Driving into this tiny town on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada for a 60th anniversary celebration of the Lone Ranger, Jerry and Barbara Tighe spotted a guy with a Lone Ranger hat chatting with a group of people on a street corner.
It wasn't until they were checking into their motel that the Anaheim couple discovered that the man in the white "Lone Ranger" hat was none other than TV's legendary Masked Man himself, Clayton Moore, out for an evening stroll.
"Oh, my gosh," said Barbara Tighe, out on the sidewalk now and straining to catch a glimpse of Moore, her idol since she watched him on TV as a girl in the 1950s.
"This is going to be great," her husband said as they hurried to their room to quickly change clothes and try to nab Moore for a picture and autograph.
Moore, alas, had vanished before the Tighes had a chance to thank him, much less snap his photo. But they had plenty of time for pictures and autographs last weekend during a two-day homage to one of the most popular and enduring fictional characters of the 20th Century.
Time magazine once called the Lone Ranger "the greatest hero ever created on the air."
"Entertainment Tonight" film expert Leonard Maltin, here to dedicate a ceramic tile mural portrait of the Lone Ranger in Moore's honor, believes writer-creator Fran Striker "hit on something akin to modern mythology."
The strong appeal of the Lone Ranger character, Maltin said, "is something deeper than just good guy/bad guy. It's something about the goodness and the righting of wrongs, helping people selflessly--all that plus the 'William Tell' Overture."
Event coordinator Dave Holland believes the legendary Champion of Justice "may be more relevant than ever today because our society so desperately needs the showing of good over evil."
Lone Pine, whose rocky Alabama Hills have provided the location for hundreds of Westerns, was the ideal setting to mark the 60th anniversary of the debut of "The Lone Ranger" on Detroit radio station WXYZ.
It was here in the shadow of Mt. Whitney that the 1938 Republic "Lone Ranger" serial was filmed, as were numerous episodes of the TV series.
The Tighes joined more than 300 other Lone Rangerphiles, many of whom could tell you the number of actors who played the Masked Man on radio (eight, the most famous being Brace Beemer); a few even knew the name of the Lone Ranger's nephew's horse (Victor).
Tighe, who teaches English at Cypress College and at Long Beach City College, remembers first listening to "The Lone Ranger" on radio at supper time in Omaha, Neb., in the '40s. In the "pre-VCR days" in the '70s, she would even set her alarm clock on Saturday mornings to catch "Lone Ranger" reruns on a cable TV channel from Chicago.
"Children growing up nowadays don't have heroes," she said. "I'm lucky to have a hero, and then to have a chance to meet him is just a dream come true."
Indeed, for Tighe and the other fans--some from as far away as England--it was two days of unadulterated hero worship.
For Dave Holland, author of "From Out of the Past: A Pictorial History of the Lone Ranger," it was a chance to meet Fred Foy, an announcer on both the radio and TV versions of "The Lone Ranger."
For Foy, a resident of Redding, Mass., it was an opportunity to meet Clayton Moore after all these years.
The 72-year-old Foy encountered the 78-year-old actor in a souvenir shop, introduced himself and immediately launched into the show's memorably rousing opening only to have Moore himself join in: "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi yo, Silver!"'
The weekend, which included a Western-style barbecue on a sprawling estate where a half-dozen fans dressed up as the Lone Ranger, featured guest speakers such as Lone Ranger comic book artist Paul S. Newman and Fran Striker Jr. There also were screenings of Lone Ranger serials, movies and TV episodes, in addition to old radio show recordings.
A videotaped retrospective even included TV commercials from the '60s, in which Moore as the Lone Ranger sold everything from pizza to Dodges to Aqua Velva after-shave. (Just out of the shower, the Masked Man proclaims: "Aqua Velva gets us refreshed for a hard day's ride.")
John Hart, TV's other Lone Ranger (he filmed 52 episodes in 1952 when Moore was off the show during a contract dispute) was also on hand and informally shared stories of his Lone Ranger days.
Hart, who recalled shooting a new episode every two days, said he was happy to have been a part of the Lone Ranger legend: "I've dined out on it all my life; I didn't get paid very much, but I had fun."
But it was Moore, the weekend's special guest, who took the spotlight.
"I welcome all of you with my traditional greeting of 'Tai, kemo sabe.' (Hello, faithful friend.) Hi yo, Si-i-i-lver! Awa-a-a-a-a-a-y!" he boomed into the microphone at the outset of a question-and-answer session in the Lone Pine High School auditorium.
Before fielding questions, Moore offered a personal tribute to Jay Silverheels, the Lone Ranger's "faithful Indian companion, Tonto," who died in 1980.
"I loved him very much; he was always there when I needed him," said Moore, noting that Silverheels, a full-blooded Mohawk from Canada, "was very proud of the Indian people. And believe me, ladies and gentlemen, the Indian race was extremely proud of their son, Tonto--Jay Silverheels!"
Moore--a Chicago native who worked briefly in a circus trapeze act and then as a model in New York before coming out to Hollywood in 1938--said that he received $50 every time he reared Silver on camera and "I made sure no other actor or double was going to rear the horse but old kemo sabe."
Wearing light-tinted glasses, a gold satin jacket and anaconda snakeskin boots, Moore also said that although he still owns guns, he can no longer spin them like he did during his cowboy heyday.
True to character, he warned parents in the audience, "Guns are dangerous, especially with little kids." At one point, he even recited the Lone Ranger Creed: "I believe in order to have a friend, a man must be one. . . ."
It was the Saturday evening outdoor concert in the rugged Alabama Hills--in the same spot where outlaws ambushed the Texas Rangers in the 1938 "Lone Ranger" serial--that provided the weekend's piece de resistance.
Conductor James King's 28-piece CinemaSound Orchestra played selections from not only "The Lone Ranger" but also from other Republic Western movies and serials--pieces heard publicly for the first time sans dialogue, gunshots and other sound effects.
Unfortunately, it grew so chilly that nearly half the audience headed for the buses back to town by intermission. Even the black-outfitted B-Western tough-guy hero Lash LaRue, "the King of the Bullwhip," bailed out. (Moore, fans be assured, remained seated until the finale: the "William Tell" Overture.)
Rossini's stirring music provided the opening of "The Lone Ranger" from its start on radio in 1933, according to Holland, who grew up listening to the program in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1940s.
"I probably didn't know it at the time, but it might have been the best produced radio show, therefore the most realistic," he said. "When you listen to the shows today, you find the marriage of the music and the sound effects and the words has never been surpassed."
Holland said WXYZ radio station owner George Trendle was having trouble competing with the popularity of such network stars as Eddie Cantor and Amos 'n' Andy when he decided a new show was in order: "What happened was Trendle had run motion-picture theaters and he said, 'We never lost money with a Western, so what we have to do is create a Western radio show.' "
"The Lone Ranger" was an unexpected hit from the start. A few months after its debut, an offer of a free Lone Ranger popgun brought the station an avalanche of 25,000 letters within three days. One of Brace Beemer's personal appearances as the radio Lone Ranger reportedly drew a crowd of 130,000 fans.
The show remained in the Top 10 for years, Holland said, "and well into the 1950s, polls showed that more than half the audience was adults. It's only in retrospect, with people not knowing the history, that they assumed it was a children's show."
Holland said another misconception is that the famous Texas Ranger ambush scene, which prompted the legend of the Lone Ranger, originated on the radio show. Not true, says Holland. The ambush was written for the 1938 serial.
"The serial version took everyone's imagination so that it finally became the official version and is to this day," he said.
The exact ambush story varies in detail from the serial to the radio show to the TV series, Holland said, "but one thing remains constant through all the tellings: Outlaws ambushed a band of Texas Rangers. When the battle was over, all the rangers were dead. All but one. He was the only Ranger left. The lone survivor. The Lone Ranger. . . .
"God, I get goose bumps every time I say that."