Tom Mix: The Curley Bradley Years

by Tom Mason

Curley Bradley
Curley Bradley
I was too young, at the time, to know the real and legendary Tom Mix of silent movie fame. He had only made one talkie serial and I had not seen it. I found Tom Mix through the magic of radio. I was even too young to know that more than one actor had actually “impersonated” him over the airwaves. I started listening to the Ralston Straight Shooters in the mid 1940s. The radio show had debuted in 1933, a year before I was born. The first actor to play him was Artells Dickson, he was followed by Jack Holden, then Russell Thorson, and finally; Joseph “Curley” Bradley who lasted until the show was cancelled in 1950.

Curley Bradley had actually been one of the stuntmen who had worked in the movies on the real Tom Mix movies. He sang with a group called The Ranch Boys Trio. He played the part of “Pecos” on the Tom Mix radio show and sang often. He had a nice light, baritone voice and it stood him in good stead when he took over the part of Tom Mix when Russell Thorson left the show. He sang out for Ralston Cereal at the beginning of the show to the tune of “When It’s Round-up Time In Texas”:

Hot Ralston for your breakfast, start the day off shining bright.
Gives you lots of cowboy energy, with a flavor that’s just right.
Made of golden western wheat.
So take a tip from Tom,
go and tell your Mom,
Hot Ralston can’t be beat!

Who could resist, especially when we needed those box-tops for the wonderful TM-Bar premiums from “Checkerboard Square”?

A Tom Mix Badge
One style of a Tom Mix Badge.

Checkerboard Square was the address where we mailed those box-tops and our coins to secure wonderful premiums that helped us relive Tom Mix’s adventures in the wild west. It is a fact that the premiums lasted over a year beyond the cancellation of the show in 1950. I always thought Captain Midnight was the king of the premiums, I certainly drank enough Ovaltine to make it seem so. The truth is, Tom Mix was really the king. Over his years on radio he made almost 150 offers of western gear, guns, compasses, watch fobs, spinner charms, a movie make-up kit, magnifiers, rings, arrowheads, comics, caps, bandanas, identification bracelets, paper face masks, telephone sets, telegraph sets, lassos, spurs, belts, spyglasses, badges and even a live baby turtle was offered in a newspaper ad for two box-tops (or one box-top and a thin dime). If you were unsure of what was there to order, Ralston offered a Premium Catalog from 1936 through 1940. There were so many premiums waiting in the wings, that they continued for at least another year after the show was cancelled.

The Signal Arrowhead
The Signal Arrowhead

One of the premiums that remains in my memory, was the compass-magnifier combination. It started out plain, with nothing to tell us it was a TM-Bar product, but then it changed. It added a few western touches and that TM-Bar brand, ten years later it became a glow-in-the-dark plastic arrowhead that housed the compass and magnifier. That was the one I got. I wish I still had mine. The success of that arrowhead gave rise to another called “The Signal Arrowhead”. It was made of clear lucite plastic, it had a magniying lens, a “smallifying lens” (it reduced things in size) , a whirling siren whistle and a set of musical pipes built into it. Oddly enough, it did not glow in the dark. There were badges declaring you a Straight Shooter. There was even a decoder that made me wonder if Captain Midnight had passed his overflow onto Tom.

By far, one of the worst premiums offered by ole Tom was “The Wooden Six-shooter”. It sounded great over the radio, but when it arrived, it was just a piece of wood cut out to look like a western pistol. There were no moving parts. It did nothing but take up space. I could have carved one out at least as good myself. I thought to myself, “what a gyp!” Tom had first offered one of these
The Wooden Six-Shooter
The Wooden Six-Shooter
in 1933, but that model at least opened and the cylinder spun around. I was born too late. So I would sit at the radio, pencil poised waiting for that latest offer, knowing full well I would have to promise Mom that I would really eat the cereal this time if she bought it for me. The most difficult promise to keep was the one where I said I would eat all the Hot Ralston cereal. It was tasteless and I had to find a way to make it palatable. I found that if I sprinkled chocolate flavored Ovaltine over it, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t think Captain Midnight would mind. By the fifties, Tom just did not have the spark to carry on and Ralston dropped him to pick up Buzz Corry, Major Robbie Robertson, Cadet Happy, Carol, Tonga, Dr. Ryland Scarno and the evil Prince Bacharatti…all of SPACE PATROL! And best of all, we could see them every day and on weekends on that new thing: television (eventually Space Patrol crossed back to radio as an added treat). So now I rode a sleek space ship called Terra V instead of a horse. Tony had been put out to pasture.

The anticipation of what Ralston might have waiting out there among the United Planets was almost too much to bear. I started saving box-tops. Ralston did not disappoint me and if you want to know what gems were out there in space, tune in next time. It’s quite a story (see Tom's Space Patrol Memories articles).

Tom Mix Comics 2
Tom Mix Comics #2
Artist Unknown
A Straight Shooter Badge
The Straight Shooter Badge

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