Like most of the westerns we are studying this month, The Lone Ranger first aired as a radio series. In 1933, the masked hero and his best friend Tonto, traveled throughout the Old West, capturing outlaws and putting them behind bars.
Fran Striker began reworking some old scripts about westerns in 1932. Those stories became The Lone Ranger. George Trendle brought Striker in to work on the radio scripts in 1933 when the show debuted. Striker continued to pen books about the hero with his first being The Lone Ranger in 1936 and his last The Lone Ranger on Red Butte Trail in 1961, 25 in all.
The television show began in 1949 and ran for eight years. Clayton Moore portrayed the ranger and Jay Silverheels portrayed Tonto. Silverheels was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian from the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada. In season three, Moore was temporarily replaced by John Hart, but he returned for the final two years. The other recurring character we see during the series is the ranger’s nephew Dan Reid played by Chuck Courtney. This was ABC’s first big television hit.
The show began and ended the same way. As the show opened, the Lone Ranger’s horse would rear up on his back and the ranger shouted “Hi-Yo Silver.” At the end of the show, someone would as “Who was that masked man?” Another repeated phrase from the series was “Kemo sabe.” Tonto called the Ranger this which translates to “faithful friend.”
The backstory of the ranger is that a patrol of six Texas Rangers was massacred and only the Lone Ranger survived. He now wears a mask to protect his real identity and he and Tonto, who nursed him back to health, travel around bringing justice to the territories. The ranger owns a silver mine which is why he named his horse Silver and why he carries silver bullets.
MGM film veteran producer Jack Chertok was brought in to produce the show. He would later produce Ann Sothern’s show Private Secretary and My Favorite Martian.
This show was produced and filmed differently than most shows in the classic age. Seventy-eight episodes were broadcast for consecutive weeks. Then they were all shown for a second time. After 156 weeks, they decided to film another 52 shows but there was a controversy and Moore left the show and was replaced by John Hart. Again the 52 filmed shows were consecutively shown and then rerun. For the next season, the original creator George Trendle sold the rights to Jack Wrather in 1954. Wrather hired Moore again and produced another 52 shows which were shown and then rerun. For the final year, only 39 episodes were produced with Sherman Harris taking over as producer. The final season was the only one shot in color. Because there were only new episodes in five of the eight years, only 221 shows were produced.
At this point, film stars were still avoiding television, seeing it as a temporary competition with films. Therefore, most of the guest stars we see on the show were actors who went on to have successful television careers. Some of those include Michael Ansara, James Arness, Frances Bavier, Hugh Beaumont, Dwayne Hickman, Stacy Keach Jr., Marjorie Lord, Martin Milner, Denver Pyle, and Marion Ross.
This was one of the first series to be nominated for an Emmy; unfortunately, it lost to the first version of The Life of Riley starring Jackie Gleason. The nomination came in 1950 at the second Emmy ceremony. The early years had very limited categories for awards.
General Mills was the original sponsor for the show. They also sponsored the radio show from 1941-1961.
The theme music was the classical piece, the William Tell overture. Rossini composed the piece in 1829.
Like Adam West and Batman, Clayton Moore really embodied the character of the Lone Ranger. After the show ended, he would make up to 200 appearances a year as the crime fighter. In 1979, Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to the character, sued him, but Moore won a countersuit allowing him to continue appearing as the masked hero.
The Lone Ranger was never permanently retired. Two animated series were released in 1966 and 1980. Also, both Silverheels and Moore starred in two big-screen features: The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958).
In addition, Moore slipped into his costume again for a film in 1958 to promote the Lone Ranger Peace Patrol to convince kids to buy US Savings Bonds. A 2013 movie reboot came out with Armie Hammer in the starring role.
The Lone Ranger has had an iconic place in history for 87 years now. Almost every generation recognizes the hero, and his black mask is at the Smithsonian Museum. It’s pretty incredible for a show that really had five years’ worth of episodes made and has been off the air for 64 of those years. Although this era did not often portray African Americans or Native Americans very well, this show was about friendship, and I read very little about negative portrayals of anyone on the television series. You can easily find the episodes on DVD, Youtube, or a variety of network channels.
When my son who is now 29 was about 9, he was enthralled by westerns and watched The Lone Ranger and Daniel Boone. Internet and email were newer forms of technology, but he was able to reach out to Fess Parker and Clayton Moore. Both were very kind. Moore sent him his autographed book with a written note. He still enjoyed discussing his time as the crime fighter. A classic man from a classic show.