June 9, 2018

The Most Famous Beale's Cut Stunt: Did Tom Mix Jump Over the Cut on a Horse in "Three Jumps Ahead"? Here's the Story...

The greatest stunt that Tom Mix (1880-1940) ever did, and the most famous Beale's Cut stunt, was jump over the cut on a horse in Three Jumps Ahead. Or did he?

In this incredible photograph from 1923, silent film star Tom Mix jumps over Beale's Cut in the lost silent Three Jumps Ahead.

This incredible photograph from 1923 shows the horse and rider way out of proportion to the size of the cut. The photo was obviously altered adding the smaller horse and rider. There was definitely a jump over Beale's Cut in the movie, but was it real or animated? Mix biographer Merle Norris ("The Tom Mix Book", 1989), claimed that the stunt was a fake done with trick photography or animation. But there appears to be a ramp in the photo. If the jump was animated or done with trick photography, a ramp would not be needed.

Also, Will Rogers (a good friend of Mix) spoofed the jump in the film "Uncensored Movies" from 1923 filmed after "Three Jumps Ahead". Why would Rogers spoof an animated jump?

These might be the only two stills from the movie. This is probably a page out of a movie magazine.

Obviously, the horse and rider are out of proportion to the cut on this lobby card. (© Dickenson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

If we read some of the reviews of the period, there is little doubt the jump was done.
“In his latest story of the western plains, Mix mounted, leaps a canyon 20 feet wide and 90 feet deep, undoubtedly the longest and most daring leap ever performed by a screen star.” The Palladium, Benton Harbor, MI, 7/7/1923.

“And the crashing climax - Tony's very remarkable jump across a yawning abyss with Tom Mix on his back - is startling in its realism. There's no fake to this scene. No possible way it could be faked. And besides, faking scenes is beneath the dignity of Tom and Tony.” The Democrat, Washington, IN, 6/5/1923.

“This is the picture that caused the accident insurance people to cancel all the policies of the redoubtable cowboy when they learned of the stunts he had mapped out to put into the creation. The horse Tony was assigned also a part that simple stood out by itself. The jump of the horse and rider of a yawning chasm has never been equalled in the realms of picture making. It was this stunt which even the Fox people thought too daring for Mix, which caused the cowboy and his insurance people to part company: Three Jumps Ahead is simply the last word in action.” Arizona Republican, Phoenix, AZ, 5/6/1923.
But, did Tom Mix actually do the jump himself? Mix biographer, Richard Jensen in "The Amazing Tom Mix" (2005), believes that Mix made the jump. Robert S. Birchard in his book "King Cowboy - Tom Mix and the Movies" (1993) says that Ed Simpson made the jump. In the book "White Horse, Black Hat" (2002), Harry Fraser told author C. Jack Lewis that the jump was real, but was made by stuntman Richard Talmadge. When interviewed just before his death, Talmadge would neither confirm nor deny it.

Jerry Reynolds (in "Santa Clarita: Valley of the Golden Dream", 1992) claims that “one thing is for sure, Tom and Tony did not do it. According to local rancher Andy Jauregui, who was a friend of Mix's, the whole scene was dubbed in. Yet stuntman Richard Talmadge claimed to his dying day that he made the jump atop a horse named Ranger.” Funny, in Lewis's book, Talmadge wouldn't say anything.

(© Dickenson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

Here is an advertisement showing a more realistic proportion. The jump is supposed to be 20 feet. Note the remains of the bridge that was destroyed by the bad guys in the movie while they were pursued by Mix. The ramp could have been viewed as part of the bridge. (From the Daily Clintonian, Clinton, OK, 12/7/1923)

(© Dickenson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

Another take on the jump is in John Boston's book "Santa Clarita Valley" (2009). He said (with no sources given) that Mix and Tony rode across a wooden bridge and the bridge was removed from the print. He also says that Andy Jauregui reportedly made the jump and that another rumor claimed that a stuntman died attempting the jump.

Here is what Tom Mix said (in the Commerce Journal, Commerce, TX, 9/21/1923):
“On Monday,” said Tom, “I drove a stage coach and four horses over a 100 foot cliff. All rolled to the bottom but no one was hurt. Tuesday, I jumped Tony over a twenty foot chasm that spanned a ninety foot drop. To get the best possible angle the stunt was repeated five times but still there were no injuries. Wednesday, I rolled down another cliff with Tony and neither of us were scratched. Thursday, being a legal holiday, I stayed at home with my family. Friday morning, I went to see a doctor to be sure that I was in perfect condition.”
Wondering about the capabilities of a horse, Stan Walker from Elsmere Canyon asked horse trainer Jackie Johnson whether she thought it was possible for a horse to jump about 20 feet across the cut. She said “I'd say that, if the point of takeoff is higher than that of the point of landing, then it would be very possible for them to have done this stunt live but, they would have to have an awful lot of faith in the horse being ridden, and whose to say what the final fate of the horse used would have been. My gut feeling says that they likely did it. Back then, stuntmen were a lot more reckless than they are today and there was little consideration taken for human or animal safety.”

Lobby card

Lobby card

A note on the ramp: The pressbook below gives the plot of the film. Near the end, Mix is pursuing a stage coach in which the leader of the band is riding. To throw off the pursuit, the rustler has the bridge over the chasm destroyed after the coach has passed over safely. Mix rides up to the canyon and jumps the 20 feet over the cut continuing the chase. In the movie, could the ramp have been made to look like part of the remains of the brige? Even if the ramp was shown in the picture, there would be a logical explanation for it.

In 1940, Tom Mix tragically died in a car accident in Arizona.

While Three Jumps Ahead is presumed lost, footage of the jump (where the horse and rider are proportioned correctly) supposedly survives in as many as three trailers prepared 1930s. Unfortunately, both the movie and the trailers are apparently lost. Hopefully, some day someone will locate this film.

A horse and wagon is seen in Beale's Cut in the early days, ca. 1870s.

Beale's Cut in the early 1900s. Location: Intersection of Sierra Hwy and Clampitt Rd, Santa Clarita

(This original article was written by Stan Walker and published on his website here)




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