Richard Hyatt: There is only one Lone Ranger

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJuly 19, 2013 

Walt Disney should have listened to the late Jim Croce who once warned the world not to pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger.

Had the studio listened, they never would have tried to pass some rich kid actor off as the daring and resourceful masked man of the plains or try and convince us that Jack Sparrow was his faithful Indian companion.

A movie version of this old TV series is floundering at the box office -- which is not shocking -- for my generation knows that the real Lone Ranger died in 1999, the year Clayton Moore was buried with a silver bullet in his hand.

The character was born on radio, continuing for more than 3,000 episodes. It came to television in 1949, when the medium was young and in black and white, and for 221 shows, the Lone Ranger galloped into our living rooms on a fiery horse with the speed of light.

For little buckaroos like me, it was an important chapter of our childhood.

With its return to the big screen have come reminders of how engrained this character became in our culture.

Early television was inundated with cowboys, but none had the mystique of a man with a mask and a sidekick who called him Kemo Sabe. Its theme song, "The William Tell Overture," was unmistakable, and even now viewers recite its stirring intro.

We watched him outwit the bad guys, but there was more to him than law and order. He lived by a moral code that we were too young to understand, though we were familiar with the Lone Ranger's Creed, a jingoistic doctrine that began with an admonishment that to have a friend you had to be a friend.

Moore, a journeyman actor, became the Lone Ranger on and off screen. Jay Silverheels was Tonto, though I now know his real name was Harold J. Smith. Moore made a career out of personal appearances and even went to court to defend his right to wear the mask.

The most telling example of the Lone Ranger's influence is also the funniest. Visit YouTube and check out a story comedian Jay Thomas shared with David Letterman.

As a young DJ, Thomas did a radio remote at a car dealership with guest star Clayton Moore -- complete with hat, mask and six-shooters. Thomas and his buddy were stoned and were driving the actor back to his hotel when they got involved in an altercation with a middle-aged driver.

"You backed into me," Thomas said.

The man denied it and said if police were called they wouldn't believe two hippie freaks.

But out of the backseat of Thomas' beat-up Volvo came the Lone Ranger. "They'll believe me, citizen."

And we always will.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at www.twitter.com/hyattrichard.

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