appearance as an non-screen credited extra in "Three Weeks" from Samuel Goldwyn's "Cosmopolitan Pictures".

Also in 1924 Tyler as Vincent Markowski played an Indian in the Chapter Serial "Leatherstocking" based upon the stories of James Fenimore Cooper. The entire listed cast totaled nine actors with David Dunbar as Chingachook and now Tom Tyler as the only other Native American part mentioned. Although a Native American Actor "Whitehorse" played a non-Native American character Tom Hutter. Go figure early Hollywood.

I have a blog article on the history of Native American actors in the film industry from the silents through 2013. You can read it at:

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In 1925 Tom Tyler along with fellow non-screen credited actor Gary Cooper appeared in Zane Grey's "Wild Horse Mesa". The western stared Jack Holt (1936's "San Francisco" starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, Val Lewton;s 1942 "The Cat People" and John Ford's 1945 "They Were Expendable" which Tyler was also in) and Noah Berry, Sr. (The 1920's Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. "The Mark of Zorro" as the evil Sgt. Gonzales and May West's 1933 "She Done Him Wrong" co-starring Cary Grant).

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Also in 1925 Tom Tyler signed a contract with "Film Booking Offices of America". The studio was known as "FBO". It was founded in 1918 and in 1923 Joseph P. Kennedy, the future father of Joseph Jr, John, Robert, Edward and five daughters, became a member of the board of directors. The motion picture studio would disappear in 1929 as it's assets were transferred to the "Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corporation" known by their initials "RKO".

Tyler's first starring western was released August 30, 1925 entitled "Let's Go Gallagher".

"Let's Go Gallagher" was followed by a series of Westerns which would take the actor into the talkies. One of these early westerns 1926's "Wild to Go" is described on the Turner Classic Movie website and illustrates the typical "B" cowboy format created by Hollywood.
Tom Blake, en route to the bank to draw money to pay off the mortgage for Felton, his boss, is intercepted by Trumbull, acting for Purdy (who holds the mortgage). Blake escapes and swims ashore to a private school for girls. There he meets Marjorie, Felton's daughter, and on their way to the ranch they are kidnaped by Trumbull and taken to a deserted cabin. There the bandits force Blake to admit that the check obtained from the bank was left in his hat at the time of the holdup; but Frankie, his little brother, delivers the check to Felton just as Purdy is demanding payment. Meanwhile, Blake frees himself from his captors and rescues Marjorie from the clutches of Purdy

Appearing in 27 westerns with Tom Tyler was child actor Frankie Darrow. The "Frankie" in the above description. His parts were designed so that young boys could identify with them and imagine themselves in the picture, Darrow would grow up before the camera. Some of his work included the Gene Autry science fiction/western serial from 1935 "The Phantom Empire". Where the lost continent of Mu is located under Gene's "Melody Ranch" and besides that problem. Gene and Frankie had to deal with a scientist after a radium mine also on the property, Frankie Darrow's voice can be heard as "Lampwick". Who is turned into a donkey in Walt Disney's "Pinocchio". but later in his career and also unseen by the audience. Frankie Darrow probably had his most famous role to fans of 1950's science fiction. Even if they never knew that fact, or who he was. Darrow was the actor inside Robby the Robot in 1956's "Forbidden Planet",

Below Frankie Darrow with the rifle and Tom Tyler in a silent western.

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Below 18 year old Frankie Darrow at the far right beside Gene Autry about to fight the Lost Continent of Mu and it's evil Queen Tika played by Dorothy Christy. This is a fun serial especially if you just go with it.

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Wearing the mask in the following double picture is Frankie Darrow. The mask was needed to protect his face inside "Robby the Robot". The film credit's list "Robby the Robot" as "Robby the Robot". The distinctive voice of "Robby" was provided in this film and 1957's "The Invisible Boy" by actor Marvin Miller.

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Below Tom Tyler during his silent Western period.

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Above the cover of a Spanish language novelization of one of Tom Tyler's silent westerns translated as "The King of the Revolver". I could not locate a film with that title. Novelization of motion pictures for sale was very popular and lasted into the mid-1950's. In the case of the one pictured. It was actually sold in the movie theater showing the feature it was tied too.

With FBO closing shop Tyler moved in 1929 to another forgotten studio "Syndicate Pictures" with a contract to make eight films. In 1930 the studio loaned the actor to "Mascot Pictures" to make his first all talking motion picture. This was a popular chapter serial entitled "The Phantom of the West". The first chapter was released January 1, 1931. The serial featured Kermit Maynard the brother of cowboy star Ken Maynard as Peter Drake. Maynard was also Tom Tyler's stunt double.

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The still below is of Tom as "Jim Lester" with his leading lady actress Dorothy Gulliver as "Mona Cortez". Lester is attempting to prove the innocence of Mona's father, who escaped prison after serving 15 years of his life sentence, for the murder of Jim's father. A nice plot twist. The real killer must be "The Phantom" who leads a group known as "The League of the Lawless".

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In the following still from the serial Jim and Mona meet the title character.

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Tom Tyler in 1931's "West of Cheyenne". was his first sound feature for "Syndicate Pictures", The actor's delivery of lines at the time was awkward, but Tyler's voice was reverting and fit his western cowboy persona.

Tom would make only two more movies for"Syndicate Pictures" and then in mid 1931 signed a eight picture deal with a company trying to get itself going called "Monogram". When Monogram let Tyler go by replacing him with Bob Steele. The actor moved to Universal Studios for three serials and supplemented his income at a very low budget studio called "Monarch".

For another forgotten studio "Adventure Pictures". Tom Tyler appeared in a 12 Chapter serial "Battling With Buffalo Bill" as the title character. The first chapter premiered on November 23, 1931.

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At this time Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer was searching for an actor to play Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan of the Apes". Tom Tyler was considered for the role, but lost out to Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. My reader might have a problem picturing this cowboy actor in a loincloth as Tarzan. So here is a picture from 1928 that should dispel any such thoughts.

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Speaking to the actor's athletic abilities. Tyler was one of the Charioteer's in 1925's "Ben Hur" during the climatic Chariot race sequence.

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In 1934 Tom Tyler moved to "Reliable Pictures" for a series of westerns under a two year contract. The company was created from Bernard B. Ray's "Western Studios" and Harry S. Webb's "Baltimore Productions" and was located on Hollywood Boulevard.

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Even at the top of his craft with "Reliable Pictures" in 1936.. When his contract  ran out during that year. The actor signed a new two year contract with Sam Katzman's "Victory Pictures" for eight westerns. Katzman later in the 1950's was working for Columbia Pictures. Among his Columbia productions were several classic low budget science fiction/horror films including "Creature with the Atom Brain", Ray Harryhausen's "It Came from  Beneath the Sea" and "Earth vs the Flying Saucers", "The Giant Claw", "The Werewolf" and "The Zombies of Mora Tau".

During his "Victory Pictures" period Tyler acted with actress Jeanne Martel whom he would marry in September 1937. The marriage would only last a few years and early in the 1940's they divorced.

The following picture is of Jeanne and Tom after their marriage.

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In the 1937 movie "Lost Ranch" Tom Tyler was required to lip sync two songs. By 1937 "Singing Cowboys" were very popular and Sam Katzman wanted to make a movie with one. Thanks to Ken Maynard, Bob Steele, with a forgotten very good singing voice, and of course Gene Autry. In 1933 John Wayne actually had to sing as "Singin" Sandy Sanders in "Riders of Destiny" and seven others for "Monogram". Wayne's character wore the "Black Hat" associated with a bad guy and his lyrics fit such as:

Streets running with blood
you'll be drinking your drinks with the dead 


Budget conscious Sam Katzman used the same poster for most of Tyler's film's by just changing the features name and cast members. As for those cast members, if you read the two examples they stayed basically the same.

However, Katzman refused to renew Tom Tyler's contract and he could not find any leads in films afterwards. So the "B" Cowboy actor joined the "Wallace Brothers Circus" apparently taking Jeanne with him. Tyler had been shocked by the drop in his "Star Power", but before 1938 was up he had left the circus and returned to Hollywood.

Tom Tyler's first motion picture, at this point in his career, moved the actor from the number one position in a film to 19th, but at least he received screen credit. Had he been the 20th actor he would not have had on screen recognition. The feature was "King of Alcatraz" released September 30, 1938. The motion picture starred actress Gail Patrick and had a cast of interesting male actors including Lloyd Nolan, Harry Carey, Sr, J. Carrol Naish, Robert Preston, Anthony Quinn, Dennis Morgan and Richard Denning.

However, it was Tyler's next small, but extremely significant role that would outlive all his previous western motion picture work together. Tom Tyler found himself cast in a 1939 John Ford western starring John Wayne called "Stagecoach".

Luke Plummer is the motivation for John Wayne's "Ringo Kid" to escape from prison and intercept the stage to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory to get his revenge. It is Luke Plummer who has killed Ringo's father and brother. Tom Tyler was cast by Ford as Plummer, because of his looks at the time. The importance of this role isn't realized by many viewers of the picture, but consider the following.

Had Luke Plummer not murdered the Kid's father and brother. Curly, the Marshall of Tonto, would not have become the shotgun guard that stagecoach driver Buck needed with Geronimo on the loose. Curly only goes to stop Ringo from possibly being killed himself as he has known him since his birth. The love story between Ringo and the prostitute Dallas would never have occurred and the other characters we have come to love in this classic would never have left the town of Tonto in the Arizona Territory.

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Image result for images of tom tyler as luke plummer in stagecoach

 Image result for images of tom tyler as luke plummer in stagecoach

Image result for images of tom tyler as luke plummer in stagecoach

Should my reader be interested in John Ford's classic and the two, at this time, remakes. You can access my blog article on "Stagecoach" at:

John Ford would use Tom Tyler in small roles in the following films:

1939's "Drums Along the Mohawk" starring Claudette Corbert and Henry Fonda
1940's "The Grapes of Wrath" also starring Fonda
1945's "They Were Expendable" starring Robert Montgomery and John Wayne
1949's "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" also starring John Wayne

In 1932 Boris Karloff had been cast by Universal Studios as Imhotep "The Mummy". In 1940 the studio wanted to bring back the character, but they ran into problems with the wife of screenplay writer John L. Balderson over his copyrighted character of Imhotep. Balderson had also written the 1931 screenplay for Todd Browning's "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi and that explains certain similarities in both characters noted by viewers.

Budget conscious Universal Pictures wanted to use as much of the original 1932 footage for their new Mummy now named Kharis. The first thing was to find an actor that resembled Karloff in build and looks. Enter Tom Tyler in his only horror movie.

Below Karloff as Imhotep

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Below Tom  Tyler in a copy of the original costume.

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Karloff as the Mummy Imhotep

Tom Tyler as the Mummy Kharis

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Kharis was to remain in Mummy wrappings except for the flashback sequences involving Karloff. Once more this was related to that copyright. So the Universal make-up department made him looking more horrific.

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There would be three sequels to "The Mummy's Hand", but instead of keeping Tyler the studio switched to Lon Chaney, Jr. seen below. Chaney would be associated with Kharis by the fans of the series and Tom Tyler forgotten.

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In 1959 the British studio Hammer Films would make their own version of "The Mummy", but ran into the same copyright problems with the wife of screenplay writer John L. Balderson. So Hammer had Christopher Lee play Kharis and Peter Cushing become John Banning. In the original Universal series Dick Foran played Steve Banning. Universal International released the Hammer picture in the United States. When the 1999 version was written the copyright had expired and they used the name Imhotep again.

In 1941 Tom Tyler signed a two year contract with Republic Pictures for $150 a week. His first role was also the first true Superhero to come to the big screen. This was Republic's 12 Chapter Serial "The Adventures of Captain Marvel" released on March 28, 1941. Tyler played the title character that young Billy Batson, Frank Coghlan, Jr., turns into when he speaks the magic word "SHAZAM",

For my readers unfamiliar with what "SHAZAM" stands for:

S=The Wisdom of Solomon
H=The Strength of Hercules
A=The Stamina of Atlas
Z=The Power of Zeus
A=The Courage of Achilles
M=The Speed of Mercury

Billy and the Captain fight the evil villain the Scorpion. Who is after the 12 lenses of the "Golden Scorpion". A device that projects a "death ray" if all of them are present. One lens was given to 12 of the members of an archaeological expedition to a volcanic valley in Siam that Billy was on . One by one they are being killed.

At the climax of Chapter 12 the Scorpion makes one mistake. Knowing that Billy Batson is somehow connected to Captain Marvel and is his prisoner. The "Bad Guy" removes the gag on the boy's mouth thinking he will finally reveal Captain Marvel's secret identity and "SHAZAM" he does.

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Image result for images of 1941 serial captain marvel

Image result for images of 1941 serial captain marvel

Image result for images of 1941 serial captain marvel

In 1943 while working for Columbia Pictures. Tom Tyler would appear as the newspaper Sunday comic page hero of Africa in their 15 Chapter Serial "The Phantom".

The Phantom serial starts as he fights the evil villain Dr, Max Bremmer. Bremmer is working for an unnamed country, can you say Germany, to find the Lost City of Zoloz. For the purpose of it becoming that country's secret base of operations in Africa. The Doctor kills his opponent, but overlooks the legend that the Phantom is known in Africa as "The Ghost Who Walks". As with the comic strip the next male member of the family assumes the Phantom's identity when their father dies.

The new Phantom is Geoffrey Prescott played by Tyler. Anyone familiar with the character knows that Kit Walker was the son's real name. However, when the serial premiered on December 24, 1943 that name had yet to appear in the newspaper strip. So nobody knew his secret identity and Columbia Pictures made up an appropriate name for Tom Tyler's alter ego.

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For those of my readers interested in the original motion picture superheroes that appeared during World War 2 on the screen. Here is a link to my blog article:

Let me return to 1941 and the profitable Republic Pictures series "The Three Mesquiteers". The "B Western" series was started September 22, 1936 with Robert Livingston as "Stony Brooke". Ray "Crash" Corrigan as "Tucson Smith" and Syd Saylor as "Lullaby Joslin".

Livingston would play "Stony" for 17 of the first 18 films in the series. Corrigan played "Tucson" through the first 24 pictures and Sy Saylor left after the first film to be replaced by Max Terhune for the next 21 features. The entire series ran from  1936 through 1943 for a total of 51 motion pictures.

In 1938 Livingston was replaced by John Wayne for 8 pictures and then he returned in 1939 for another 14 pictures into 1941, At which point Tom Tyler now took over the character of "Stony Brooke" for the remaining 13 features of the series. While Tyler played "Stony" the man who replaced him at Monogram Bob Steele portrayed "Tuscon Smith" and two actors Rufe Davis and Jimmie Dodd played "Lullaby Joslin". You may remember Jimmie Dodd as one of the two adults on the original "Mickey Mouse Club". Todd always played his "Mouse-guitar", if at no other point than the closing song. 
Below from left to right are Jimmie Dodd, Tom Tyler and Bob Steele.

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Altogether twelve different "B" Cowboy actors portrayed the three characters of this popular series and after Pearl Harbor you found the trio also fighting Nazi's. This series, like many "B" Westerns of the period, blended western settings with the actual year the film was made. It was not unusual to see automobiles, airplanes. or other modern elements and situations.

At the height of his comeback with "The Three Mequiteers" and "The Phantom" Tom Tyler was hit with a medical set back. After filming the Columbia Pictures serial the actor was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was forced to cut back his work load to small roles once more. Out of Tom Tyler's next ten roles six of them did not even receive screen credit.

In the Monogram "Charlie Chan" feature "The Golden Eye" released August 29, 1948. The viewer would have had no idea Tom Tyler was even in the film as all his scenes were deleted before release. Also in 1948 the actor was one of the twenty-one non-screen credited roles in Howard Hawks' "Red River" starring John Wayne and Montgomery Cliff. You might call it "destiny" that the actor who starred in "The Three Mesquiteers" would play the non-screen credited role of "1st Traveler" in the 1948 production of "The Three Musketeers" starring Gene Kelly, Lana Turner and Vincent Price.

On February 26, 1949 a low budget western "I Shot Jesse James" was released. The movie was the first film directed by screenplay writer Samuel Fuller and is considered a classic. The picture tells the fictional story of the last days of Robert Ford the killer of Jesse James.

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Playing James was actor Reed Hadley who would become a major television star in the early 1950's with "Racket Squad" and "The Public Defender". Hadley had a major role in Fuller's second directorial project the true story of James Addison Reavis. Reavis is perhaps the greatest con man in the history of the United States and became known as "The Baron of Arizona". When he created Spanish Land Grants that gave his wife the entire Arizona Territory in 1872. Vincent Price played Reavis to perfection.

Playing Robert Ford in "I Shot Jesse James" was actor John Ireland and as the film focuses on Ford's last days. It is surprising that Ireland received third billing. The above poster shows the power of actor Preston Foster's name. He would soon be another early television star as the skipper of the tugboat "Cheryl Ann" portraying "Captain John Herrick" on the popular 1950's television show "Waterfront". While co-star actress Barbara Britton would become the wife of Richard Denning on the television series "Mr and Mrs North".

The name not showing on the poster and seventh billed was Tom Tyler in the critical role in Samuel Fuller's screenplay of Frank James seen below:

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It would be Frank that sets up the death of Bob Ford with Preston Foster's character of "John" Kelley, real name was Edward Kelley, as revenge over the death of his brother Jesse.

On December 21, 1949 Cecil B. DeMille's biblical spectacular "Samson and Delilah" premiered starring  Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature. Look closely at this cast of thousands epic and you will find Tom Tyler as the Captain of the Gristmill wheel the now blinded Samson is chained too.

Like with the other members of the cast of "I Shot Jesse James". Tom Tyler started to appear on early television programs I enjoyed. He guest starred in one episode of  "The Lone Ranger", four episodes of "The Cisco Kid" starring another of those 12 actors from "The Three Mesquiteers" Duncan Renaldo, and two episodes each of "The Range Rider", Then there were "The Roy Rodgers Show", "Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok". "Sky King" and "Cowboy G-Men" a favorite of J. Edgar Hoover.

The last screen appearance by Tom Tyler was playing a "District Marshall" on the television series "Steve Donovan, Western Marshall". The episode called "Comanche Kid" premiered on January 14, 1956.

What makes the date of this guest appearance odd. Is that two years earlier on May 3, 1954 Tom Tyler while living with his sister Katherine Slepski, back in Hamtramck, passed away from heart failure at the age of 50.

The series "Steve Donovan, Western Marshall" was actually filmed under the title "Steven Donovan, Western Ranger" at the end of 1950 and the first episode was reviewed by "Billboard" on February 17, 1951, but all 30 episodes were not released for syndication until September 24, 1955..

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