Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his "faithful Indian companion" Tonto.
Clayton Moore, Television's Lone Ranger and a Persistent Masked Man, Dies at 85
Hi-Yo Silver, Away!
By Richard Goldstein,, December 29, 1999
Clayton Moore, who grew up wanting to be a cowboy or a policeman and fulfilled both ambitions by playing the Lone Ranger on television, in the movies and at nostalgia shows, died yesterday at West Hills Hospital in West Hills, Calif.
He was 85 and was portraying the Masked Man long after his hair color perfectly matched his silver bullets.
Mr. Moore apparently suffered a heart attack at his home in Calabasas, a hospital spokesman said.
Some two dozen actors have played the champion of law and order in the Old West since the Lone Ranger first appeared on radio in 1933.
But Mr. Moore was the most visible kemo sabe (trusty scout, in Tonto talk). He was the Lone Ranger in 169 episodes of a popular television series that ran from 1949 to 1957, teaming up with Jay Silverheels, a Canadian-born Mohawk who played his faithful Indian companion Tonto.
Mr. Moore also got to call a hearty "Hi-yo, Silver, away!" over the strains of Rossini's "William Tell" Overture in two Hollywood movies, "The Lone Ranger" (1956) and "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold" (1958). And when television and the movies had enough of his Lone Ranger, he simply refused to relinquish the role and turned up in full regalia for rodeos, shopping mall shows, a pizza commercial and promotional stints with the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Who was that masked man?
He was born Jack Carlton Moore on Sept. 14, 1914, on the South Side of Chicago, the son of a real-estate broker. As a youngster he spent Saturday afternoons in Chicago's Devon Theater watching the serials.
"I would give anything to be up there on the screen with Ken Maynard, Tom Mix, George O'Brien, William S. Hart, Harry Carey Sr., so many wonderful cowboy heroes," Mr. Moore remembered in his autobiography, "I Was That Masked Man" (1996).
"Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said either, 'I want to be a policeman,' or 'I want to be a cowboy.' "
Mr. Moore embarked on a career in show business with a trapeze act at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago in 1934, then worked for modeling agencies in Chicago and New York. In 1937, he went to Hollywood and became Clayton Moore.
After roles in westerns and swashbucklers, he found his niche at Republic Pictures in the 1940's, starring in the kind of Saturday serials that had fascinated him as a youngster. He battled a gorilla in "The Perils of Nyoka," played the lead role in "Jesse James Rides Again" and was a tough guy in "G-Men Never Forget."
Mr. Moore also was the star of the 1949 serial "The Ghost of Zorro," playing the grandson of the original Zorro and donning Grandpa's mask to thwart a villain's schemes.
One mask led to another.
The broadcasting executive George Washington Trendle and the writer Fran Striker, who created the Lone Ranger for the Detroit radio station WXYZ in 1933, were searching around for an actor who could play the Lone Ranger when he moved from radio to television. After catching Mr. Moore in the Zorro film, they gave him the role.
A trim but broad-shouldered six-footer, Mr. Moore was a fine horseman and cut a handsome and commanding presence. But he lacked the kind of deep voice brought to the character by Brace Beemer, who had played the Lone Ranger on radio since 1941 and would continue in that role until the radio series ended in 1954. So Mr. Moore listened to recordings of his predecessor and practiced singing scales in an effort to match Mr. Beemer's properly sonorous tone.
"The Lone Ranger" made its debut on television on Sept. 15, 1949, the first western series ever produced specifically for television.
"Hopalong Cassidy" and other television westerns had been edited versions of movies originally shown in theaters.
The Lone Ranger returned television's first children's generation to "those thrilling days of yesteryear." Viewers learned that the Lone Ranger was the sole survivor of six Texas Rangers ambushed by the Cavendish gang and that he wore a mask so he wouldn't be recognized by the desperados. The opening of each episode had the white-hatted Mr. Moore taking Silver, the "fiery horse with the speed of light," through his paces.
Mr. Moore appeared on the television series every year except for one season -- September 1952 to September 1953 -- when the producers replaced him with John Hart, an actor who had been in earlier "Lone Ranger" episodes, often playing the bad guy. Mr. Moore said he received no explanation for why he was replaced and why he was returned.
In the later programs, in addition to being the Lone Ranger, he also appeared in secondary roles -- a comic Frenchman, a circus clown, a Mexican bandit and an Irishman.
When Mr. Moore took the Lone Ranger to Hollywood, Bosley Crowther, the film critic of The New York Times, observed that he displayed "passionate earnestness" although he "looks like a New Jersey state trooper, with more black leather around him than a motorcyclist."
When the Lone Ranger took his last ride on television in June 1957, Mr. Moore decided to continue as a career Lone Ranger, embarking on the personal appearances trail. Except for a role in one episode of "Lassie," he never played another character.
Two decades later, the Wrather Corporation, which had bought the rights to the Lone Ranger from Mr. Trendle in 1954 for $3 million, asked Mr. Moore to stop wearing his mask at public appearances. It anticipated hiring a younger actor, Klinton Spilsbury, for a new Lone Ranger movie and decided that America wasn't big enough for two Masked Men.
But Mr. Moore balked at removing the mask. "This country needs heroes, and there aren't many left," he said. "For many Americans, the Lone Ranger is a hero, and people don't want to see their heroes shot down." He went on talk shows and held news conferences to press his case and reported receiving 400,000 letters of support.
After the Wrather Corporation obtained a court order in 1979 restraining him from wearing the Lone Ranger's black mask in paid public appearances, Mr. Moore resorted to wearing sunglasses cut in the shape of a mask.
The movie that inspired the lawsuit -- "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" -- was released in 1981. It lost more than $11 million. Reviewing the film for The Times, Janet Maslin observed, "One measure of the movie's reckless wrong-headedness is the fact that no one even persuaded Klinton Spilsbury to do something about his name."
The early 1980's were a wrenching time for Mr. Moore. Jay Silverheels, who remained his friend long after their television series ended and who had run a workshop for Indian actors, died in 1980. His wife of 43 years, the former Sally Allen, died in 1986. Mr. Moore is survived by their daughter, Dawn Gerrity of Los Angeles, and by his fourth wife, Clarita Petrone.
In 1984, the Wrather Corporation, its Hollywood movie having come and gone, relented, and Mr. Moore was given permission to don his full regalia again at promotional appearances.
At age 70, the old kemo sabe could take off his sunglasses and wear his real Lone Ranger mask once more. He was thrilled.
As he put it: 'It's my symbol, it's the Lone Ranger, and if I may say, it's Americana. I guess when I go up to the big ranch in the sky, I'll still have it on."
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