There are just some heroes that everyone knows about. There are heroes and legends that transcend race, nationality or gender or religion. They are icons. They stand for something, and they reach for an ideal that for the most part, we all admire or even aspire to. Just like the old Time-Life commercial used to say: The old West….nothin’ left now but a few crumblin’ building, mementos and LEGENDS….” There are plenty of legends in the Old West, and when someone mentions a famous western hero one name will pop up in all of their lists…..Hell, who was that Masked Man? ! Why do people refer to something fast moving like a silver bullet? And who do people think of when they hear the William Tell Overture? The Lone Ranger!
Western heroes are few and far between nowadays. Clint Eastwood helped create what is probably the dominating Western icon nowadays with the Man with No name in his spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But Eastwood’s gunfighter is an anti-hero, but the Lone Ranger, is all hero. The Lone Ranger began as a radio show created by George W. Trendle in the 1930’s. The story is that a young Texas Ranger named Reid in the Old West and his comrades get ambushed by villainous outlaw, Butch Cavendish and his gang. All are shot up and left for dead, but Reid survives, though he is near death. Tonto, an Indian brave and old friend of Reid’s happens upon the dead rangers and finds Reid. After being nursed back to health by Tonto, Reid makes himself a black mask and vows to bring Cavendish in and fight for justice on the frontier as the Lone Ranger. He also luckily finds himself silver mine (and an old prospector to mine it) from which he gets his trademark silver bullets. And as luck would have it, a swift white horse comes into his possession, which he names Silver.
Very few people reading this will have ever heard the old radio show. (I mean, are there any 90 year olds reading this?) But some of you might remember the old TV show starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. When I was kid that show used to come on Saturday mornings in reruns and my grandfather and I would sit and watch it over big bowls of Cap’n Crunch. Unlike gunfighters in the movies the Ranger never shot to kill. He must have been the best marksman in the world because he had a habit of shooting the guns out of his opponents’ hands. Since no one save Tonto knew who the Ranger really was or what he looked like beneath the mask, he would employ various disguises to infiltrate the bad guys and find out what they planned. Some of those old TV shows even dealt with the element of racism….in The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, Tonto is subjected to it several times and even shot by a racist sheriff. The town’s doctor decides to show his Indian ancestry when he is disgusted by the bigoted views of the people. While it may not have been a major point in any of the old episodes, back in the 1950’s when this was made it must have hit home harder to the adults at least. The kids watching it? Well, we can only hope that they learned something from seeing how unfairly Tonto, who is one of the heroes, treated in such a way. The Ranger found a short home in animation. There was a cartoon version that used to air back in the 60’s that I can only vaguely remember seeing as reruns, and a short lived Lone Ranger/ Zorro Adventure hour was created in the late 70’s/early 80’s. However at that time Westerns were no longer in vogue so the Lone Ranger kind of faded into our collective memory. The occasional reruns of the old Clayton Moore TV shows kept him somewhat in view, though. Unfortunately someone thought it would be a good idea though, to bring the Ranger to the big screen in 1981 with The Legend of the Lone Ranger. This movie must have sucked like a Hoover, because it came and went out of the theaters so fast I never got a chance to see it. But what I did hear about was how Clayton Moore was banned from making appearance as the Lone Ranger in lieu of the movie’s star, Klinton Spilsbury. (Sometimes I’ve heard him referred to as Klayton Spilsbury, but the IMDb reads him as “Klinton”.) This was Spilsbury’s only role, probably due to the poor reception of the movie. Most fans of the Ranger had probably grown up watching Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, so when the studio kept the then elderly Moore from appearing in public as their favorite cowboy, it no doubt turned them against the movie. It’s a shame that things turned out that way, because the Lone Ranger could use a big screen appearance; however the stigma of the 1981 failure will probably make most studios hesitant to entertain that idea.
The Lone Ranger is a perfect icon for heroic western figures. He’s well known, even by people that have never seen the show. Phrases like “Who was that Masked Man?” are quipped by many….and he’s a decent role model. Nowadays you can’t really have a hero totin’ guns around and make parents feel comfortable with their kids watching it. But I can see why the Lone Ranger wouldn’t be detrimental for children. As I said earlier, he never shoots to kill, he always gets his man and he fought for justice for everyone in the Old West. While he might get outshined by more lethal pistol packers like The Man with No Name or even Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams (The Magnificent Seven & The Return of the Magnificent Seven) , more people remember the Lone Ranger. He’s more than a hero, he’s become a part of American Cultural Identity.
The old Moore episodes can be found on VHS and DVD nowadays and they’re still entertaining. The old west may not have been exactly like that, but it’s a fun thing to watch a Hero ride out in a white horse to dispense justice and save the day. If the western ever makes a comeback, I’m voting for a Lone ranger revival. Every age needs a hero, and when you’re talking about the age of gun slinging, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were two of the best. Perhaps once again we’ll hear that rallying cry of “Hiyo, Silver….Away!” As the masked man rides into town to make things better for all of us.