“Actor, artist, athlete, author, inventor, musician, soldier, acrobat, businessman, preacher—Fred Thomson was more than a cowboy.
“Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, William S. Hart, Roy Rogers, and Bill Elliott are remembered almost exclusively as cowboys. All had other talents to be sure, but none seem as versatile as Thomson, who had distinct careers as a champion athlete, as a full-time minister of the Gospel and as a leading cowboy actor.
“Fred and Francis…were both accomplished pianists. He also played the violin, and in school had been a member of the band. When fame and fortune came to Fred he [became] an international sportsman. He entered his high-powered hydroplane in competitions throughout the United States, Canada and Cuba. [He designed and built the engine for his speedboat. He also designed his own cars.]
“Fred Thomson…sought to learn all he could about making movies, both as an actor and as a technician. A student with a student’s slant on life, he studied until he became an expert on lenses, filters and lighting. He developed several devices to improve the art, such as a patented trick mirror, a hidden trampoline and a dummy horse used for closeups…Fred’s friend Jim Pierce…credits Thomson with the invention of the gold leaf reflector used in lighting effects.
“In contrast to several of Thomson’s contemporaries, including Tom Mix…who made huge sums of money from films but failed to invest wisely and wasted or lost most of their fortunes, Fred became a millionaire through business transactions [mostly real estate investments]. His largest enterprise was his own production company, ‘Fred Thomson Productions.’”
From Edgar M. Wyatt, More Than a Cowboy