charlie-oscar2A weekly feature in which my six-year-old son is let loose on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles, and chooses a star from among the more than 2,500 honorees. His “random” picks sometimes reveal unexplained connections such as the summer day in 2012 when he sat down on the star of actress Celeste Holm and refused to budge. We later learned that the Oscar-winning actress had died only hours earlier. There are five categories on the Walk of Fame: motion pictures, television, radio, music and theater but Charlie tends to favor the movies. 

Charlie has been a bit lax in his star-picking on the Walk of Fame lately. He returned to the task this weekend and his choice of Tim McCoy seemed appropriate for Memorial Day even though I know the holiday is to honor our fallen men and women, not just people who served in the military. McCoy is one of the fairly large group of honorees who were once hugely famous but have not withstood the test of time, at least not with the general public.

In addition to serving in both World War I and World War II (at 28 he was one of the youngest brigadier generals in the history of the U.S. Army), McCoy was a wildly successful actor in the 1920s and 30s, sought out by many of the major studios. He was also an expert on the lives and customs of American Indians and was fluent in Indian sign language. He was given the name “High Eagle” by the Arapho tribe and co-hosted a children’s TV show in the early 1950s with Iron Eyes Cody that showed many of McCoy’s old cowboy movies. Cody was the famous “crying Indian” from the Keep American Beautiful commercials even though it was later confirmed by his own sister that he was 100 percent Italian. Oops.

mccoy-joancrawfordMcCoy started out in films as a kind of handler and technical adviser for the Native Americans that were needed for westerns (hey, at least they were using real Indians!). He was born in Michigan on April 10, 1891, but became so fascinated by the American West after seeing a “wild west” show in Chicago during college that he moved to Wyoming and started working on a ranch and in rodeos. He consulted on several movies in the early 1920s until Irving Thalberg brought him to MGM in 1925 to star in a series of western films beginning with W.S. Van Dyke’s War Paint. McCoy helped Van Dyke stage scenes involving hundreds of Native Americans and they were so well done that the footage was re-used in films for decades to come. I’m not saying that McCoy’s films got everything right about the Native American experience, but at least the Indians in his films were never depicted as bloodthirsty savages. Tim McCoy even got to co-star with Joan Crawford in two of his cowboy movies, Winners of the Wilderness (1927) and The Law of the Range (1928). Eat your heart out, Tom Mix.


With the advent of talkies, McCoy moved over to Columbia (working occasionally with young John Wayne) until Carl Laemmle at Universal asked him to star in the first talking western serial, The Indians Are Coming. In 1936, the actor decided to go on tour with the Ringling Bros. circus and then to create his own wild west show. He lost a lot of his own money in that venture and returned to Hollywood to appear as “Lightning” Bill Carson in a series of low-budget indies. He then played Marshall Tim McCall in eight Rough Riders movies for Monogram Pictures with Buck Jones and Raymond Hatton before retiring from the movies in the early 1940s. Tim McCoy unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1942 and then volunteered for active duty in the U.S. Army at the age of 51. One of his few post-war appearances on the big screen was a cameo as himself in Mike Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days (1956).

inga-hitler-mccoyWhen he was a young man, Tim McCoy married Agnes Miller, the daughter of two well-known theater people. They had had three children, but it was McCoy’s second marriage that fascinates me. In 1943, McCoy married Danish journalist Inga Arvad who is known not only for interviewing Adolf Hitler (along with Goebbels and Himmler) and being Hitler’s companion at the 1936 Olympics (Hitler told her she was the perfect example of Nordic beauty), but also for the affair she had with young John F. Kennedy in 1941 and 1942. Hello? Where is the Kate Winslet biopic of this intriguing woman? The FBI investigated Arvad as a possible Nazi spy but she was exonerated and ended up working briefly for MGM. She met McCoy while she was working on a film short on an Indian reservation. The couple had two sons (McCoy was already in his late 50s) and stayed together until Arvad’s death in 1973. Tim McCoy died on January 29, 1978 at the age of 86.