“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a ‘Hi-Yo Silver!’ The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
Those immortal words were spoken by the dynamic voice of radio announcer Fred Foy (along with the recognizable melody of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”) ushered in each new adventure of the Lone Ranger.
The Ranger debuted on radio (almost 3,000 episodes) from 1933 to 1954 of first run programs. Then, it effortlessly shifted to television (and occasionally to the movies) from 1949 to 1957.
The origin of the Lone Ranger was that John Reid was a member of a Texas Rangers division, led by his older brother, Captain Dan Reid. The Butch Cavendish gang ambushed the division killing them all, except one thought to be dead: John Reid.
An Indian (Tonto) happened upon the scene and nursed the younger Reid back to health. Once recovered, Reid fashions a black mask made from his late brother’s vest to hide his secret identity to bring the Cavendish gang to justice, aided by his faithful friend Tonto.
The radio show was created by WXYZ radio station owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker. The masked man on the side of the law and his Indian companion quickly captured the imagination of the American public.
The program was a popular staple of the Golden Age of Radio for 21 years, then shifting to the new medium of television. Interestingly, the Green Hornet, also created by Trendle and Striker for radio (and briefly television) was Britt Reid, the son of the Lone Ranger’s nephew.
On radio the Lone Ranger was played by Earl Graser (eight years) and finally Brace Beemer (13 years).
Tonto, ironically, was played by an elderly English actor, John Todd. On television (and two early films) The Ranger was played by Clayton Moore, and briefly by John Hart, when Moore held out for more money, which he won. Tonto was played by native Canadian Jay Silverheels for the entire run.
The television version of the Lone Ranger was just as popular as the radio version. It was the first Western written specifically for television, and at that point in time was the highest rated television show on the newly formed ABC-TV network. The final season (1956-57) was shot entirely in color.
Four theatrical films were made. The first two were serials (“The Lone Ranger” (1938, Lee Powell) and “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” (1939, Robert Livingston).
Then came “The Lone Ranger” (1956) and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” (1958), both starring Clayton Moore. In 1979 Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to the Ranger, won a lawsuit against Moore to prevent him from wearing the mask, feeling that Moore (still making personal appearances as the Ranger) would confuse audiences with a new film “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” in 1981. The lawsuit backfired; audiences stayed away in droves, protesting the shabby treatment of Moore, who continued to make appearances as The Ranger, with oversized wraparound dark sunglasses in lieu of the mask.
To celebrate the Lone Ranger’s 80th anniversary this year, Jerry Bruckheimer has added his adrenaline-packed stamp to the Ranger legend with an epic film starring Armie Hammer as the Ranger and Johnny Depp as Tonto. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels will be gazing down in spirit, no doubt.
One final story. I had just moved to Atlanta when my cousin Mike informed me that Clayton Moore was appearing at a local mall there.
We were like excited kids at the prospect of seeing and meeting our childhood hero. We were not disappointed.
Looking incredibly fit at age 65, dressed in his Ranger outfit (and sunglasses) Moore enthralled his large audience with impressive rope and gun tricks. Afterward I was able to meet and shake hands with an idol and icon. He could not have been nicer. And true to form he silently left before we could thank him … And was that Silver’s hoof beats I heard in the distance?
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.
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