When I was a kid (and, admittedly, even an adult) whenever I heard the familiar music of the finale from the William Tell Overture (this might even have been my very first exposure to classical or opera music, since we didn’t have Baby Einstein back in the caveman days) I would always come running to the TV to watch…The Lone Ranger!
Today marks the 75th anniversary of The Lone Ranger. It was January 30, 1933 that the Masked Man first appeared in adventures on the radio, continuing for a total of 2,956 episodes until 1954. In 1949, the character began appearing on television with the series lasting until 1957 and with The Lone Ranger being portrayed by the man that most people associate with the character, Clayton Moore, for all but 2 seasons of its run. Clayton Moore passed away in 1999 at the age of 89.
The Lone Ranger, like many fictional heroes, underwent many retellings of his origin. I don’t know if my mom listened to the radio show when she was a child (she would have been around 8 or 9 when it premiered on the radio), but I remember her explaining the story to me the first time I watched the show on TV. Basically, he was a Texas Ranger who, along with 5 other Rangers (including his brother), was killed in an ambush. Except THIS Ranger, John or Dan Reid (there was always controversy about the name, however later in the TV series the Ranger’s nephew was named Dan, so likely this was John), was NOT dead. An Indian named Tonto came across the massacre and, finding Reid still alive, nursed him back to health. Reid asked Tonto to make 6 graves so that, to all intents and purposes, it would appear that no one survived. Reid then donned a mask to hide his identity and to represent ALL Rangers in the wild west. Together, with their horses Silver and Scout, The Lone Ranger and Tonto would be a force for justice across the untamed land. Later, stories would emerge explaining the origin of Silver (a wild horse that the Ranger saved from a buffalo attack) and why the Ranger used silver bullets (a silver mine, owned either by Reid or a friend of his, and to symbolize the preciousness of life). Only a select few ever knew the real identity of The Lone Ranger, prompting the usual episode ending question by those he had rescued or saved, “Who was that masked man?”
Interestingly enough, several aspects of the origin were shared by another fictional character, The Spirit, created by the late legendary comic book writer and artist Will Eisner in 1940. Denny Colt, a young detective is shot and buried in the city cemetery. However, he survives, claws his way out of the grave and decides to don a mask (a domino mask, similar to The Lone Ranger’s) and let the world think that Denny Colt is dead while he fights crime as The Spirit.
An added bonus to the mythology of The Lone Ranger, a modern-day (1930’s) crimefighter known to the world as The Green Hornet, was in reality Britt (or Brit) Reid, the grand-nephew of The Lone Ranger. This Reid also fought evil and dispensed justice with a sidekick, his Asian chauffeur, Kato, a master of martial arts. In place of Silver and Scout, these two had a souped up car known as Black Beauty. The Green Hornet used an electric stun-gun type weapon he called “The Hornet’s Sting.” Those of you who watched the Adam West “Batman” TV series in the ’60’s may recall several episodes where The Green Hornet and Kato were updated to be part of the storyline.
As a child growing up in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, a lot of TV shows were Westerns; cowboys, indians, horses, etc. As I would discover later, my interests lay in superhero and science fiction shows more than cowboys and indians. But The Lone Ranger, along with Rin Tin Tin (because it was about a dog, no doubt, as was Lassie but I never considered that show a western), could always hold my attention, most likely because of the superhero aspects of the character. Today, I own several episodes on DVD and still love watching them.
So, Happy 75th Anniversary to The Lone Ranger. In the words of the show’s opening narration, “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…. The Lone Ranger Rides Again!”
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