Recommended Reading

"The Amazing Tom Mix; The Most Famous Cowboy of the Movies"

by Richard D. Jensen (iUniverse, Inc., 2005)

Books such as Richard D. Jensen's biography of Tom Mix are always welcome and refreshing because you're getting a story told "straight up" - no embellishments, no sensationalism, no questionable tales that have grown a life of their own through fan magazines and studio publicists. As a matter of fact, his dedication at the beginning gets us off on the right foot in that regard as he offers the book up to "Tom" (Mix) adding, "with the hope that I got it right." Nice to see an author's primary concern being accuracy rather than sensationalism - not that Mix's life lacked sensation. In spite of many fabrications about the famous cowboy, some of which Mix parlayed himself, this cowboy's life story holds the reader's interest from beginning to end - both due to the colorful life he led and Jensen's excellent telling of it. One of the most often repeated tales, for example, is that Mix fought with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, a tale that Jensen quickly dispels. Yes, Mix served in the army - however, never having seen action and actually ending up a deserter, a fact that Mix worked to hide all his life. He was sheriff for a time in Dewey, OK, during a time when at least some of the old west still survived - and was not only successful at this profession, but much-admired for his law-enforcement capabilities. One would think that Mix would look back on his life and claim that the time he enjoyed most was during his huge stardom with the Fox Film Company in the 1920's, but he always claimed to look back with the fondest memories on his time with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch, first as a ranch hand, and then traveling with the Miller Brother's Wild West Show - and finally those earliest years when he was making one or two-reelers with Selig Polyscope. Although he later fought in court through most of the 1930's with one of the Miller Brothers over money Zack Miller claimed was owed him, it didn't dampen Mix's memories of living the cowboy life. In 1926, he reminisced, "In the old days, with the blue sky above me, a good horse under me, the vast acreage of the 101 Ranch rolling green about me and bacon-filled atmosphere from the chuck wagon calling me, I was the richest of men." Jensen paints a picture of a tough, unrelenting, daredevil man who did all of his own stunts, believed in setting a good example for young boys, and considered a handshake a symbol of honor between men. However, he was also a hard-drinking man who loved a night out with the boys, and he wasn't afraid of a fight, especially if honor was involved. Certainly, some of these characteristics account for Mix being married five times. Likely, a less well-known portion of Mix's life was when he traveled with his own Wild West Show in the 1930's, accompanied by his beloved daughter, Ruth, who was an excellent rider and "showman" in her own right. The joys (Mix loved performing live), trials and tribulations that came along with this dream for Mix are recounted by Jensen with excellent detail, as well as his triumphant tour of Europe when the show failed - a tour that helped pay his many debts and get him back on firm financial footing. The last few days leading up to Mix's untimely and tragic death in a car accident in 1940 are recounted with sadness as he visited some of his old friends from the early days - a very appropriate way for this down-to-earth son of the old west to spend his last days. Jensen's biography is affectionate, detailed, well-written and engrossing - a true "can't put 'em down" kind of book.

End Note: Although we maintain a high opinion of Jensen's book and continue to recommend it- an occasional misstep does appear in some of the details a few times in the book. For example, he identifies "Olive Mix" as Tom's costar in "Local Color" (1915) when it was actually Victoria Forde (another of his wives); he states that Tom's daughter attended a party in 1927 for Harold Lloyd's daughter "Mildred" (Mildred was Lloyd's wife); and, in recounting Mix's 1927 western "The Last Trail," Jensen describes how Tom breaks the front axle off an overturned stagecoach and continues his dash "Roman chariot style - which Jensen points out "predates the famous chariot race in 'Ben Hur' (1959)," which is true - however, he neglects to acknowledge the equally thrilling chariot race in MGM's 1925 production of "Ben Hur" which predates Tom's film by two years.

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