Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tom Mix, memories of cowboy films and the Holmfirth Picturedrome

The Picturedrome, © Peter Topping
I bet they were queueing up to see Tom Mix at the Holmfirth Picturedrome

The Picturedrome, opened in 1912 and in its day offered films and variety.

Now it looks as if it has been much mucked about with over the last hundred years but something of its former grandeur is still here in Peter’s painting*

It is big enough to seat a couple of hundred people, has a double set of doors, with a veranda above it and must have made you feel special each time you went to watch that magic of light and moving pictures played out in the dark.

It reminded me of many similar old picture houses I have known but tended to ignore because they had long since passed into other use, closed by the grander cinemas that opened in the 1920s and 30s.

I guess in its time there would not have been many other buildings of its size in Holmfirth. There is a blue plaque giving a few details but nothing about the enterprising individual or individuals who saw the potential those films as entertainment were going to have.

But then perhaps I should not have been surprised at the opening of a cinema in Holmfirth given that it was a centre of film making in the years either side of the 20th century.

It was the company of Bamforth Ltd capitalising on their magic lantern business which from 1898 made films in this tiny west Yorkshire town.

Between 1898-1900 they made 14 and in the two years 1913-1915 turned out 120 before switching production to London.

Tom Mix in 1925
Not that Tom Mix ever stood in front of their cameras.

He was an American film actor and the star in many early western movies and according to some “was Hollywood’s first Western megastar and is noted as having helped define the genre of all cowboy films that followed.”**

He appeared in 291 short films and feature films between 1909 and 1935 and was a model for actors like Ronald Reagan and John Wayne.

His was what is often described as a colourful life and reflected what we think those early Hollywood starts were like.

He was born in 1880, enlisted in the US army in 1898 during the Spanish American War but never saw active service and in 1902 failed to return to duty after a brief holiday during which he married his first wife.

But while he was listed as absent without leave, he was never court-marshaled and never discharged.

In 1905 he rode with other Rough Riders*** in the inaugural parade of Theodore Roosevelt  and after working on a variety of odd jobs in the Oklahoma Territory worked at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch becoming a  skilled horseman and expert shot, winning national riding and roping contests at Prescott, Arizona in 1909, and Canon City, Colorado in 1910.

From there he went into films first as a supporting actor and then from 1909 as the lead and even made a short documentary film titled Ranch Life in the Great Southwest in which he displayed his skills as a cattle wrangler.

Remembering a screen idol
All of which may seem a long way from Holmfirth but not so.

His films will have made their way from California to Yorkshire and captured the imagination of generations of youngsters just as they did the writer Ted Willis whose own credits included films like Woman in a Dressing Gown, the Blue Lamp and the famous Dixon of Dock Green.

And so in the fullness of time when Ted wrote his autobiography in 1970 he gave it the title  Whatever Happened to Tom Mix? The Story of One of My Lives.****

But that as they say is for another time.

Painting; the Holmfirth Picturedrome © 2014 Peter Topping, Paintings from Pictures,
Web: www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk
Facebook:  Paintings from Pictures

Picture; Tom Mix, May 21 1925, Wikipedia Commons, this work has been released into the public domain by its author, Herbert A. French, who grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.


*Paintings from Pictures, www.paintingsfrompictures.co.uk

**Tom Mix, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Mix

***The Rough Riders is the name bestowed on the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War

**** Whatever Happened to Tom Mix? The Story of One of My Lives.1970

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