Timothy John Fitzgerald “Tim” McCoy (April 10, 1891 – January 29, 1978) was an American actor, military officer, and expert on American Indian life and customs.
Born the son of an Irish Union Civil War soldier who later became police chief in Saginaw, he became a major film star most noted for his roles in Western films. He was so popular with youngsters as a cowboy star that he appeared on the cover of Wheaties cereal boxes.
He attended St. Ignatius College in Chicago (now Loyola) and, after seeing a Wild West show there, left school and found work on a ranch in Wyoming. He became an expert horseman and roper and developed a knowledge of the ways and languages of the American Indian tribes in the area. He competed in numerous rodeos, then enlisted in theUnited States Army when America entered World War I.
McCoy was a decorated soldier in the United States Army during World War I (although not in combat or overseas)and again in World War II in Europe, rising to the rank of colonel with the Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces. He also served the state of Wyoming as its adjutant general between the wars with the brevet rank of brigadier general. At 28, he was one of the youngest brigadier generals in the history of the U.S. Army.
In 1922, he was asked by the head of Famous Players-Lasky, Jesse L. Lasky, to provide American Indian extras for the Western extravaganza, The Covered Wagon (1923). He brought hundreds of “his” Indians to the Utah location and served as technical advisor on the film. After the filming was completed, McCoy was asked to bring a much smaller group of Indians to Hollywood, for a stage presentation preceding each showing of the film. McCoy’s stage show was very popular, running eight months in Hollywood and several more months in London and Paris. McCoy returned to his Wyoming ranch, but Irving Thalberg of MGM soon signed him to a contract to star in a series of outdoor adventures and McCoy rose to stardom. His first MGM feature was War Paint (1926), featuring epic scenes of the Wind River Indians on horseback, staged by McCoy and director Woody Van Dyke. (Footage from War Paint was reused in many low-budget westerns, well into the 1950s.) War Paint set the tone for future McCoy westerns, in that Indians were always portrayed sympathetically, and never as bloodthirsty savages. One notable McCoy feature for MGM was The Law of the Range (1928), in which he starred with Joan Crawford.
The coming of talking pictures, and the temporary inability to record sound outdoors, resulted in MGM terminating its Tim McCoy series and McCoy returning once more to his ranch. In 1929 he was summoned back to Hollywood personally byCarl Laemmle of Universal Pictures, who insisted that McCoy would star in the first talking western serial, The Indians Are Coming. The serial was very successful. Later, in 1932, McCoy would star in Two Fisted Law alongside future Western legends, John Wayne and Walter Brennan.
McCoy worked steadily in movies until 1936, when he left Hollywood, first to tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and then with his own “wild west” show. The show was not a success and is reported to have lost $300,000, of which $100,000 was McCoy’s own money. It folded in Washington, D.C. and the cowboy performers were each given $5 and McCoy’s thanks. The Indians on the show were returned to their respective reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
McCoy was available for pictures again in 1938, and low-budget producers (including Maurice Conn and Sam Katzman) engaged him at his standard salary of $4000 weekly, for eight films a year. In 1941 Buck Jones recruited McCoy to co-star in “The Rough Riders” series, alongside Jones and Raymond Hatton. The eight films, released by Monogram Pictures, were very popular, and might have continued but McCoy declined to renew his contract, opting to pursue other interests.
Interrupted by World War II
In 1942, McCoy ran for the Republican nomination for the open US Senate Seat from Wyoming. Interestingly enough, during that campaign, he established the first statewide radio hookup in Wyoming broadcasting history. He lost in the primary and within 48 hours volunteered for active duty with the U.S. Army.
He had maintained his Army Reserve commission and was immediately accepted. McCoy spent the war in the U.S. Army and performed liaison work with the Army Air Forces in Europe, winning several decorations. He retired from the army and, according to lore, never lived in Wyoming again. His “Eagle’s Nest” ranch was sold. He retired from films after the war, except for a few cameo appearances much later.
McCoy hosted a KTLA television show in Los Angeles in 1952, called “The Tim McCoy Show”, for children on weekday afternoons and Saturdays, in which he provided authentic history lessons on the Old West and showed his old western movies. His co-host was the actor Iron Eyes Cody who, while of Italian lineage, played an American Indian both on and off screen. McCoy won a local Emmy but didn’t attend to receive the award. 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!”
For his contribution to the film industry, Col. Tim McCoy was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1973, McCoy was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. McCoy was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1974. On January 16, 2010 McCoy was inducted into the Hot Springs County (Wyoming) Hall of Fame. He ranched in the county for over 30 years. Accepting the honor on his behalf was his son Terry. Included in the 2010 class were Governor Dave Freudenthal of the State of Wyoming, Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court Bart Voigt, former Wyoming state treasurer Stan Smith, and local high school teacher Karl Allen.
McCoy married Agnes Miller, the daughter of stage actor and producer Henry Miller and actress Bijou Heron. Their marriage resulted in three children: son Gerald, daughter Margarita, and son D’Arcy. They were divorced in 1931 and McCoy kept a portion of the ranch holdings in Hot Springs County, Wyoming. Agnes McCoy was rewarded with that portion known as the “Eagles Nest”.
His second marriage was to Inga Arvad in 1946. They had two sons, Ronnie and Terry. McCoy was married to Arvad until her death from cancer in 1973. Arvad was a Danish journalist investigated in the early 1940s due to rumors that she was a Nazi spy, rumors that spawned from photographs of Arvad as Adolf Hitler‘s companion at the 1936 Olympics and that she had twice interviewed him. Arvad had two previous marriages and an affair with John F. Kennedy in late 1941 into 1942. Arvad was already being followed by the FBI when Kennedy was introduced to her. J. Edgar Hoover had his agents extend their investigation through wire-taps. There was no evidence found to show Arvad was guilty of “any wrongdoing” but that didn’t deter Hoover’s FBI from continued wire-taps of Arvad and Kennedy when they were together.
In 1973, Tim McCoy was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He also was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1976 he was interviewed at length by author James Horwitz for the cowboy memoir “They Went Thataway.” Tim McCoy’s final appearance was in Kevin Brownlow–David Gill‘s television history of silent films, Hollywood (1980).
McCoy died in on January 29, 1978, at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Medical Center of Ft. Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. He was later cremated, and his ashes were returned to his Nogales home. Nine years later, his remains, and those of wife Inga, who had died in 1973, were returned to his birthplace at Saginaw, Michigan for burial there in the Mount Olivet Cemetery next to his family’s plot.
|1925||The Thundering Herd||Burn Hudnall|
|1926||War Paint||Lt. Tim Marshall|
|1927||Winners of the Wilderness||Col. O’Hara|
|California||Capt. Archibald Gillespie|
|The Frontiersman||John Dale|
|Foreign Devils||Capt. Robert Kelly|
|Spoilers of the West||Lt. Lang|
|1928||The Law of the Range||Jim Lockhart|
|Wyoming||Lt. Jack Colton|
|Riders of the Dark||Lt. Crane|
|The Adventurer||Jim McClellan|
|Beyond the Sierras||The Masked Stranger|
|1929||Morgan’s Last Raid||Capt. Daniel Clairbourne|
|The Overland Telegraph||Capt. Allen|
|The Desert Rider||Jed Tyler|
|1930||The Indians Are Coming||Jack Manning||12 chapter serial|
|1931||Heroes of the Flames||Bob Darrow|