Sunday, January 22, 2017

History of The Lone Ranger On Television (2/3)

The radio success of The Lone Ranger program was phenomenal. It ran from January 30, 1933, through September 3, 1954, for a total of 2,956 episodes. 

The Lone Ranger brand name was a merchandising bonanza. Soon, novels, comic books, jigsaw puzzles, authentic hats, masks, Western style shirts, and replica twin gun and dual holster sets with silver bullets were available in every toy store in America.

George W. Trendle, founder and general manager of WXYZ Radio in Detroit wanted to bring The Lone Ranger to the new medium of television in 1948. 

Brace Beemer had played the title role on radio for eight years and wanted the television part. Trendle felt that Beemer was too long in the tooth and sat too low in the saddle at forty-six-years-old for the role. Brace didn't have the square jaw and rugged good looks that the role required.

George W. Trendle watched numerous Western and adventure movies and liked Clayton Moore's versatility as an actor. Moore had extensive film, movie serial, and television experience. 

The white hat and the black mask looked good on Moore. The Lone Ranger jumped off the small television screen and into America's living rooms on September 15, 1949. In all, there were two-hundred and twenty-one episodes made.

John Hart
The third year of the series found Clayton Moore sitting out the season because of a contract dispute. Another actor, John Hart, donned the uniform. The mask made the transition to a different actor easier for the audience to accept, but Hart didn't move the same way, nor did his voice match. And something was different about the chemistry between the masked man and Tonto. 

The first few episodes with the new Lone Ranger were shot in documentary style with a narrator to ease the transition to the new voice. Hart was generally accepted in the role, but fan favorite, Clayton Moore was back in the saddle for the fourth and fifth season, the only one shot in color.

In addition to a fatter contract, Moore wanted meatier roles to stretch himself as an actor. He liked playing the classic, two-dimensional good guy, but it wasn't enough. To take advantage of his acting ability, Moore began playing dual roles as the Lone Ranger going undercover. Sometimes he was an old prospector or a vagrant of some kind. The character became a master of disguise and infiltrated gangs and outsmarted the bad guys.  

No more episodes were made for television after 1955, but the show was so popular with the audience that it managed to hold on to its time slot through the 1957 season. 

Through it all, Jay Silverheels, a Mohawk Indian actor, played the role of Tonto, the masked man's trusted companion. The Lone Ranger always used perfect grammar, which may have pleased parents and English teachers, but it didn't seem to make much of an impression on Tonto. The Lone Ranger was his "kemo sabe," his trusty scout.

In later years, Jay Silverheels made an appearance on The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, and was asked about Tonto's clipped dialogue. He said it bothered him, but that's what the script required, so he read the lines.  

When his role as Tonto ran its course, Silverheels played minor supporting roles in the movies and on television into the early 1970s. He enjoyed harness racing in his later years and actively spoke out about the "Uncle Tomahawk" roles Indian actors were forced to play.

Clayton Moore continued to make appearances as the Lone Ranger for the rest of his public life. In 1979, he was banned from wearing the mask at appearances because of a new Lone Ranger movie that was to come out in 1981. The producers took out a court order against the aging but beloved actor. It was a public relations disaster for the film which tanked at the box office.

Clayton Moore got so much free publicity that he started making appearances in some specially designed Foster-Grant sunglasses and landed a fat endorsement contract. "Who is that man behind those Foster Grants?" began the successful ad campaign which played on the signature ending of each television episode, "Who was that masked man?".  

His commercials aired repeatedly which delighted fans, proving that you can't keep a good man down. In 1984, the court order was lifted and Moore could once again wear the mask while making appearances. By the 1990s, Clayton Moore retired from public life.

Jay Thomas tells a funny story about Clayton Moore on the David Letterman Show: