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.
The book is now out of print. You may find a copy on amazon, eBay, 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 fairly hefty paydays for all, or at least some portion of their starring careers. Yet these noble knights of the range were the upper echelon of their profession, for when evaluating the B western as a whole, many of the heroes received minor league wages doing low budget oaters.
One Vincent Markowski represents a 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; he found new life as a serial superhero and western trio member; and wound up playing henchmen as the low budget western faded into memory after World War II.
During a lengthy screen career that spanned nearly thirty years, Tyler starred in about 90 westerns and 7 serials, and did bit parts and supporting roles in dozens of other films. In his early days in Tinseltown, he used several screen names including Markowski and Bill Burns. When he signed on for a series of silent oaters for Film Booking Office (FBO) in the mid 1920s, Vincent Markowski became 'Tom Tyler' (and the same name change occurred at FBO when a young Robert Adrian Bradbury became 'Bob Steele').
Apparently, Tyler also got caught up (briefly) in the 'singing cowboy' craze. In the opening scenes of LOST RANCH (Victory, 1937), 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'. And it's pretty obvious 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.)
Vincent Markowski was born on August 9, 1902 or 1903 in Essex County, New York. Hard to pin down his exact birth place, but most biographies mention Port Henry, New York. Port Henry is a village within the town of Moriah, and Moriah has four hamlets (Moriah Corners, Moriah Center, Mineville and Witherbee). Good probability that Tom was born at the family home in Witherbee, New York, and Witherbee is the birth location listed on Tyler's World War II draft registration. Confused with all those locations? Click HERE and a separate window / tab will open with a Wikipedia article on Moriah, Port Henry, Mineville, Witherbee, et al.
Tom's early life is a bit fuzzy, and there are two versions of his childhood and teen years:
1. The family moved to Hamtramck, Michigan around 1913 and Tom attended St. Florian grammar school and Hamtramck High.
2. Tyler was brought to the Hamtramck, Michigan area by his factory worker father circa 1920 or so. Tom went to work in a factory also, but not for long - he ran away from home and worked his way west.
Hoping to confirm that Tyler attended St. Florian Elementary School and Hamtramck High School, I jotted off U. S. Mail letters in 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.
Story number 2. wound up being correct. The State of New York did their own census in 1915, and Frank Marko, wife Helen, and several children - including Vincent - were living in Moriah, Essex County, New York. And when father Frank registered for the World War I draft in September, 1918, he and wife Helen resided in Witherbee, Essex County, New York, and he was employed by the Witherbee Sherman mining company in Mineville, Essex County, New York.
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 and a separate window / tab will open.
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 Office (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 put under contract for a group of western adventures with a starting salary of about $75 per week.
Joe Kennedy was a shrewd, profit-oriented businessman who realized the potential of the hastily made and inexpensive western. 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 FBO couldn't (or wouldn't) knuckle in to those extravagant demands, whereby Thomson left to fail with his expensive westerns at Paramount.
In addition to Tyler, FBO also had Bob Steele, Buzz Barton and Bob Custer doing series westerns. Tom Mix even did a few for FBO in the late 1920s after he left Fox studios.
Above - a 1926 tradepaper ad for Tyler and Frankie Darro in their new batch of silent oaters for Film Booking Office (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, he 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).