Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy
1891 - 1978
One of the things that really intrigues me about the B western is the 'musical chairs' that occurred as western movie stars moved between different studios and production units, on their way up or down the cowboy hero ladder.
A classic example is Tim McCoy, who reached the height of his western starring career in the 1930s at Columbia Pictures, and then spiraled downward as he found lesser quality work at other production outfits. Fans generally remember McCoy from his 1930s Columbia work, or in later flicks where he portrayed a steely-eyed, strong man of the west with names like Lightnin' Bill Carson, Trigger Tim Rand, or U.S. Marshal Tim McCall.
McCoy was born in Saginaw, Michigan, but migrated to the west and settled on a ranch in Wyoming. He served in World War I, and over time, became an expert on the old west and Indian lore. The retired US Army (Lt) Colonel came to Hollywood to provide technical details and help on THE COVERED WAGON film which was released by Paramount in 1923. During that film, McCoy was the interface between the production crew and the Native American participants, as he was able to converse with the Indians via sign language.
Young and good looking, McCoy was hired by MGM and became their silent film cowboy and outdoor star in about twenty films. When sound arrived, Colonel Tim starred for Universal Pictures in a pair of chapterplays, THE INDIANS ARE COMING (1930) and HEROES OF THE FLAMES (1931).
Why Universal didn't hire McCoy for a western series is unknown. That studio wasn't avoiding cowboy flicks during the first half of the 1930s, for they did utilize the services of Tom Mix and Ken Maynard in some very fine films. And they were arranging for McCoy to star in another Universal chapterplay, BATTLING WITH BUFFALO BILL. But Tim signed with Columbia Pictures in 1931, and Universal brought in Tom Tyler to do the cliffhanger.
Over his four plus years at Columbia, McCoy made nearly three dozen pictures. Most of these would be good, solid, memorable oaters. But for release season 1933-1934, Columbia opted to place him in some crime and adventure dramas, and those eight non-western films were not successful. McCoy was "back in the saddle" for his next (and last) batch of films for Columbia which were released during 1934-1935. It should be noted that during Tim's first couple years at Columbia, the studio also had Buck Jones doing series westerns --- and both the McCoy and Jones pictures were extremely popular and financially successful. But all good things come to an end, and in 1934, Buck Jones moved to Universal Pictures. A year later, McCoy was also gone.
McCoy, a young John Wayne and an unidentified player in a scene from TWO-FISTED LAW (Columbia, 1932). Les Adams identified the unidentified player as Wallace MacDonald, who became a Columbia B film producer. A short time later, Wayne would star in a brief western series at Warners and the trio of cliffhangers for Nat Levine's Mascot company. He would then do a lengthy series of Lone Star westerns, released through Monogram.
Scuttlebutt is that McCoy signed a new deal with independent Puritan Pictures a few hours before Columbia decided to renew his contract. The real scoop may be in the book Tim McCoy Remembers the West (Doubleday, 1977). McCoy relates that he wanted to do circus tours from May thru November, with film work in the off months. Columbia said "nope". However, Puritan said "yes". At the last minute, Columbia had a change of heart and offered to continue the McCoy series. Their proposal came too late as Tim had already agreed to the Puritan deal.
McCoy's replacement at Columbia was Ken Maynard (who had completed a very good western series at Universal, left Universal, and went to work for Nat Levine's Mascot film factory in the MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (1934) serial and IN OLD SANTA FE (1934) oater). In addition to Maynard, another hero was also saddling up at Columbia --- his name was Charles Starrett, and he'd do westerns at Columbia for almost twenty years, including a lengthy run as the masked Durango Kid.
After the Puritan films, McCoy contracted for a new series with William Pizor and his Imperial Pictures, and his salary was to be $32,000.00 ($4,000 X 8 films). But something happened with the financing or whatever, and Pizor reneged on the contract. My guess is that Pizor/Imperial wound up in a cash crunch problem as they were at the bottom of the Poverty Row film production companies. Pizor's films were distributed on a 'states rights' basis to lower echelon theaters ... and the mid 1930s was a difficult time for westerns because of the Depression. Don't remember Imperial Pictures --- William Pizor did some westerns starring Wally Wales (Hal Taliaferro).
A lawsuit was filed and Tim McCoy was off the screen for a year and a half.
For those into trivia, pay particular attention to the gunbelt that McCoy is wearing in many of the pictures and lobby cards in these webpages.
He's wearing that gunbelt in the publicity still on the right (and the top of this page). That pattern, design and belt buckle can be seen from his 1930s sound films through his circus and Wild West show appearances --- a career that would span over forty years.
Tim McCoy liked the circus life and performing under the big top. He toured briefly with the Sells-Floto Circus during 1935, and with the Ringling Brothers Circus for a couple seasons, circa 1936 and 1937.
Around late 1937, McCoy began assembling his own Wild West Show. The 'Tim McCoy Wild West Show' opened at Soldier Field in Chicago in April, 1938 and folded about a month later after a performance in Washington D.C. In his book Tim McCoy Remembers the West (Doubleday, 1977), McCoy notes that his losses were about $300,000.00.
As to the lawsuit between McCoy and William Pizor/Imperial, Tim won a judgement along with a cash settlement amounting to $37,000 (his contracted amount of $32,000 plus $5,000 in interest).
On the left is a tradepaper blurb from November 10, 1939. The mention of February, 1926 is a typo --- should be 1936.
Imperial Pictures disappeared a short time later. McCoy also became eligible again to do films but would find the going a bit tough due to his age and the impact of the new 'singing cowboy'.
In 1938, Monogram Pictures had Jack Randall (the brother of Three Mesquiteers star Bob Livingston) in the typical block of eight westerns. And Tom Keene was also there but only for four pictures. To fill out their release schedule, Monogram contracted with Tim for a quartet of films, with an option for more.
But McCoy's tour at Monogram would be short-lived as that company would soon obtain the services of Tex Ritter. Ritter and his producer/director Ed Finney would be joining Monogram because of a better offer as well as the lingering financial problems at their current studio, Grand National Pictures (which would go belly-up by the end of the 1930s).
The era of the 'singing cowboy' had arrived a few years earlier with Gene Autry at Republic, and Monogram sorely needed a troubadour. Their initial Jack Randall range yarns were of the musical variety, but those hadn't worked. Randall's later Monogram films dropped the singing and converted to traditional western formula. Thus, Tex Ritter was definitely a high priority to Monogram. After the dust cleared, Tim McCoy and Tom Keene found themselves in search of work.
The 'musical chairs' continued as McCoy went to Sam Katzman's Victory Pictures for the 1938-1939 season. He replaced Tom Tyler who had been Victory's cowboy star during the prior release period.
After Sam Katzman and Victory, McCoy had one more solo starring series. The company that ultimately became PRC had gone through several name variations --- they were initially known as Producers Pictures (PPC), then Producers Distributing Corporation (PDC), and finally PRC, short for Producers Releasing Corporation. The new company needed some well known cowboy talent to attract distributors and theater owners, and McCoy's name still had box office appeal. Tim's PPC/PDC/PRC films were definitely low-budget, and a further step down for McCoy. He did his best, often portraying a steely-eyed lawman named 'Trigger Tim' with a variety of last names. Seven films were made and released during 1940-1941. The director on all was Sam Newfield (with a few director credits to Sam under his "Peter Stewart" alias). McCoy was definitely in the twilight of his career.
A year or so later, he received what was to become his final job offer as a western film lead and hero --- to be second billed to Buck Jones in a new trio western series at Monogram called the Rough Riders. Jones, along with Monogram production exec and friend Scott R. Dunlap, were involved in the financing and profits for they had formed the The Great Western Pictures Company to handle the Rough Riders' productions. Eight films were released during 1941-1942, and the overall quality was quite good. But reserve officer McCoy would be called back to WW2 military duty and Buck Jones would be killed in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston during November, 1942.
With the demise of the Rough Riders, Tim McCoy's time as a screen hero was over. In later years, he would do a few 'guest' appearance roles, such as playing the cavalry troop leader in the AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (1956) epic. He also hosted a TV series in the early 1950s where he commented about the Indians, sign language, the Old West, etc.
For several years around the late 1950s, McCoy was the star attraction with the Carson Barnes Circus
And for many years (approximately 1962-1974), he was part owner and toured with the Tommy Scott Caravan and Wild West Show (Johnny Mack Brown, Sunset Carson and Al 'Fuzzy' St. John also headlined the Scott show).
In his later years, Tim suffered from heart problems and he passed away on January 29, 1978 at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center/Hospital, Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
McCoy had three children with his first wife, Agnes Miller (sons Gerald and D'arcy and daughter Rita (Margarita?)); and two with second wife Inga Arvad (sons Ronald and Terry). .
McCoy (1891-1978) outlived Inga (1913-1973), and both are interred at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Saginaw, Michigan.
McCoy's work at Columbia is his best. And generally recognized as his greatest film is END OF THE TRAIL (Columbia, 1932), a tale of cavalry, greed, the search for gold, and the white man's injustices to the Indians. Columbia spent some money on this one as much of the cast and crew went on location to the Wind River Reservation near Lander, Wyoming. There, members of the Arapahoe tribe were used in the filming.
Though I've never seen any of McCoy's MGM silents, the scenic locations for SPOILERS OF THE WEST (MGM, 1928) and WYOMING (MGM, 1928) were reportedly filmed in/near Lander, Wyoming (at that time, Tim still had his ranch near there). Supposedly, some of the stock footage shot for one/both of these silents was later utilized in Columbia's END OF THE TRAIL.
As mentioned earlier, Tim's career faded after his work at Columbia. He found starring roles in lower class productions, some of which are enjoyable, but these were not Tim McCoy at his cowboy peak. For example, in several of his post-Columbia films, he went undercover, disguised as a Mexican gent with a slick moustache and awful accent.
Thankfully, he returned to form in the Monogram Rough Riders series of 1941-1942.
The End of the Trail
Tim McCoy passed away on Sunday, January 29, 1978 at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center/Hospital at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. There were some stories that he was buried in the military cemetery at Ft. Huachuca, but that information appears to be incorrect. Ft. Huachuca post historian confirmed that McCoy was never buried there and his remains were cremated and given to family. We do know that about nine years after his passing, Colonel Tim McCoy was interred in the family plot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Saginaw, Michigan. Second wife Inga is there also.
Trivia - Tim McCoy short for MGM circa 1929
Les Adams writes: A NIGHT ON THE RANGE was a MGM short (musical) directed by Nick Grinde which was basically a voice-test for McCoy which, at least as far as MGM was concerned, he flunked.
Lad Moore Remembers Tim McCoy and the Carson & Barnes Circus
The salutation on this photo is difficult to read. McCoy wrote: "To Lad Jr. with my best wishes, Tim McCoy 1959" "He was a fine gentlemen. First hand experience is my teacher. I toured with Tim McCoy on my uncle's Carson & Barnes Circus in 1959 (Jack and Angela Moore).
I met Colonel Tim in 1959, when I toured as a roustabout with the Carson & Barnes Circus. The circus had a kind of caste/status system, not in the usual negative connotation of that word, but simply an upholding of the honor due to its 'kinkers', or performers. As a $2.70 a day prop hand, it was obvious that there existed a demarcation line. Although not a stated rule, the awe and respect for performers' talents limited social interactions between the front and back lots of our town on wheels.
Tim McCoy did not recognize such distinctions, and freely mingled among all of us. I became his admirer, and sat for hours while he practiced his whip and his target shooting. He was always the symbol of a country gentleman, and his wry smile and determined look were his hallmarks. His stature was worthy of his accolade. He seemed to tower above me, and often that white stetson with the low crown in the front was remindful of a snow-capped peak. He possessed great authority without ego. He was humble yet proud. I sensed that he commanded a reverence - but it was earned, not just casually appointed. I was always saddened that I knew him so late, as much of his motion picture career had passed.
Colonel McCoy gave the circus a measure of sophistication and class. Whether as an Indian in headress or a lash-wielding cowboy with silver six shooters, he lit up the arena. His was always the last act in the repertoire. It redefined the grand finale, and one could not help but salute his exit. It was not the proverbial ride into the sunset. It was the passing-by of an American icon and hero."
On the left is a Carson & Barnes circus "route card" for weeks nineteen and twenty of their 1959 tour. Stops are in Michigan, Indiana and Illinos.
COL. TIM McCOY
'Real Wild West'
Donn and Nancy Moyer Remember Tim
McCoy and the Carson Barnes Circus
Special thanks to Donn and Nancy Moyer, the husband and wife team who traveled with Colonel Tim McCoy and the Carson Barnes Circus in the late 1950s.
"Colonel Tim was the feature act on the Carson Barnes Circus owned by the late Jack Moore and his wife Angela, and the show wintered in Hugo, Oklahoma. The year was 1958 and we did not work the entire season on the show as we had been previously booked for part of the season before we joined them. Jack and his wife were very nice to work for and we enjoyed the 'family' feeling that the show had.
It seems the Carson Barnes Circus furnished Tim with a new two-door Mercury automobile which was canary yellow. They also provided a Yellowstone trailer about 30 feet long that was the same colour. Scuttlebutt around the show was that the Colonel didn't like to stay in the trailer and just used it for a dressing room. One day as we were heading towards Silome Springs, Arkansas, I looked in the rear view mirror (as we were also pulling a trailer) and saw a yellow streak catch and pass us in a flurry. Of course it was the Colonel and later, when I asked him why he was going so fast on the hilly two lane road, he said that he was trying to get to a radio interview (and had overslept). I can't remember if he made the radio date or not."
"The Colonel was the true star of the Carson Barnes Circus. He was, of course, the last act. He entered the big top astride a beautiful white horse. He was dressed as he had dressed in his films (didn't update his western wear which was a plus to fans I think). Colonel Tim rode fast around the hippodrome track and entered the centre ring where the horse kneeled. Then he doffed his huge white Stetson, alit and did a whip act ... of sorts. The act was pretty standard and the finale was to have an assistant hold a pop bottle out from their body and McCoy would pop the bottle top opening it with a crack of the whip. Unfortunately, he sometimes missed the first time and as a result he often had a new assistant at the next performance. Everyone on the show who worked with him admired him and he was much loved.
McCoy ended his act by standing in the spotlight, house lights dimmed, orange (setting sun) backdrop, and the organ playing the Indian Love Call. The Colonel told the audience (and I'm paraphrasing) using Indian sign language as he spoke, 'We have all met and come together, became friends and everything is washte' (pronounced wash-tay as I don't know how to spell it correctly). As he ended with 'washte', he gave the 'V' peace sign as he moved his hand from one side to the other. It was dramatic --- you could hear a pin drop and it would bring a lump to the throats of we true B western movie buffs."
"The Tommy Scott show was in Albany, Georgia in 1973 ... one of the greatest moments in my life was meeting the legendary Col. Tim McCoy ... I still have the autographed program ... this show was really about the only way most fans had to see or meet one of their heroes."
Western film author/expert Boyd Magers also recalls Tim McCoy and the Tommy Scott show. Boyd writes:
"I had the good fortune to meet Tim McCoy in 1970 when he was touring with Tommy Scott as they came through Columbus, GA, where I was in radio at WDAK at the time. As I was program director there, I invited McCoy to come to the station for an interview, which he did. He was quite gentlemanly, still retaining all of his military bearing. We traversed his whole career, quickly, and talked about touring with Scott. He toured with Scott in order to be able to visit all the Civil War sites across the South. Touring with Scott enabled him to visit these sites free. McCoy was a great Civil War buff. He drove everywhere ... to the battleground sites in the daytime and performed on Scott's show at night. The next day McCoy appeared on a local morning TV talkshow on WRBL. My son Alan, who was 6 at the time, came on the show with a couple of Dad's one-sheet McCoy movie posters. Tim got a great kick out of that (as did my son). McCoy's stage show, incorporated into Scott's performance, consisted of a few ancedotes and a whip act with one of Scott's lady performers. Even in his 80's, McCoy was more than handy with the whip. Odd that he never used one in a film."
Birth: Apr. 28, 1891
Death: Jan. 29, 1978
Actor. Star of many Westerns.
Mount Olivet Cemetery
Date of Birth
10 April 1891, Saginaw, Michigan, USA
Date of Death
29 January 1978, Nogales, Arizona, USA. (heart attack)
Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy
5' 11" (1.80 m)
One of the great stars of early American Westerns. McCoy was the son of an Irish soldier who later became police chief of Saginaw, Michigan, where McCoy was born. He attended St. Ignatius College in Chicago and after seeing a Wild West show there, left school and found work on a Wyoming ranch. He became an expert horseman and roper and developed a keen knowledge of the ways and languages of the Indian tribes in the area. He competed in numerous rodeos, then enlisted in the U.S. Army when America entered the First World War. He was commissioned and rose to the rank of colonel, eventually being posted as Adjutant General of Wyoming, a position he held until 1921. Resigning from the Army, he returned to ranching and concurrently served as territorial Indian agent. In 1922, he was asked by the head of Famous Players-Lasky, Jesse L. Lasky, to provide Indian extras for the Western extravaganza, The Covered Wagon (1923). He brought hundreds of Indians to Hollywood and served as technical advisor on the film. After touring the country and Europe with the Indians as publicity, McCoy returned to Hollywood and used his connections to obtain further work in the movies, both as a technical advisor and as an actor. MGM speedily signed him to a contract to star in a series of Westerns and McCoy rapidly rose to stardom, making scores of Westerns and occasional non-Westerns .. In 1935, he left Hollywood, first to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and then with his own Wild West show. He returned to films in 1940, in a series teaming him with Buck Jones and Raymond Hatton, but World War II and Jones's death in 1942 ended the project. McCoy returned to the Army for the war and served with the Army Air Corps in Europe, winning several decorations. He retired from the army and from films after the war, but emerged in the late 1940s for a few more films and some television work. He married Danish writer Inga Arvad and spent his later years as a retired gentleman rancher, occasionally touring with his own Wild West show. He died in 1978 at the age of 86.
Inga Arvad (1945 - 1973) (her death)
Alice Miller (? - 1931) (divorced) 2 children
Inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1974.
The Arapahoe Indians adopted Tim as a brother and called him "High Eagle."
Not only an expert on the Old West, but an authority on Indian folklore. One of the few white men still alive who could converse in Indian sign language.
Rode several horses with different names during his long career. In his earlier films he rode a snow-white horse named "Pal". In the "Rough Riders" series he mounted a black stallion called "Baron" and (later) "Ace".
In real life McCoy was a sharpshooter and famed for his fast draw. A film editor once timed it on 35mm film with 24 frames per second. It took exactly six frames from the blur of his hand to the smoke issuing from the end of his gun.
Hosted local TV (Los Angeles) with "The Tim McCoy Show" (1952) for children on weekday afternoons and Saturdays in which he provided authentic history lessons on the Old West. He won a local Emmy but wasn't there to pick it up. He was competing against "Webster Webfoot" in the "Best Children's Show" category and refused to show up saying, "I'll be damned if I'm going to sit there and get beaten by a talking duck!"
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1973.
"I've never been sentimental about my horse. The horse doesn't give a damn about you. If you want to know the truth - horses are dumb."
The Desert Rider (1929) $4,000
Sioux Blood (1929) $4,000
The Overland Telegraph (1929) $4,000
Morgan's Last Raid (1929) $4,000
The Bushranger (1928) $4,000
Beyond the Sierras (1928) $4,000
The Adventurer (1928) $4,000
Riders of the Dark (1928) $4,000
Wyoming (1928) $4,000
The Law of the Range (1928) $4,000
Spoilers of the West (1927) $4,000
Foreign Devils (1927) $4,000
The Frontiersman (1927) $4,000
California (1927) $4,000
Winners of the Wilderness (1927) $4,000
War Paint (1926) $4,000