Real name: Vincent Markowski
1902 or 1903 - 1954
|Mike Chapman and Bobby Copeland's book on the life and career of Tom Tyler was published in 2005.|
Received several e-mails asking about this book vs. my Old Corral section on Tyler. The book contains lots of family info and photos; there's lots more detail and photos on Tyler's weightlifting, Los Angeles Athletic Club and AAU period; there's a bunch of photos of Tom and his wife Jeanne Martel, including some marriage photos; there's info on Tom's real estate business; there's a Tyler filmography; and you'll learn the real details about the medical problems which caused his death in 1954. Lots of new and interesting tidbits ... and a good read.
September, 2011 update: Bobby Copeland has no copies left of the book. You may find a copy on amazon or one of the used book companies.
For many of us, the B western "talking" picture represents Maynard, Jones, McCoy, Boyd, Autry, Rogers and a few others who enjoyed relatively high production budgets and commanded impressive salaries for all, or at least some portion of their starring careers. Yet these noble knights of the range must be recognized as the upper echelon of their profession, for when evaluating the lowly B oater as a whole, most who galloped the running insert roads received workmanlike wages and substantially lesser glory and paychecks.
One Vincent Markowski best represents the more typical Saturday matinee idol of those days long ago ... for his career sparkled in 1920s silents; was plagued by Poverty Row productions of the 1930s; he toured with circus shows when starring roles were no longer offered; found new life as a serial superhero and western trio member; and wound up playing henchman as the low budget western faded into memory after World War II.
During a lengthy screen career that spanned nearly thirty years, he starred in about 90 westerns and 7 serials, and did bit parts and supporting roles in dozens of other films. Apparently, he used several screen names including Markowski and Bill Burns when he worked in Hollywood during the 1920s. For whatever reason, he settled on a new moniker, and Vincent Markowski became Tom Tyler. There is a belief that the name change occurred when he signed with FBO (and the same thing occurred at FBO when a young Robert Adrian Bradbury became Bob Steele).
Apparently, Tyler also got caught up in the 'singing cowboy' craze. During February, 2000, I was viewing Tyler videotapes and popped LOST RANCH (Victory, 1937) into the old VCR. In the opening scenes, Tyler and his trail pard Howard Bryant (as Happy) are riding along ... and Tom starts singing two songs, 'Tucson Mary' and 'Home on the Range'. It's pretty obvious that he's lip synching the tunes. (Les Adams ran the complete cast list off his trusty database and there wasn't anyone in that film who was considered a singer or a member of one of the many musical groups that did B westerns. Boyd Magers commented that Glenn Strange may have done the singing.)
A Port Henry, New Yorker by birth, Vincent Markowski was born on August 9, 1903. His early life is a bit fuzzy, and there appears to be two versions of Tom's childhood and teen years:
The family moved to Hamtramck, Michigan around 1913 and Tom attended St. Florian grammar school and Hamtramck High.
Tyler was brought to the Hamtramck area by his factory worker father when he was 15 years old (around 1918). The teenager went to work in a factory also, but not for long --- he ran away from home at 16 and worked his way west.
There is disagreement about whether Tyler moved to Hamtramck, Michigan as a youngster ... or whether he had stayed in the Port Henry, New York area until around the age of 16. As noted above, rumor had it that Tyler had attended St. Florian Elementary School and Hamtramck High School. To see if I could resolve this issue, I jotted off US Mail letters during May, 2000 to both St. Florian and Hamtramck High.
Sister Mary Nora, the principal at St. Florian, quickly responded. And she was also kind enough to check with the high school and other sources. Sister Mary Nora found no records indicating that 'Vincent Markowski' (or 'Vincent Marko', or any other similar name variation) attended St. Florian or Hamtramck High School.
Calvin Castine and Lisa Bulger have also done some additional investigation into Tyler's childhood and teen years, and that info is available by clicking HERE.
Hollywood legend is that Tom was fascinated by the flickering images on the silver screen, worked in the Pennsylvania coal fields, was a lumberjack, and even did some prize fighting ... all this as he journeyed westward to the magic of Hollywood. Around 1924, he arrived in sunny California and found work as a prop man and extra. Some bit parts followed in MGM's BEN HUR (1924) and he even portrayed a shaven-headed Indian brave in Pathe's LEATHERSTOCKING (1924).
Caught in some financial woes, the British R-C Pictures (Robertson-Cole) and their U.S. subsidiary, Film Booking Offices (FBO), were taken over in the mid 1920s by President John F. Kennedy's father, Joe Kennedy Senior. Tom and scores of hopefuls lined up at the FBO portals for screen tests, and the good looking, muscular young man was singled out and put under contract for a group of western adventures with a starting salary of about $75 per week.
Kennedy was a shrewd, profit-oriented businessman who realized the potential of the hastily made and inexpensive westerns. He already had Fred Thomson and his trusty cayuse Silver King under contract, but Thomson was demanding substantially higher production expenditures and a larger salary. Kennedy and little FBO couldn't (or wouldn't) knuckle in to the extravagant demands, whereby Thomson left to fail with his expensive westerns at Paramount. Little FBO, which was the forerunner of RKO Pictures, had Tyler as well as Bob Steele, Buzz Barton and Bob Custer. Tom Mix even did a few for FBO.
Above and below are B&W copies of Tyler/FBO title lobby cards.
LET'S GO GALLAGHER (FBO, 1925) was Tom's initial starring feature and over the subsequent four years, twenty-eight other sagebrushers were churned out. Enjoying critical praise and fan appeal, Tom concluded his FBO association with PRIDE OF THE PAWNEE (FBO, 1929) and, having gained equestrian talents and dramatic experience, was now considered a full-fledged cowboy hero of the silver screen.
In the FBO lobby cards above and below, note the mention of "Tom Tyler and his breezy pals", "Tom Tyler and his lovable pals", and the plain ol' "Tom Tyler and his pals". One of those pals was a youngster by the name of Frankie Darro.
Tyler had muscles and was strong --- sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Tyler lifted 760 pounds and won the 1928 National A. A. U. (Amateur Athletic Union) heavyweight weightlifting championship (which at that time was for weightlifters weighing 181+ pounds).