Popular Hollywood mythology suggests that cowboy superstar Tom Mix was a superhuman Western legend who served as everything from war hero to hard-case deputy marshal. Mix did have a remarkable life and career, though many details of his numerous heroic feats were simply the indulgent fabrications of imaginative studio publicists, eager to create a larger-than-life Western mega-star. Mix did indeed serve as a Texas Ranger and was, in fact, a legitimate champion rodeo rider and a genuine true blood cowboy, and it was Mix himself that was responsible for his greatest accomplishments, not the active imaginations of starry-eyed publicists.
Born in 1880 in Mix Run, PA, to a lumberjack father, he seemed destined from the earliest age to become something more than simply another working cowboy. Whetting his appetite for acting in a series of Wild West action shows, Mix was initially hired by the Selig Company as a cattle wrangler for Ranch Life in the Great Southwest (1910), though it soon became obvious that Mix aspired to roles of greater prominence in film. Refining his image as a flashy and energetic entertainer with a knack for accomplishing death-defying stunts, Mix was a born showman who, no matter who he had been cast or as which role he may have been playing, was always Tom Mix. His signature style embedded into every screen character, Mix won over audiences by always letting his colorful personality shine through his various roles (a trait that many later actors would emulate with varying degrees of success). Signing on with the Fox Film Corporation in 1917, Mix soon found the role that would propel him into stardom in 1920's The Untamed. Establishing Western conventions that would continue their influence on the genre for decades, Mix continued to star in a spectacular amount of popular, quality Westerns (often adaptations of Zane Grey novels) including The Lone Star Ranger (1923) and Riders of the Purple Sage (1925). The '20s were the peak years in Mix's remarkable career. Working tirelessly, Mix became the epitome of the Western superstar, and along with his popular horse Tony, Mix consistently thrilled moviegoing audiences with such breezy and fanciful stunt-filled adventures as Dick Turpin (1925) and The Great K&A Train Robbery (1926). Though the slumping popularity of Westerns in the late '20s momentarily put the brakes on Mix's particular niche, he bounced back briefly in the early '30s with a series of Universal adventures. Destry Rides Again and Rider of Death Valley (both 1932) were certainly entertaining films, but Mix's age had begun to betray his remarkably agile abilities that initially propelled him into stardom. Successfully touring with circuses, including the Tom Mix Circus, into the '30s, Mix continued to hold his reputation as a dedicated and enthusiastically energetic entertainer -- even inspiring a long-running radio show based on his fictional adventures -- until his death in an automobile accident on an Arizona highway in 1940.