Most TV fans of a certain age know the answer to the question, “Who played the Lone Ranger?”
Those who say Clayton Moore are correct, at least partially.
There was another actor who played the Masked Man on “The Lone Ranger” television series, temporarily replacing Moore in the title role for 52 episodes beginning in 1952.
John Hart, 91, the handsome and athletic actor who also starred in the 1940s movie serial “Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy” and the 1950s TV series “Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans,” died Sunday at his home in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, said his wife, Beryl.
“He had dementia in his last years,” she said Tuesday, “but he was very happy living by the ocean. He used to surf this whole coast in the late ‘30s and after the war.”
A Los Angeles native who launched his Hollywood career as a bit player in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1938 film “The Buccaneer,” Hart played small roles in a string of films before he was drafted into the Army in 1941.
Relaunching his career after the war, he played the title role in the 1947 Columbia serial “Jack Armstrong: The All-American Boy,” which was based on the popular radio show.
Hart already had appeared in a couple of episodes of “The Lone Ranger” as a guest actor when Moore left the series, reportedly over a pay dispute.
“I don’t know how many other actors they looked at, but I got the part,” Hart said in an interview for the book “The Story of the Lone Ranger” by James Van Hise. “They didn’t pay me much, either. It was unbelievable. But being an out-of-work actor, to have a steady job for a while is great.”
Hart said each half-hour episode was filmed in two days.
When he began playing the role, Hart said in a 2001 interview with Tom Weaver for Starlog magazine, “I got a lot of bad advice about playing the part. I tried the bad advice for about one or two shows and then I said, ‘The hell with that; I’ll do it my own way.’ They wanted me to be like a stiff Army major, and it was all wrong. So I just forgot that and slipped into the part, and everybody loved it.”
For many “Lone Ranger” fans, Moore owned the iconic role, and Hart was placed in an unenviable position when he took it over.
“Tough job, but somebody’s got to do it,” said Boyd Magers, editor and publisher of Western Clippings, a western-film publication. “He walked right into it, and he played the Lone Ranger to the hilt. For those 52 episodes, he became the man behind the mask.”
Hart was no stranger to horses, having worked as a cowboy during the summers while growing up.
“He worked very hard with Silver, the horse, who had been spooked previously, and was very large and very hard to handle,” Beryl Hart said. “They hired him for a month to work with him.
“He said he could call Silver from one side of a corral and get him pounding toward him, this huge horse, and get him to stop on a dime right in front of him.”
After Moore returned to “The Lone Ranger,” Hart went on to star in the 1955 Columbia serial “The Adventures of Captain Africa.”
He also starred in “Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans,” a 1957 syndicated TV series shot in Canada with Lon Chaney Jr. as Chingachgook.
While shooting the series in Canada, Hart met his Canadian-born actress wife, then known as Beryl Braithwaite, when she landed a three-day acting job on the series.
Ten days later, the 20-year-old Braithwaite and the 39-year-old Hart were married.
Hart reconnected with “The Lone Ranger” when he played a newspaper editor in the 1981 movie “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” starring Klinton Spilsbury as the Masked Man.
Hart also played the Lone Ranger in a 1981 episode of “The Greatest American Hero” and in a 1982 episode of “Happy Days.”
Hart was born Dec. 13, 1917, in Los Angeles and grew up in San Marino, where his mother was a drama critic for the Pasadena Star-News.
A graduate of South Pasadena High School, he appeared in a number of shows at the Pasadena Playhouse before landing a Hollywood agent. After working on “The Buccaneer,” he was placed under contract at Paramount.
In the late 1960s, Hart became a filmmaker, producing educational, sales and travel films. He later supervised post-production on the TV series “Quincy, M.E.”
In addition to his wife of 52 years, Hart is survived by his daughter, Robyn Proiette.
Donations may be made to Rancho Del Nino Nueva Vida, a Rosarito Beach-area orphanage, through Cha Cha’s Angels at www.rosaritoangels.org.