Photo: Tom Mix (left foreground) and crew in Newhall, 1916, probably at or near the current Veterans Historical Plaza. As published in Birchard 1993:15.
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Actor-director-producer Tom Mix and his Selig Polyscope production crew relocated their operation from Las Vegas, N.M., to Newhall-Santa Clarita Valley in 1916. They erected a small Western movie town on the south side of Market Street between Newhall Avenue and today's Main Street. After Mix signed with William Fox in 1917 most filmmaking was done at the Fox (formerly Selig) lot at Edendale (Echo Park-Silver Lake) near Glendale, where Mix lived, although he continued to use Newhall occasionally through the mid-1920s. Surviving into the 21st Century are two bungalows at today's 24247 Main Street that were built in 1920 (per County Assessor records, which can be a little off in the 1910s-20s.)
There is no evidence to suggest Mix ever set foot in Newhall prior to 1916. His movements are well documented by, among others, Mix biographer Robert S. Birchard (Birchard 1993). The film industry would eventually settle in Southern California but was still in transition in 1909-1910 when Mix started working in pictures in Missouri, Oklahoma, Florida and elsewhere around the country. He spent 1913 filming in Prescott, Ariz.; most of 1914 at Edendale; 1915 in Arizona again; and the first half of 1916 in Las Vegas, N.M.
Along the way he drifted apart from his third wife, Olive, who spent most of the time at home in Oklahoma and later Glendale (Calif.), raising their daughter, Ruth. Mix took up with his leading lady, Victoria Forde, who would become his fourth wife in 1918. Birchard writes (pg. 19): "Sometime after June 1916, Tom Mix and his company came back to California. Rather than working at either of the Selig studios or his old Glendale facility, Mix moved the unit to Newhall, north of Los Angeles, in an effort to escape the jealous rampages of Olive Mix."
The media run-up to Mix's move to Newhall (below) paints an entirely different picture of the star's relationship to his newly adopted movie town.
Small-town newspapers loved to run syndicated Hollywood gossip columns, and Hollywood gossip columnists loved to dine on morsels fed to them by publicists — the juicier, the better. It was their stock in trade. Facts never stood in the way of legend. They couldn't. Legend was the "it" that spelled the difference between "fine actor" and star.
William S. Hart was a fine actor. Yes, he eventually hired a publicist, but his reality was of his own making. Newspapers reported on facts from his real life: his public appearances and, later, his bitter court battles with his ex-wife and the studio bosses.
In contrast, Tom Mix's press was carefully plotted by publicists with fertile imaginations and a Rolodex (or equivalent) full of gossip columnists. If they wanted the public to believe Mix personally jumped over Beale's Cut on his Wonder Horse Tony in 1923's "Three Jumps Ahead," then that is what got reported.
By the time of Mix's arrival in Newhall in 1916, the "fake news" mongers were already out of control. They'd have us believe that sometime prior to or during 1916, Mix was elected mayor of Newhall (Newhall didn't have a mayor); that he served as town sheriff (he didn't); he created a telephone system (Newhall had 2 to 3 telephones from 1912-1916 and 5 in 1917); and he even established the town's first traffic laws.
The latter is particularly absurd considering, first, that Mix was arrested and fined $50 for recklessly driving through Newhall in 1920; and, second, the manner of his death 20 years later.
The upshot for historians: If Tom Mix is quoted as saying it, there is a good chance it's not true.
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Waterloo (Iowa) Evening Courier and Reporter | Saturday, January 15, 1916.
Tom Mix, the world's greatest cowboy and rough rider, returned last week to Las Vegas, N.M., after a brief sojourn in Chicago, the guest of William N. Selig, president of the Selig Polyscope company. Mr. Mix will immediately transfer his company from Las Vegas to Newhall, California. "I've got a new six cylinder car and can make the twenty-five miles from Newhall to my home in Los Angeles any old evening," stated Mr. Mix with a pleased smile.
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Rough-Riding Cowbay [sic].
The (Cherryvale, Kansas) Weekly Republican | Thursday, February 24, 1916.
Tom Mix, the world's greatest cowboy and rough rider, returned last week to Las Vegas, N.M., after a brief sojourn in Chicago, as the guest of William N. Selig, president of the Selig Polyscope company.
Mr. Mix will immediately transfer his company from Las Vegas to Newhall, California. "I've got a new six cylinder car and can make the twenty-five miles from Newhall to my home in Los Angeles any old evening," stated Mr. Mix with a pleased smile.
Tom is well known in this county, having served as deputy sherjff at LeHunt during the busy days at that burg.
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Tom Mix Is Asked Lead a Regiment to Mexican Borderland.
The Salt Lake Telegram | Thursday Evening, July 20, 1916.
Tom Mix, the Selig cowboy star, is paying the city of Chicago a brief business visit. Mr. Mix arrived Sunday and plans to return to the Pacific coast within a few days. Some spectacular productions are being planned for Mix by William H. Selig and these plays will afford Mix many unusual opportunities for displaying those dare-devil stunts for which he is justly noted.
Tom Mix is seriously considering joining Uncle Sam's forces for Mexican service. He says a delegation of Westerners recently called upon him at Newhall, Cal., and asked him to accept leadership of a regiment of "Rough Riders." Mix saw service during the Spanish-American and Boer wars. He says that if war is declared he will certainly enlist and go to the front for he has had much experience in the Mexican country.
Mix was recently elected mayor of Newhall, Cal., which is a thriving community. He says since his election to office he has instituted the passage of a speed ordinance for motorcycles and automobiles and has also caused to be installed a telephone system.
Marshall Nellen may be selected to direct Mix, and an all-star cast, in a series of spectacular pictureplays chosen with care by Mr. Sellig and filmed in the Southwest.
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Syndicated column by Clarence G. Willard.
The Glens Falls (N.Y.) Post-Star | Monday, October 2, 1916.
Tom Mix's present pastime is racing with a locomotive. For some days past, his company has been filming scenes in Newhall, Cal., and Tom travels hence in his red racing car. He struck up an acquaintance with a locomotive engineer at something like sixty miles an hour, for every day they race each other. The road runs parallel to the railroad tracks and when the engineer spys the red car, he lets out the throttle, as Tom "steps on it." Sometimes the train wins the race — but it is seldom.
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The Detroit Free Press | Sunday, October 15, 1916.
Tom Mix has an already firmly established reputation as the dare-devil rider of the movies, but in "The Light of Western States" [sic: Stars] will fairly eclipse his past thrillers. He is an absolutely fearless horseman, and some of his feats in this feature will make any audience gasp. A slide down an almost perpendicular mountainside on horseback, a leap from a high cliff and numerous other hazardous deeds are among the thrills he will pass out.
The filming of the ten-reel western feature, "The Light of the Western Stars," suffered an exciting interruption recently when the male contingent of the entire company dropped the work in hand and set forth to become real fighters of the fire raging near the town of Newhall, Cal., which was in grave danger from the burning sagebrush. While apparently several hours' work would be lost, it happened that the story called for just such a conflagration, and Director [E.A.] Martin clicked the camera madly while his forces fought the flames and registered fire stuff, which even the most captious critic must admit is true to life.
The fire reportedly burned 6 square miles from the Newhall Pass to Pico Canyon where it destroyed several abandoned oil derricks. Reports indicate two homes may have been lost, but damage was fairly minimal because the population was so sparse.
A dispute over rights to Zane Grey's 1914 story, "The Light of Western Stars," led to the reediting and retitling of the film to "The Heart of Texas Ryan."
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The Anaconda (Montana) Standard | Sunday Morning, November 12, 1916.
Tom Mix, preparing "The Light of Western Stars," is cowboy star, sheriff, mayor and entire police force of Newhall, Cal., which ought to be distinction enough for one mortal even if the scene of his triumphs is only Newhall, but the ambitious actor man has aspired to be jitney man as well.
"Even if only Newhall?" You're named for a snake.