Clayton Moore, TV’s ‘Lone Ranger,’ Dies
Clayton Moore, whose hearty “Hi-yo, Silver” resounded on television throughout the 1950s and who personally identified so strongly with the Lone Ranger character that he refused even in old age to give up being a Western hero, died Tuesday. He was 85.
Moore died of a heart attack at West Hills Regional Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley, according to his publicist, Katy Sweet Public Relations.
“I always wanted to be a policeman or a cowboy, and I got to do both,” Moore wrote in his 1996 autobiography, “I Was That Masked Man.”
Already an experienced actor, he first appeared as the Lone Ranger in 1949, when the popular radio program of the 1930s and ‘40s gave rise to a visual version in television’s infancy.
Moore played the champion of justice from 1949 to 1952 and again from 1954 to 1957. But even after leaving the show, he continued appearing as the Lone Ranger in rodeos, parades and other public events, firing blanks from his twin Colt .45s and preaching to his young fans about honesty, law and order, and respect.
“I believe, truly and always, in the Lone Ranger’s Creed,” Moore reiterated in 1996 during a book tour for his autobiography. The creed includes such lines as “I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one” and “I believe that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.”
Although actor John Hart was seen on TV for two seasons in the part, Moore unabashedly claimed the Lone Ranger’s image for himself, an attachment that eventually led to a legal battle with the owners of the rights to the character.
“Once I got the Lone Ranger role, I didn’t want any other,” Moore said in a 1985 interview with The Times. “I like playing the good guy. I’ll wear the white hat for the rest of my life. The Lone Ranger is a great character, a great American. Playing him made me a better person.”
The actor was born Jack Carlson Moore, the son of a real estate broker, in Chicago. He performed in a trapeze circus act for several years, after learning acrobatics, tumbling and swimming as a teenager at the Illinois Athletic Club. One of his instructors there was Johnny Weissmuller, the champion swimmer who later played Tarzan in the movies.
An injury ended Moore’s circus career, and the ruggedly handsome athlete later became a John Robert Powers model.
He first appeared in films in 1938, playing bit parts and performing stunts in serials including “Dick Tracy Returns” (1938) and “The Perils of Nyoka” (1942). Nicknamed the “King of the Serials” for all the cliffhanger episodes he helped churn out to encourage return visits to movie theaters, Moore first donned a mask in the 1949 serial “The Ghost of Zorro.”
His acting career, interrupted by World War II when he served three years in the Army Air Force, included more than 70 feature films. Among them was “Black Dragons,” the very first World War II film, starring Bela Lugosi as a German doctor who altered the faces of Japanese spies to look like American industrialists and Moore as the handsome American hero who got the girl.
A fan of the Lone Ranger radio series since its inception in 1933, Moore beat out 75 actors to become television’s version of the classic hero. When producer George Trendle told him the good news, Moore said he replied: “Mr. Trendle, I am the Lone Ranger.”
The show was the first western filmed for television and a pioneer in its field. Until it came along, television cowboy programs consisted merely of segments cut from feature films.
The legend of the Lone Ranger, as told in the original radio series, begins with an ambush of six Texas Rangers, including the two Reid brothers, by outlaw Butch Cavendish and his gang. Five Rangers are killed but John Reid, presumed dead by the outlaws, survives. Badly wounded, he is found and nursed back to health by an Indian named Tonto (played on TV by Jay Silverheels).
Disguising himself with a black mask cut from his dead brother’s vest to conceal his identity from the Cavendish gang, he sets out on their trail as the lone surviving Ranger of the patrol, the origin of the character’s name.
He and Tonto travel to Wild Horse Valley, where they rescue an injured white stallion, which the Lone Ranger names Silver. The Reids owned a silver mine that supports John Reid’s crusade for justice while also providing the ranger’s trademark silver bullets.
The Lone Ranger was the purest of the white hats of the era and a favorite of both the young and their parents. He spoke precisely, acted nobly, didn’t drink or smoke and showed no interest in women, money or creature comforts. He always cooperated with the duly constituted officers of the law and never, ever seriously harmed anyone--a feat the writers explained by giving him such superhuman marksmanship that he was able to disarm villains by shooting the guns out of their hands at great distances.
The TV show adopted the opening lines made famous by the radio show, dramatically delivered by a basso announcer accompanied by the rousing “William Tell Overture”:
“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 West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again.”
Moore starred in 169 half-hour Lone Ranger television shows and two feature films, “The Lone Ranger” (1956) and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” (1958).
But the end of the show did not mean the end of his identification with the character.
Years later this was to get him into legal trouble when the Wrather Corp., which owned the rights to the Lone Ranger, decided to resurrect the masked man in a movie. Moore, then 65, apparently was considered too old for the role.
The corporation obtained a court order in 1979 preventing Moore from appearing at public functions as the Lone Ranger, apparently so the role’s identity could be transferred to Klinton Spilsbury, star of the movie the corporation was making: “The Legend of the Lone Ranger.” The film, released in 1981, was a box office flop, and Moore tenaciously pushed on with a personal crusade to regain his adopted identity.
Moore’s fans wrote letters to newspapers. The city councils of several towns passed resolutions favoring him. A five-year court battle ensued, and in late 1984, the corporation backed down, allowing Moore to exchange a pair of very dark, mask-shaped sunglasses for the traditional black mask. Moore rarely allowed anyone to photograph him without his mask.
He spent his retirement years touring the country as the Lone Ranger, appearing in parades, at county fairs and at shopping mall openings. Like the Lone Ranger, Moore said he didn’t drink, smoke or swear.
The actor had dreamed of doing one more movie, giving him the chance to hand over his mask to a younger man and ride off into the sunset with a last “Hi-yo, Silver.”
Ironically, after his many years attending public events, the octogenarian Moore became something of a recluse in his Calabasas home. “I’m retired from that. I’ve done all my personal appearances,” he told The Times by phone in 1994, refusing any more face-to-face interviews. A party celebrating his 80th birthday on Sept. 14 that year was strictly private.
Moore’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, placed in 1987, is the only star that includes the name of the actor and his major character. Moore was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1990, and twice won a Golden Boot Award created by western second banana Pat Buttram to benefit the Motion Picture & Television Foundation. Moore’s family asked that any memorial donations be made to that foundation to benefit the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital.
Thrice married, Moore is survived by his wife, Carlita, and daughter Dawn Moore Gerrity. Services will be private.
“I never want to take off this white hat again,” Moore once said, ever in his Lone Ranger persona. “When I take off to that big ranch in the sky, I still want to have it on my head.”
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A Ranger’s Creed
*That to have a friend, a man must be one.
* That God put the firewood there, but every man must gather and light it himself.
* 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.
--Excerpts from “The Lone Ranger Creed,” according to Clayton Moore