The Phantom: Glorious black and white
Tom Tyler never gets enough credit.
After going cross-country to Hollywood, the Lithuanian strongman went on and became a silent serial cowboy star. It suited the strapping Tyler: he was always self-conscious of his thick Lithuanian accent and didn’t have to worry about it betraying his performance. However, as with many of the silent era stars, the advent of the talkies wasn’t good for him, and work became scarce for the wooden Tyler.
Tom did have a few high points, however—not in terms of big gigs, but in terms of pop culture—he played John Wayne’s arch-nemesis in the final part of The Duke’s breakout movie Stagecoach, and Captain Marvel in Republic’s 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel:
And, he played The Phantom in Columbia’s live-action take on the Ghost Who Walks. Produced in 1943, before Lee Falk gave his crimebuster the “Kit Walker” handle, Tyler plays Geoffrey Prescott, who returns to the jungle to inherit the mantle of The Phantom from his dying father. Despite the relatively low budget Columbia saddled director B. Reeve Eason with, The Phantom does its damnedest to keep the look of the comic strip, from Prescott’s hat and dark glasses, to the Phantom suit itself.
Columbia tried to make a sequel to The Phantom in 1955, as television was looming as a threat to the weekly serial format. Halfway through filming, they lost the Phantom license, and salvaged the serial by putting jodhpurs and a leather aviator’s cap on The Phantom and splicing it in with long shots from the first serial.
The new title? The Adventures of Captain Africa.
The unfortunate actor taking the twin automatics from Tyler? John Hart, who briefly and unsuccessfully wore the mask and hat of The Lone Ranger in 19, after Clayton Moore left over a salary dispute.
He got even less credit than Tyler, but that’s another story…