Tag Archives: tom mix

Film’s Forgotten Four-footers

(Today’s post is by Deadwrite’s Dailies guest writer, Steve Goldstein.)

Back in July, 2007, I had the unique experience of being the featured guest on California’s Gold with Huell Howser. It turned out that Huell was a fan of my Beneath Los Angeles website and wanted to do a show about animal actors. Dead animal actors.

Huell asked me to lead him on a tour of the graves of these deceased four-footers, especially the ones who aren’t in cemeteries, since many were buried in backyards and studio lots that are now paved over and lost to history.

I met Huell and his cameraman, Cameron Tucker (yes, Cameron the cameraman) at 8:30 in the morning in Hollywood. Huell, who has been on the air for about 25 years, used to have a cameraman named Louie who he would frequently speak to on camera, saying things like “Louie, get a shot of this,” or “Louie, zoom in on that.” Throughout the day passersby wanted to know if Cameron was the famous Louie, which annoyed the cameraman. At one point he said to me, “Louie has been gone five years now. You’d think people would have figured that out by now.”

Huell began the show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery talking about how people come from near and far to visit celebrity graves. He then explained the twist of how we would be finding the graves of animal stars that day. After that he introduced me, and led into the segment with his catchphrase, “Our adventure begins … right now!”

Huell likes to shoot the show in sequence, even if it means crisscrossing the city many times.

Our first stop was the bank parking lot in Glendale where the Western studio town of Mixville once stood back in 1914. It was here that cowboy star Tom Mix made many of his early films with his trusted horse, Old Blue. When Old Blue died, he was buried on the studio lot. Years later the entire set was leveled and a shopping center was put up in its place. A branch of East-West Bank stands at the south end of the former property and today the bank’s parking lot rests right over the grave of the horse.   

Then it was on to Studio City to find the grave of Terry, the dog who played Toto in 1939’s family classic The Wizard of Oz. The site of Terry’s grave was formerly the ranch of his trainer, Carl Spitz. This property is also now a parking lot and apartment complex resting adjacent to the Ventura Freeway. Every day, thousands of commuters drive over the grave of Toto, who is buried under the freeway.

Our next stop was Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, near Burbank. Forest Lawn is historically cagey with celebrity seekers, and not surprisingly, they wouldn’t allow us to film there. Instead, we stood across the street and talked about Frank Inn, the animal actor trainer who is buried in the cemetery along with the ashes of three of his most famous actors, Benji, Arnold the Pig, and Tramp, the dog from My Three Sons.

We ended our day at the LA Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, where we could see the actual graves of some celebrity animals. Unlike Forest Lawn, this place was very cooperative (as was Hollywood Forever), and very happy to have Huell Howser on the premises. Here, we filmed the graves of Kabar Valentino (faithful pet Doberman of Rudolph), Topper (Hopalong Cassidy’s horse), Petey (the Our Gang dog), and Tawney, the lion who roars at the start of all MGM Films.

The show we filmed that day is called Pet Cemetery and is replayed three or four times a year, so set your TiVo’s and DVR’s! 

Huell, by the way, was a hoot during the entire day. He truly loves doing what he does.

Steve Goldstein is the author of LA’s Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P. Schiffer Books, 2009.

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The Forgotten Cowboy

Tom Mix 1880 - 1940

Once the biggest film star in the world, Tom Mix may be the most forgotten megastar in Hollywood history.

70 years ago today, the former nickelodeon cowboy hero died when the car he was driving plunged into a washed-out gulley south of Florence, Arizona, and his sturdy aluminum suitcase struck him on the head, crushing his skull.

Mix had an exciting biography, which seemed to get even more colorful with each telling. He claimed to be a child of the West, with one-quarter Cherokee ancestry, and to have been one of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” in the Spanish-American War. He also reported that he had once been a Texas Ranger and U.S. Marshal before becoming a film star.

In truth, Mix was born in 1880 in Pennsylvania, and though he did enlist in the army in 1898, he remained stateside and never saw combat. He did serve as a lawman, but never in Texas, and instead of pinning on a marshal’s badge, he found employment as a local constable in Oklahoma and Kansas.

But to Mix’s credit, and unlike most Western film stars, he was a cowboy, earning his spurs for a time on the largest ranch in America, where he became an expert rider and shooter.

Fame came quickly to Mix after his first film in 1910. By the 20s, he was making $7,500 per week in films, and had overseen the construction several Western film sets called “Mixvilles” around Southern California, including one in downtown Newhall.

Part of the reason Mix’s fame dimmed over the years was because so few of his films exist. It is estimated that only 10 % of the 330 Westerns he made during his silent career still survive. Most of the rest were lost to the combustible nitrate film-stock they were printed on.

Mix’s film career ended with the coming of the talkie revolution, after which he moved into the circus business. His fame continued in radio where he was portrayed for two decades on the Ralston-Purina sponsored Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters program, although he never actually appeared on the series.

It is estimated that Mix made over $6 million during his film career (which translates to roughly $400 million today!), but he spent most of it on high-living and costly divorces (he was married five times).

He wasn’t quite penniless at the time of his crash, but it may have been better for him if he had been, because the suitcase that killed him was filled with money, traveler’s checks, and jewels.

Check out Mix (in the white hat) looking over the shoulder of the wax figure of Paul McCartney on the cover of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.