Tom Tyler

Tom Tyler (born Vincent Markowski, August 9, 1903 – May 3, 1954) was an American actor known for his leading roles in low-budget Western films in the silent and sound eras, and for his portrayal of superhero Captain Marvel in the 1941 serial film The Adventures of Captain Marvel. Tyler also played the mummy in 1940's The Mummy's Hand, a popular Universal Studios monster film.

Tom Tyler
Vincent Markowski

(1903-08-09)August 9, 1903
DiedMay 3, 1954(1954-05-03) (aged 50)
Resting placeMount Olivet Cemetery (Detroit)
Years active1924–1953
Spouse(s)Jeanne Martel (m. 1937–194x)

Early years

Born Vincent Markowski or Markowsky[1][2] (sources differ) in Port Henry, New York, to Lithuanian-American parents,[3] Helen (née Montvilos) and Frank Markowski.[4] he had two brothers: Frank Jr. and Joe (who changed his last name to Marko), and two sisters: Katherine (Mrs. Slepski), and Maliane "Molly" (Mrs. Redge). He made his First Communion in a small church in Mineville around 1910.[4] His father and older brother worked in the mines for the Witherbee Sherman Company.[5]

In 1913, his family moved to Hamtramck, Michigan, where he attended St. Florian Elementary School and Hamtramck High School.[4] After graduating high school, he left home and made his way west, finding work as a seaman on a merchant steamer in the U.S. Merchant Marine, a coal miner in Pennsylvania, a lumberjack in the Northwest, and even a prizefighter.[4][6]


Tyler was an amateur weightlifter sponsored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club during the late 1920s. He set a new world's amateur record for the right-hand clean and jerk by lifting 213 pounds (97 kg).[7] In 1928, he won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) heavyweight weightlifting championship, lifting 760 pounds (340 kg)—a record that stood for fourteen years.[7][8]

Early film career

Around 1924, Tyler arrived in California and found work in the film industry as a prop man and extra.[4] His first screen appearances as an extra included Three Weeks (1924), Leatherstocking (1924), and Wild Horse Mesa (1925). In 1925, Tyler was signed to a contract with Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) to star in a series of Western adventures with a starting salary of about $75 per week.[4] His first starring role was in Let's Go Gallagher (1925). In the next four years, he starred in 28 additional Westerns for FBO, including The Masquerade Bandit (1926), The Sonora Kid (1927), The Texas Tornado (1928), The Avenging Rider (1928), and Pride of the Pawnee (1929). While romance was generally underplayed in these early Westerns, a number of up-and-coming heroines—including Doris Hill, Jean Arthur, and Nora Lane—contributed to the overall appeal of Tyler's films,[9] which enjoyed critical praise and were popular with Saturday matinee audiences.[4] His four years with FBO gave him valuable riding and acting experience, and made him a popular cowboy hero in the latter years of the silent film era.[4]

In 1929, Tyler signed with Syndicate Pictures, where he made his last eight silent films in 1929 and 1930, which included The Man from Nevada (1929), Pioneers of the West (1929), The Canyon of Missing Men (1930), and Call of the Desert (1930). In 1930, Tyler was loaned out to Mascot Pictures for his first "all talking" sound film, The Phantom of the West, a typical ten-chapter Saturday matinee cowboy cliffhanger featuring a mysterious secret villain and numerous stunts and action sequences. Kermit Maynard, the brother of Ken Maynard, was Tyler's stunt double in the more dangerous sequences.[4] In 1931, Tyler made his first Syndicate sound film, West of Cheyenne, which showcased an excellent voice for Westerns, despite his awkward delivery of lines. Tyler concluded his tenure with Syndicate Pictures with Rider of the Plains (1931) and God's Country and the Man (1931).[4] He was also strongly considered for the role of Tarzan by MGM in their Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)[10]

Monogram Pictures

Syndicate merged into Monogram Pictures, which signed Tom Tyler to an eight-picture contract as part of the company's sagebrush series. These typical low-budget "quickies" included Man from Death Valley (1931), Single-Handed Sanders (1932), The Man from New Mexico (1932), and Honor of the Mounted (1932)—each made for about $8000. All of his Monogram films received critical and popular support.[4] When Monogram chose Bob Steele to star in the next season's series, Tyler moved over to Universal to do three chapter plays—a safari yarn called Jungle Mystery (1932), Clancy of the Mounted (1933), and Phantom of the Air (1933)—while managing to fit in four low-budget Westerns for John R. Freuler's Monarch Pictures, including The Forty-Niners (1932), When a Man Rides Alone (1933), Deadwood Pass (1933), and War on the Range (1933).[4]

Reliable Pictures and Victory Pictures

In 1934, Tyler signed a two-year contract with Harry S. Webb's Reliable Pictures for eighteen low-budget Western films, tailored as second features on double bills for second- and third-tier movie houses.[4] These films included Mystery Ranch (1934), The Silver Bullet (1935), Born to Battle (1935), Silent Valley (1935), Fast Bullets (1936), and Santa Fe Bound (1936). Despite a few well-done scenes and some good performances by supporting players like Slim Whitaker, Charles King, Earl Dwire, and even the silent-era "Hebrew" comedian Max Davidson, most of these films were of average quality with production shortcomings that restricted the effectiveness of Tyler's performances.[4] By 1936, companies such as Republic Pictures and Paramount Pictures were producing larger budget better-quality Western films with impressive exterior locations that overshadowed the type of Poverty Row low-budget offerings that brought Tyler to fame.[4]

In 1936, Tyler signed a two-year contract with Sam Katzman's new Victory Pictures for eight Western films, each budgeted at about $6000. The first five of these films were directed by Bob Hill and included Cheyenne Rides Again (1937) with Lucile Brown and Feud of the Trail (1937) in which Tyler played a dual role. Of lesser quality, the final three included two co-starring his wife, Jeanne Martel: Orphan of the Pecos (1937) and Lost Ranch (1937), the latter containing a rare scene in which Tyler lip syncs two songs: "Tucson Mary" and "Home on the Range".[4] Following Brothers of the West (1937), Katzman did not renew Tyler's contract with Victory, replacing him with Tim McCoy as the company's top Western star.[4]

With no starring roles being offered to him, Tyler took a job with the Wallace Brothers Circus in 1938.[4] He returned to Hollywood and appeared in supporting roles and bit parts in several feature films, including John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) with John Wayne, Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) with Henry Fonda, Gone With the Wind (1940) with Clark Gable, The Westerner (1940) with Gary Cooper, and John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) also with Henry Fonda.[4] His most unusual role was that of Kharis the mummy in Universal's The Mummy's Hand (1940), in which he was cast because the studio felt he resembled a younger Boris Karloff well enough to match stock footage of Karloff from The Mummy (1932).

In 1941, Tyler signed a two-year contract with Republic Pictures to star in 13 films in the popular The Three Mesquiteers series in the role of Stony Brooke opposite Bob Steele playing Tucson Smith, and Rufe Davis or Jimmie Dodd playing Lullaby Joslin.[4] Tyler's $150-per-week salary during the first year was increased to $200 per week for the second year.[4] These final 13 films in The Three Mesquiteers series (39 through 51) represent some of Tyler's best work, and his last leading roles: Outlaws of Cherokee Trail (1941), Gauchos of El Dorado (1941), West of Cimarron (1941), Code of the Outlaw (1942), Raiders of the Range (1942), Westward Ho (1942), The Phantom Plainsmen (1942), Shadows on the Sage (1942), Valley of Hunted Men (1942), Thundering Trails (1943), The Blocked Trail (1943), Santa Fe Scouts (1943), and Riders of the Rio Grande (1943), the last film in the series.[4]

During this period Republic, which failed to secure the rights to Superman, purchased the rights to another comic book superhero, Captain Marvel. In his late thirties at the time, Tyler was still in good shape and was offered the title role at $250 per week for four weeks' work. In the title role in The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), Tyler portrayed the first film adaptation of a comic book superhero.[4]

Tyler's last major screen role was in the Columbia Pictures serial The Phantom (1943), based on Lee Falk's famous comic strip. In costume, Tyler bore a striking resemblance to the Phantom character, and he delivered one of his best performances. Columbia filmed a sequel to The Phantom more than a decade later, but the studio's rights to the Phantom property had lapsed. Producer Sam Katzman was forced to film new scenes with hero John Hart, wearing a new costume that resembled the Phantom only vaguely. The patchwork was released as The Adventures of Captain Africa (1955), and footage of Tyler's Phantom appears in some of the long shots.

Later years

In 1943, the forty-year-old Tyler was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis. He was physically limited to occasional supporting roles in Western films, including San Antonio (1945) with Errol Flynn; They Were Expendable (1945), Red River (1948), and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) with John Wayne; Badman's Territory (1946) with Randolph Scott; Masked Raiders (1949), Riders of the Range (1950), Rio Grande Patrol (1951), and Road Agent (1952) with Tim Holt; West of the Brazos (1950) and several other films with James Ellison; Trail of Robin Hood (1950) with Roy Rogers; and Best of the Badmen (1951) with Robert Ryan. Tyler was one of John Ford Stock Company appearing in six of the director's films.

Beginning in 1950, Tyler transitioned to television work, finding minor roles on The Lone Ranger (1950), Dick Tracy (1950), The Cisco Kid (1950–1951), The Range Rider (1951–1952), and The Roy Rogers Show (1952). His final television appearances were in four episodes of The Gene Autry Show in 1952 and 1953. The last screen appearance by Tom Tyler was playing a "District Marshal" on the television series "Steve Donovan, Western Marshal." The episode called "Comanche Kid" premiered on January 14, 1956, but had been filmed as a pilot in 1950. In it, Tyler had difficulty drawing his gun because of his arthritis.[4]


Tyler married actress Jeanne Martel in September 1937;[4] they met the previous year while filming Santa Fe Bound in which she was his leading lady. They appeared in two other films together in 1937, Lost Ranch and Orphan of the Pecos. She most likely accompanied him on the road with the Wallace Brothers Circus in 1938. According to a United States census, they were still married in May 1940, but most likely separated and divorced soon after.[4]


Suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis and nearly destitute, Tyler moved back to Hamtramck and lived with his sister, Katherine Slepski, during the last year of his life. He died on May 3, 1954 of heart failure and complications from scleroderma at the age of 50. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit.[4]



  1. Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 164.
  2. Lynn Kear; James King (31 July 2009). Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook. McFarland. p. 246. ISB 978-0-7864-5468-6.
  3. Chapman, p. 9.
  4. Anderson, Chuck. "Tom Tyler". B-Westerns. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  5. Chapman, p. 10.
  6. Rainey, p. 137.
  7. Rainey, p. 138.
  8. Curry, Butch. "Senior National Weightlifting Champions". Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  9. Rainey, p. 139.
  10. Weissmuller Jr, Johnny Tarzan, My Father ECW Press, 1 Feb 2008


  • Chapman, Mike (2005). The Tom Tyler Story. Culture House Books. ISBN 978-0967608082.
  • Hanfling, Barrie (2010). Westerns and the Trail of Tradition: A Year-by-Year History, 1929–1962. McFarland. ISBN 978-0786445004.
  • Katchmer, George A. (2009). A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses. McFarland. ISBN 978-0786446933.
  • Langman, Larry (1992). A Guide to Silent Westerns. Greenwood. ISBN 978-0313278587.
  • Rainey, Buck (1987). Heroes of the Range. Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press. pp. 137–160. ISBN 978-0810818040.
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