The Mummy’s Hand was one of four movies to follow the original 1932 classic The Mummy starring Boris Karloff. While Lon Chaney, Jr. was the big name who starred in three of those movies, Tom Tyler did have a lengthy career in movies before and after The Mummy’s Hand. Join Universal Monsters Universe as we take a look at this often overlooked Mummy star.
Tom Tyler was born Vincent Markowski, one of five children, in Port Henry, NY on August 9, 1903 to Lithuanian-American parents. The family moved to Hamtramck, Michigan in 1913 where Tyler finished his school years before joining the U.S. Merchant Marines as a seaman on a merchant steamer followed by work in a coal mine in Pennsylvania, a lumberjack in the Northwest United States and even prizefighting. In 1924 he made his way to California and found work as an extra and prop man in the film industry. His first on-screen appearance was as an extra in the 1924 silent film Three Weeks. This would pave the way for Tyler’s acting career in both silent films and talking films.
In 1925, Tom Tyler was given an acting contract by Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) to star in their silent Western pictures for about $75 a week. His first starring role was in the 1925 film Let’s Go Gallagher and would go on to make 28 Westerns in the span of four years. During his time with FBO, he would become a popular silent Western actor which would help him gain future roles later on in his career. In 1929, he moved on to Syndicate Pictures where he would make his last eight silent films including The Man From Nevada (1929), The Canyon of the Missing Men (1930) and Call of the Desert (1930). In 1930, he was loaned out to Mascot Pictures for his first talking film, The Phantom of the West. In 1931, Tyler made his last film, a talking one, with Syndicate titled, God’s Country and the Man. MGM had considered him for the role of Tarzan in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man but the role would go to Johnny Weissmuller.
After stints with Reliable Pictures and Victory Pictures making more low-budget Westerns, Tyler took a job with the Wallace Brothers Circus in 1938. He would return to Hollywood where he would earn small roles in major films as 1939’s Stagecoach, Drums Along the Mohawk and 1940’s Gone With the Wind, The Westerner and The Grapes of Wrath. Along with those classic pictures, Tom Tyler played the role of Kharis in Universal’s 1940 film, The Mummy’s Hand. The studio felt he looked enough like a young Boris Karloff which would match to the stock footage of the original film. In the 1940s, Tyler’s film career was beginning to end. Between 1941 and 1943, he was featured in The Three Mesquiteers film series. Tyler would go on to star as Captain Marvel in a series of serials for Republic Pictures titled The Adventures of Captain Marvel. In 1943, he starred in The Phantom for Columbia Pictures based off the comic book hero of the same name.
In 1943, he was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis which limited his physical acting skills to minor roles in Western movies during the 1940s and early 1950s. He had been married to actress Jeanne Martel in 1937 but the marriage ended sometime in the 40s. He was in physical pain and was nearly broke when he moved back to Michigan with his sister. He died on May 3, 1954 from heart failure and scleroderma at the age of 50. While he was only the Mummy once, Tom Tyler secured his place in Universal Monsters lore next to the likes of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. That is certainly some good company to be included with.
(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)