Jack French, well-known OTR collector and editor of Radio Recall, contributed the following story from his publication. It just might well give both "new timers" and "old timers" to OTR an insight into the stars of the popular Tom Mix show of the '30s and '40s. Jack can be contacted at otrpiano@verizon.net.


by Jack French

Radio's Tom Mix had little similarity with the actual Tom Mix. However, even the "actual" Tom Mix bore little relation to historical fact.

Thomas Hezekiah Mix was born in a rural area of Cameron County, PA on January 6, 1880. Later he would claim Oklahoma or Texas as his birthplace and assert he was "one quarter Cherokee", but all of his ancestors were Irish or English.

Like most boys of his era, he did not finish grade school. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1898, and although he eventually made sergeant, he never saw combat nor left the U.S. He deserted from the Army and never went back.

Later, Tom (and his press agents) embellished his military record to include membership in Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders", wounds from both the war in the Philippines and Cuba, and action in the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. None of this was true.

His short time as a lawman included brief stints as a town marshal in Oklahoma and a deputy sheriff in Kansas. However by the time he became a silent film star, his press releases claimed he was also a Texas Ranger and a U.S. Marshal.

Mix, according to some historians, was married at least six times and had either three or four daughters. However, M. G. "Bud" Norris, a Mix biographer, is convinced that Tom was married only five times and had just two daughters, Ruth and Thomasina, born to different mothers.

At the height of his silent movie career, he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and he spent money as fast as he earned it. By the early 1930s, the "talkies" were in, and Tom's movie career was nearly over. He made a few sound features for Universal and a chapter serial for Mascot, but thereafter he sought other venues. He lost millions in the Stock Market Crash but used his name and showmanship to begin a new career in the circus world.

In early 1933 Charley Claggett, then a young employee of the Gardner Advertising Company in St. Louis, convinced the Ralston Purina Company to sponsor a new radio show about Tom Mix.

A Gardner official was able to catch Mix at one of his circus stops and got a contract signed on the back of an envelope. This gave Ralston permission to impersonate Mix on the air and one of the most popular juvenile series was launched a few months later.

The Tom Mix radio show debuted September 25, 1933 from New York City with Artells "Art" Dickson in the lead and veteran character actor, Percy Hemus as "The Old Wrangler."

Roland Martini was the first script writer. The radio show was a solid hit, the sales of Ralston cereal boomed, and everyone was optimistic.

After two seasons the production was moved to Chicago (so the show would only have to air once) and Jack Holden became the new voice of Tom Mix.

Hal Peary and Willard Waterman were added to the cast in supporting roles. Charles Tazewell, an eccentric fellow who wore a heavy overcoat daily, even on the hottest summer days, became the new script writer and held the job for the next nine years.

The demand for the radio premiums offered on the program began strong and stayed high for the nearly 20 years the series was on the air. Virtually every type of premium was offered: guns, rings, air planes, books, lariats, coins, bandanas, badges, stationery, cowboy clothes, make-up kits, telegraph sets, periscopes, branding irons, etc.

The Ralston box tops were pouring into St. Louis and truckloads of radio premiums were routed through the postal system into the hands of anxious kiddies.

Russell Thorson took over the role of Tom in 1938 and played him for the next four years before going on to become "Jack" in I LOVE A MYSTERY. A youngster on the show, one of the several who played Tom's ward, "Jimmy", was none other than George Gobel. He, of course, went on to become one of the 50s biggest TV successes.

Three of the longterm supporting cast members on Tom Mix had joined in 1935; they were called the "Ranch Boys Trio". This group, consisting of Jack Ross, Ken "Shorty" Carson, Joe "Curley" Bradley, sang songs and played bit parts. Bradley (whose real name was George Raymond Courtney) played Mix's top ranch hand, "Pecos".

Ralston pulled the series off the air in mid 1943 because of daylight savings time, convinced that the youngsters would not give up an extra hour of playing outside to come in to listen to Tom Mix.

"They were wrong, of course," Claggett told me in 1976, "but by the time they realized their mistake, we'd lost our time slot and it took me a year to get it back.

In June 1944 Tom Mix returned to network radio. Curley Bradley became the new Tom Mix and George Lowther (who was in New York City writing the scripts for SUPERMAN and DICK TRACY) was hired to become the new writer on TOM MIX. Percy Hemus had died a few years before and instead of find ing another "Old Wrangler" the part of Sheriff Mike Shaw was elevated to Tom's new sidekick.

Curley Bradley recalled, in a 1982 radio interview with John Dunning, that several actors auditioned for the part of the sheriff, including a 300 Ib. former vaudevillian, Leo Curley.

When they were done, Leo confided to Bradley, "I sure need this job. I'm down to my last fve bucks but if you'll put in a good word for me, I'll buy the drinks tonight." It was probably more Lee's talent than Bradley's approval that got him the role. Bradley was married three times and Claggett attended two of the nuptial events. He married a hotel employee's daughter and later divorced her to marry his producer/director on Tom Mix, Mary Afflick. Later he divorced her to wed his third wife, Margaret.

Unlike Bradley and the real Tom Mix, the radio's Cowboy Marshal avoided the ladies completely and never married.

On the radio series, Mix and Mike Shaw were lifelong bachelors, constantly in each other's company, fighting crime from the TM Bar Ranch near Dobie, Texas. Strange that the sleaze media did not question the sexual orientation of Mix and Shaw, as they did of two other crimefighting bachelors, J. Edgar Hoover and his top aide, Clyde Tolson.

Tom Mix held its grip on thousands of kiddies in its 15 minute time slot at 5:45 pm until 1949 when it was converted to a half hour show. Most of the juvenile programs were now 30 minute complete episodes (STRAIGHT ARROW, BOBBY BENSON, SKY KING, etc.) and Ralston followed suit.

But the crush of television doomed the new format; Tom Mix ended in June 1950. Yet as veteran announcer, Don Gordon, concluded on that final broadcast, "In the heart and imagination of the world, Tom Mix rides on, and lives on, forever.

The real Tom Mix had died in an auto accident in 1940 in Arizona and the radio show extended his career by ten years.

Now, nearly a half century after his last film and radio series, his museum in Dewey, OK is a continuing tribute to his fame. A Tom Mix Festival is held annully at DuBois, PA and attracts hundreds throughout the U.S.

In addition to the 26 radio episodes in circulation, there are hundreds of Tom Mix premiums that are regularly traded among his fans today.

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Text and Images courtesy of Jack French