Last week, the marketing folks at Disney released this publicity photo of Johnny Depp (one of my favorite actors) as Tonto beside Armie Hammer as the masked hero, “The Lone Ranger,” for the planned 2013 film release of the latest incantation of “the masked rider of the plains.” My heart rate picked up immediately.
I was born in 1958 so my childhood of the 1960s missed the peak of popularity for this George Trendle megastar just like I missed Fess Parker’s “Davy Crockett” and George Reeves’ “Superman.” (I ALWAYS have said I was born too late)! But I was pretty familiar with the character based on old comic books and reruns of the classic television series starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.
I recall late one night (I was about 6-years old) I was talking to my Mom as she tucked me in for the night. I’d been working on my “Wolfman” Aurora model kit and I asked her if werewolves were real.
In typical Mom common sense, she answered in a way that would resonate most with her 1st grade audience: “Of course not. If they were real, the Lone Ranger would have killed them all!” (For those of you confused, this explanation was, of course, a reference to the Ranger’s silver bullets and we ALL know that silver means death to a werewolf. Keep up, won’t you)? I’ve been hooked on the Lone Ranger ever since.
For historical purposes, The Lone Ranger began as a radio show in 1933, created by station WXYZ owner George Trendle. It became a HUGE hit that ran until 1957 (I told you I was born too late).
The popularity of the Ranger flowed over into practically every genre of entertainment for the next 25 years. It was a successful movie serial in 1936 and 1938. King Features Syndicate distributed a newspaper strip from September 1938 to December 1971 (scripted by original writer Fran Striker himself), 18 hardback novels from 1936-1956, a comic book series (Dell Publishing) from 1948-1962, and tons of trinkets, coloring books and other toy premiums.
The story of the Ranger is classic heroic drama. Six Texas Rangers are ambushed by a band of outlaws led by Butch Cavendish. Later, a Native American (generally considered to be an Apache) named Tonto stumbles on the scene and nurses the lone survivor, John Francis Reid, back to health. One of the murdered Rangers is John’s brother, Daniel.
The two men dig six graves for Reid’s comrades so that Cavendish will think there were no survivors. John Reid fashions a black mask using material from his brother’s vest to conceal his identity. The two then bring Cavindish to justice and continue the fight against crime in the old west as … THE LONE RANGER!
The Lone Ranger TV show aired for eight seasons, from 1949 to 1957. As mentioned, it starred Clayton Moore and was the first big hit for ABC-TV in the 1950s. I “discovered” it as reruns on Saturday afternoons circa 1964. I heard one of my sisters complaining to Mom that the show was too violent for me to watch. That hooked me immediately! Its opening sequence ran something like this:
A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of History can one find a greater champion of justice! 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!
The final scene of each episode was always the same. Departing on his white stallion, Silver, the Lone Ranger would shout, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!” As they galloped off, someone would ask, “Who was that masked man?”
Tonto usually referred to the Lone Ranger as “Ke-mo-sah-be,” meaning “trusted friend.” These phrases, the trademark silver bullets, and the theme music from the William Tell Overture are all part of my DNA.
While most of you recall that TV show, you may not recall the animated series that ran from 1966 to 1968 on CBS. These adventures were similar in tone and nature to CBS’s The Wild, Wild West (starring Robert Conrad). The plots were bizarre and had elements of science-fiction and steampunk technology thrown in. For many kids of my era, the cartoon was the first exposure to the Ranger, but not me!
In 1981, Clayton Moore made national news with his legal issues surrounding the character he helped make famous and the new film, Legend of the Lone Ranger. Moore had made a series of commercials over the years (most notably, one for Amoco Oil’s “Silver Line” gasoline) wearing the Ranger mask. He was now legally forbidden to do so as the film’s producers wanted a “new image” of the main character. Moore began wearing oversized sunglasses to make his point and the public sided with him completely. The film bombed. Moore died in 1999 at age 85.
The Lone Ranger is such a great character and concept, it’s no surprise that he’s about to appear in yet another major motion picture (produced by Disney, no less)! And as Johnny Depp has appeared in some of my all-time favorite films (Finding Neverland, Ed Wood, & the initial Pirates of the Caribbean, to name a few), you can bet I’ll buy my ticket for this Ranger version as well.
In closing, here’s the original “Lone Ranger Creed.” Conceived by writer Fran Striker, it’s a code the Ranger strove to live by. I loved it as a kid. Reading it today, it makes me wonder … where have my childhood heroes gone? It reminds me that when I grow up, I want to be … The Lone Ranger!
The Lone Ranger Creed:
- that to have a friend, a man must be one.
- that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
- that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
- in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
- that a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
- that ‘this government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ shall live always.
- that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
- that sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
- that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
- in my Creator, my country, my fellow man
Mount up, cowboys! It’s time to ride!