Silent Cal & The Silent Era Cowboy: Coolidge Mix with Tom

Even in the era of bathtub gin, flappers and daredevils sitting atop flagpoles for days on end, it was a pretty startling sight.

Here came a massive chestnut-colored horse galloping through the gates of the White House to pause beneath the President of the United States on the South Portico.  Riding him was a world-famous Movie Star Cowboy, who then doffed his trademark white Stetson hat, in deference to the Chief Executive.

And so did the horse,  leaving a pile of presence right then and there.

Coolidge 1924 campaign poster.

U.S. Postage stamp honoring Tom Mix.

It was May 21, 1925, the day that Silent Screen Star Tom Mix came to call on President Calvin Coolidge. Just two months earlier, Coolidge had been sworn-in to serve his own four-year term, elected in November 1924 after having inherited the presidency while he was Vice President, following the August 1923 death of President Warren Harding. Coolidge didn’t need to impress anyone or  raise campaign contributions by cashing in a chit from a Hollywood actor. He very much wanted him there.

Silent Prez and Silent Star.

Tom Mix with his signature big hat.

Well over a century since he his first movie was made, in 1909, Tom Mix is no longer a name familiar to most Americans, but for three decades  he was once one of Hollywood’s leading stars.

Although born in Pennsylvania (January 6, 1880), he always felt his home was in the West. He served as a peace officer in Texas and Oklahoma, a sheriff in Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado, a U.S. Marshal in Montana, New Mexico and Arizona.  His expert horsemanship had even led him into the U.S. military.

Mix saw action as a Spanish-American War scout for Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba, then fought in the Luzon, Philippines. From there it was the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Boer War in South Africa, and the Mexican Revolution.

His biggest fan base were young boys and men who held him up as a role model of bravery and honesty and they idolized him as a hero after his ascent in fame following the string of his successful cowboy silent movies throughout the Teens and Twenties.  Insisting that he would have no drinking in his scenes or cussing on his dialogue cards, he was the good-guy cowboy, signified by that trademark white hat. Yet both is screen persona and real-life personality remained accessible and humble.

Tom Mix shopping for hats.

Coolidge especially wanted Mix on the day he was invited as the centerpiece treat for the thousands of disabled and permanently wounded American serviceman of World War I. The Hardings had begun this annual tradition of honoring disabled and wounded servicemen with a White House South Lawn garden party, and the men were transported there in crutches, wheelchairs and stretchers from Walter Reed Hospital and other private hospitals contracted with the recently-created Veteran’s Bureau.

Tom Mix meets some of the wounded and disabled veterans of World War I.

Grace Coolidge, Calvin Coolidge, Tom Mix and Victoria Mix.

For a twenty-five year old veteran at that time, Tom Mix would have been a big star from their older childhood and young teenage days.  The movie star obliged, even getting down from his horse to greet the vets scattered in tents and waiting patiently on line to shake his hand.

Although both men had wives named Grace, nothing more contrasted Cal and Tom than their view of marriage. Calvin and Grace Coolidge never loved anyone but each other and kept a union of complete fidelity. Grace Mix, however, had only been the first of Tom Mix’s five wives, divorced after only one year following their 1902 wedding. Then it was Kitty, also a one-year wife, divorced in 1906. He had one daughter each by wives three and four, Olive and Victoria and the latter one had the luck to be married to Tom Mix at the time of his White House visit, and was invited along with him. Mabel, his number five, lasted longest, a full decade until the time of his 1940 death in a car accident.

Not one of Tom Mix’s wives, however, had as long and devoted a relationship with him as did “Tony, the Wonder Horse.”  In fact, along with Victoria, Tom made sure to bring Tony with him to meet the Coolidges (it was actually Tony’s second White House visit there with Tom, the first being at the invitation of the Hardings).

From the South Portico, the President and Mrs. Coolidge along with Mrs. Mix and an unidentified woman and boy, take a gander at Tom and Tony.

Tony the Wonder Horse and Tom Mix.

Making some eighty-one movies together, and doing all their own stunts, Tom and Tony first appeared together in 1917’s The Heart of Texas Ryan.  Tom insisted Tony be given co-star billing. An unusually intelligent horse who was able to open gates and untie Tom’s hands, Mix only had to give undivided attention in showing these tricks to the horse and Tony could immediately mimic what he saw.

Tony’s hoof prints in lower left near Tom’s hand and boot prints, still seen at Mann’s Hollywood Theater.

When Tom Mix was given the honor of putting his hand and footprints in cement to be forever preserved at the famous Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, he again insisted that Tony be granted the same respect, and Tony’s hoof-prints are there still today, with those of the cowboy.

Tom off Tony.

Tony, in fact, went on to make three films of his own, Just Tony (1922), Oh! You Tony (1924), and Tony Runs Wild (1926).  One of the world’s most famous horses of his time, Tony received bagfuls of his own fan mail and made appearances all over the world with his cowboy caretaker. Tom poured a tremendous amount of love and care into Tony’s well-being, ensuring he received the proper amount of exercise, nutritional and even  off-camera companionship.

After Tony injured himself in 1932 when he was 33 years old,  he was retired to the Mix ranch in the San Fernando Valley in what is today Universal City. Tom started working with a “Tony Junior” but he continued to lavish love on Tony and even provided for him in his will. Tony lived to be 43 years old. In fact, he outlived Tom Mix, dying two years to the day after the actor.

Silent Cal enjoys a dance with his wife’s white collie Rob Roy.

Such respect for a non-human being  placed Mix in high esteem with President Coolidge who showed the same sort of care for animals, an affinity shared by Grace Coolidge (to read more about this and see many photos, go to: http://carlanthonyonline.com/2012/01/25/animal-loving-grace-coolidge-and-her-famous-white-house-white-collie/)

Mix movie poster.

Tom Mix appeared in nearly 300 movies, almost all of them silent, directed over one hundred films and wrote nearly one hundred scripts himself.  He not only transitioned smoothly to sound movies, but also began a radio show and a Wild West Circus which toured the U.S.  Enormously successful, he owned a yacht, an Arizona ranch and his famous home in Hollywood which could not be missed, his “TM” logo lit up above it at night, in neon.

Classic Coolidge.

One may wonder what such sort of impression this risk-taking,  dashing and energetic cowboy-movie star made on the President who was famously caricatured as “Silent Cal” for his laconic nature, always depicted as cautiously unsmiling and conservative in dress and manner. Although President Coolidge was known to encourage the First Lady to dress in the flamboyant Jazz Age fashions he was invariably seen in his presidential navy blue suits and black coats.

Cal may have stayed as silent as Tom. If a picture says anything, however, he sure as hell liked to do it up when he got out west, even cracking a slight smile beneath his white Stetson.

President Coolidge trap-shooting.

Here’s a quick, little film bio review of Tom Mix:


Categories: Calvin Coolidge, History, Hollywood & The White House, Presidents, The Coolidges

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17 replies »

  1. Oh, terrific. Now I want a horse! What a splendid piece this is about an era when, without a million other diversions pulling for our attention, a picture star was a STAR and a president was THE PRESIDENT.

    I think I’d better just settle for a white hat.

    • Thanks so much for writing Philip – I want a horse too, but will definitely have to settle for a white hat too. (Good line there). In the meantime, yeah it does seem like it was a simple time – except for the fact that Tom Mix had five wives to support – with all that alimony to pay out, its a wonder he was able to afford anything but a white hat. Be curious to know if all five wives were at his funeral. If anyone would know……you might. In fact, don’t mind me doing a little promotional about the once-in-a-lifetime tours you conduct for people who visit Los Angeles and are interested in the story of the entertainment industry in Hollywood – http:www.felixinhollywoodtours.com

      • Five wives and two one-year marriages! Brings to mind the joke about Niagara Falls being the second biggest honeymoon disappointment. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

        Once again, you point out that the Hardings did some real good and that Mrs. Hharding had a caring heart. I’ve got to re-read your excellent book about her.

        • Haha…well, at least the last one lasted ten years, I guess. And yes, Florence Harding was an extraordinary and far-sighted person. You could re-read it…or wait for the one coming next June, the Ida McKinley biogaphy….either way, thanks for flattering the author!

  2. It is nice to see and read the history you entertain us with. Stories like this and others of days gone by are windows of reminders of how our Country used to be, almost a presence of innocence, and trust and respect. Now a days you need a pair of binoculars and a fear of using them to see the White House, when Tom Mix and Tony road up to leave their present, I bet they only needed a kind smile and a cordial tip of the hat, to walk thru the gates. Americans had a lot of style in their attire too, even in everyday life.
    I hear tell that once Coolidge had a funny reply to Mrs Coolidge, when visiting a chicken farm, do you recall such an incident about that in your travels?

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to not only read the story but think about it enough to respond. I appreciate that effort. I know what you mean about the White House – but people in the 20s who remembered it from the 1860s, might think how sad it was there was now a high black gate, when in in fact there had been a low black gate you could climb over during the Civil War….and so on. I agree with you about the attire. I guess the whole secret is finding a self-regulated point of balance and that bit of mental discipline isn’t seen as having any great value except for those with ambition or who have to work two jobs to live. I do detect trust and respect in individual people, though not in large groups. But from immigrants, to 20somethings to CVS clerks to my dentist, unpredictable where I find it but I do randomly yet frequently find it when there’s a mutual recognition of individualism because, hell – no matter by what demographic labels advertisers use to sell us stuff, we are all still individuals. How’s that for a preachy sociological take? Talking about that chicken farm story will be more fun – thanks for reminding me of it and I promise to use it here in a story soon. Maybe a story about Chickens and Presidents?

  3. Just one tiny footnote to a great contribtion, Carl, are U sure RobRoy, the dog of Mrs. Cooldige, was a White Collie? He sure looks like my favorite animal on planet, a breed known as the SAMOYED. They are not that common, although so cute & cudly, regardless of their large size. ( My PolarBear thought he was a Koala & terrified H out of strangers, but wanting to sit on laps! ). I wonder if breed was commonly known at all back in days of Silent Cal?

    • Excellent question – and one which I wondered about myself. However, I had done some research before I posted that first article and sure enough the Coolidge dogs as well as LBJ’s Blancho are a breed known as white collies. Here’s a link to the page of just one of several websites on the breed – this particular page provides some details on the presidential White House collies of LBJ and Coolidge.

    • Thnx so much 4 your generous attn. to my question re RobRoy’s breed. Shucks! I am looking at that wonderful picture of his fluffy tail, playfully prancing around a human, & thinking he looks so much like my TeddyBear did, I almost hate to see a different breed.

      I also want to mention I appreciate your support of “breeds”. As you know, there are animal purists who would have us hung for simply going with our aestetic instincts in re to selecting a pet we choose to live with! As apt. dweller, I can’t own a dog, but it’s no coincidence my choice of cat is a White Persian whose appearance can B compared to a Samoyed. Their temperments are even similar, w/the Persian being a bit more laid back (he has moments of being very playful, however & much to my surprise & horror, is a super Mouser!, just once thank the lord). On that note, I’d bet you would choose a Siamese or Russian Blue, both elegant sleek, critters ) I’ll have to learn more about the White Collie, this is 1st I’ve heard of breed.

      • See that’s why the animals have it over on us. Dogs and cats don’t care about inter-breeding or go after a different breed to kill – the humans have too much time to think instead of just live. I like Weimaraners because they are ideal for one-on-one companionship, and need to run alot. I used to walk Yeager 4 times a day but it is also what got me out of the home office away from the computer into the fresh air. Anyone who is so attentive to a particular breed is, in my experience, compassionate towards every dog and cat and animal of any kind, in need. I have thought about a cat. I’m actually going to be posting some articles in the next weeks about Saint Yeager. June 3 will be a year since he died. Not sad stuff – just reflective.

        • For a second, I thought U were gonna spank me 4 B-ing a CFA/KKA person; I agree. If U love animals, you appreciate them all. Selecting one to live with, for me, was easiest by going with my heartfelt instincts. I did not have good luck w/wild feral kittens my friends kept giving me when I lived in Beechwood Canyon (a hauntingly beautiful part of old H’wood I hope U get 2 see, along w/your friend who does the tours of entertainment industry.) At age 30, my Dr. insisted I get a pet.The purrsian sure did decrease my valium dose!

          If your cat is a good match, you are in for a “trip of a lifetime”, betwitching is an understatement. The cat might not B able to jog like Yaegger did, but you will learn about “inter-species communication” and other lessons of the “occult”. I loved my dogs, but there are reasons we hippies worshiped these cats like ancient Egyptions.:) Simcha is my 3rd cat (they both lived 2 old age 15-18); I have never stopped being surprised/educated by their behaviors, which are truly other-worldly.

          • I know Beachwood Canyon very, very well. In fact, that’s where I have walked all three of the Weimaraners I foster-cared this past fall and winter. The first of the three articles about these three guys was posted on Tuesday. I think it would ideal to have a cat and a dog – the trick is to get a dog (I’ll only adopt one that’s been dumped or found) who doesn’t think of them as “small prey.” Sorry for the delay – I couldn’t find your message here and it kept telling me I had a comment.

          • I can’t wait to hear about these critters! If U can have both, why not? The kittens in the “canyon” can B very wild! My sister, lives in Maine the home of Coon Cats, Persians & most Long-haired breeds…her tabbys have all been wonderful & easy to domesticate. I’d rather baby-sit a tiger/lion cub from the Zoo (U know they have program for lion/tiger cubs being rejected by lioness or tigress mother) than a beechwood baby:). I have known of happy familys w/cats & dogs. You have lots of fun ahead of you! I wonder if my old friend, Eliot Drake (a rock-star stylist, mostly barbering to male rockers of ’70s) still has his shop, “Hair with Love” there?? You’ve got nicely groomed hair, Carl, you might like him, He’s real good, & ver laid back, no ‘tude. that shop was lots of fun. I heard he did Jim Morrison, but oh soo long ago. I recall looking at Scientology Castle & wondering what that place was. I lived in an historic property, Kartoonah (sp), home of Annie Besant & Kirshnamurti, a Theosophical Monastary converted into apts. Jennifer Jone’s son, Michael Walker, who sadly died, was one of my neighbors. Why he had to live there is beyond me! It was fascinating, but not expensive rental, and Mike’s apt. was TINY! Just a waterbed matress on the floor. Here he had lived with Jennifer & step-dad, David O’Selsnik & had to rent w/us hippys is beyond me. I was told Deloris Hart, lived in nun’s convent in there, but HBO special on her shows her relocated elsewhere. Right this minute, I’m missing Beechwood 45729:). Dr. Rotundie, a chiropracter w/a devoted cult-like following was another neighbor.
            I loved those charactors, I truly did! How long have U been in LA, Carl?

            It’s a beautiful day, in Philly, but thinking of LA in Spring, especially, old H’wood, the night jasmine blooming, all these jungled properties, dense w/flora & fauna, makes me pine for it. Do you miss DC? A very eccentric area with some of most interesting achitectural follies is Los Feliz, Madonna + a few other celebs in there.

          • I tried to enclose a picture but it didn’t upload and wiped out my previous message here…but to summarize I would say, yes I miss DC a lot but for nothing else the weather keeps me here – and this time of year, the best thing of all is the jacaranda tree with its uniquely colored petals which led me to declare that Lost Angeles was “The Land of the Purple Trees.” Thanks for writing S.

          • P.S. I’ve been here since 2001.

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  1. Calvin Coolidge: “The Inspiration of the Declaration” – John Malcolm

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