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Who were those masked men?

Updated on April 30, 2013

Now and then

Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger.
Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger.
Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto.
Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto.

80 years ago audiences first heard the cry, "Hi-Yo Silver, Away!"

Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp are saddled up and riding into the thrilling days of yesteryear as The Lone Ranger and Tonto in the new Disney movie “The Lone Ranger”.

They are just the most recent in a long line of actors to play the part of the fictional characters created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. Most people will think of Clayton Moore as the masked man and Jay Silverheels as his faithful Indian companion whenever they think of The Lone Ranger. Those familiar with the radio program probably identify with Brace Beemer.

Though the exact date is in dispute, it is generally accepted that “The Lone Ranger” first aired on January 30, 1933, on Detroit radio station WXYZ with George Stenius (later changed to Seaton) in the title role. Stenius quit three months later, Brace Beemer was selected to play the lead. Beemer quit after a a while to open his own advertising agency. Earle W. Graser took the part on May 16, 1933, until his death in 1941. At that time Beemer, who had returned and was working as the announcer, returned to the role and stayed until the end on Sept. 3, 1954.

Actor John Todd – whose real name was Fred McCarthy, was the only one to play Tonto throughout the run of the radio program.

Throughout the run of the radio program, numerous actors have substituted or played short stints as the Ranger. Among them are producer James Jewell, John Barratt, Harold Bud Olencamp, Francis X. Bushman and longtime announcer Fred Foy.

The Lone Ranger made the jump to the movie serials in 1938 with “The Lone Ranger” starring Lee Powell and Chief Thundercloud. The next year brought “The Lone Ranger Rides Again,” starring Robert Livingston and Thundercloud. Trendle was reportedly so upset with the portrayal of his creation on the silver screen that he refused to let any more movies be made. He did, however, embrace that new entertainment medium called television.

“The Lone Ranger” premiered on September 15, 1949, on ABC-TV. The series starred Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The origin story of the Lone Ranger was played out in the first three half-hour episodes. Each episode after that contained a single story.

Moore played the part for the first two seasons. A contractual disagreement between Moore and Trendle led to John Hart being hired to play the masked man for the third season from 1952-53. Moore returned for the fourth season and remained for the rest of the 221-episode run of the television series. Jack Wrather purchased the rights to the Lone Ranger in 1954 and immediately improved the quality of the show. The fifth and final season (1956-57) was filmed in color.

Under Wrather, Moore and Silverheels made the jump back to the silver screen with “The Lone Ranger” in 1956 and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” in 1958. There was an ill-fated attempt to bring the masked man back to TV in 1961 when Tex Hill took the part of The Lone Ranger. A pilot episode was filmed, but it was never shown.

In 1981 Wrather tried to revive the franchise by shooting it in the heart with a silver bullet. “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” made a run at the theaters only to become one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood history. Not only was its star, Klinton Spilsburry, uncooperative and difficult to work with, but Wrather sued Moore to prevent him from wearing the mask and appearing in public as The Lone Ranger. The negative backlash from those two well-publicized events made the movie dead on arrival for most fans. Michael Horse’s performance as Tonto was one of the few highlights of the film.

Moore was eventually returned the right to wear the mask and he continued to make appearances until his death in 1999. In the meantime, ownership of the trademark passed through several hands until it wound up with Little Golden Books. In 2002 the company sold movie rights to Columbia Pictures/Sony, and television rights to The WB. While the movie languished in development hell, WB moved a head and made a TV pilot turned movie of the week called “The Lone Ranger.” It aired in 2003 and starred Chad Michael Murray as The Lone Ranger and Nathaniel Arcand as Tonto. About the only thing it did for Lone Ranger lore was to make “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” look much better.

Now, in 2012, super producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski are leading the charge with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer in a $200 million movie for Disney, due in theaters on July 3, 2013.

Hi-Yo Silver, away!


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      This is a nice history of the Lone Ranger with some things I didn't know. I listened to the Lone Ranger on the radio and read the Comic books growing uo. I don't recall the movie serials thigh.

    • jasonponic profile image

      Jason Ponic 5 years ago from Albuquerque

      Awesome hub! It was a blast working on this movie!

    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 5 years ago

      Interesting hub. I learned something about the characters I watched so often as a kid! Up and sharing.