As a young boy growing up on a small farm in Johnson County, I was, as was so many other youngsters Im sure, attracted to anything western. Western comic books and western radio programs were very popular in those days and as time permitted, I took advantage of the trend by enjoying it as often as possible. To list a few, there were Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Whip Wilson, Lash LuRue, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, Tex Ritter and Johnny Mack Brown.
The first movie I ever saw was a Johnny Mack Brown film that was showing at the Strand Theatre in Mountain City. Needless to say, that experience made a lasting impression. Mountain City has had two walk-in theatres and a drive-in over the span of my existence. The Strand was on the right side of the street looking west down Main Street from the traffic light a few doors down from Farmers State Bank. The Taylor Theatre was on the other side of the street where the upper part of the parking lot of Johnson County Bank is now located. The site of The Mountaineer Drive-In was in the vicinity of Pioneer Village Shopping Center.
My familys Philco Cathedral Style radio sat on a table in the corner of our living room. It was there I went on many adventures with the cowboy stars that were featured in late evening. To name a few there were The Lone Ranger, Bobby Benson and the B-B Riders, The Straight Arrow and Sky King the flying rancher.
What got me reminiscing about the Western actors was when I thought about an article I had read in the American Legion Magazine many years ago the June 1957 issue. The article was written by a great Western star in his own right, Gene Autry. In the story Autry names several cowboy stars both from his past or contemporary with him. The title of Genes article was The Greatest Cowboy of Them All. He ultimately picked Tom Mix as his choice for that title. Autry wrote that Mix had over 10,000 fan clubs with over a million members. He starred in 170 pictures in 24 years according to the article. Other important things about Tom Mix that Autry mentions were his earning over $6,000,000 during his career and a weekly salary of $17,500. Mix was a tough man who did many of his own stunts in the movies. He reportedly had some 156 stitches, 23 broken and cracked ribs and five broken legs. His right arm had been broken in five places and his left arm in three. He also had been shot through the mouth. Autry related that he had met Mix in 1933 and got to know him well.
As a youngster I listened faithfully to the Tom Mix radio program each weekday. It was a lot of fun to imagine the plots and turns that were played out each day.
In my imagination I could see the mountains and mesas of a western landscape and imagine I was there experiencing the excitement in that faraway place.