Clayton Moore

'The Lone Ranger': Clayton Moore Made a Masked Man a Western Icon

The legend of the Lone Ranger has been a popular western story for decades, with various people playing the titular character on the screen over the years. There's something about the masked man with a dark past helping out the underdog as he fights outlaws and evil henchmen in the Wild West. The former Texas Ranger, the lone survivor of a massacre against his patrol, partners with a Native American, Tonto, to fight the good fight. There are masked heroes in various genres of film, but this masked vigilante has been a continuous classic since his debut.

The Lone Ranger was initially a radio series, created by producer George Trendle. His goal was to tell a story with a hero that was comparable to Zorro, Robin Hood, and the Texas Rangers. The radio show started airing in the '30s and was immediately a massive hit. So much so that Trendle decided to take his story to Hollywood to transform it into a TV series.

'Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!'

In 1949, actor Clayton Moore (adapted from his birth name Jack Carlton Moore) caught the studio's eye after his role in Ghost of Zorro. Moore had previously also appeared in Black Dragons and Jesse James Rides Again but had gotten his start in the industry as a stuntman. He was cast to play the title character in The Lone Ranger's debut on ABC with Jay Silverheels alongside him as his partner, Tonto. Viewers loved the duo who would yell "Hi-Yo Silver, away!" at the end of every episode after saving the day and riding off into the far frontier. The television series was the network's first major hit and the highest-rated show in the early '50s.

Unfortunately, there were some alleged contract disputes, and Moore was pulled from his role on the show. It's unclear what really happened as Moore refutes these rumors in his autobiography, I Was That Masked ManDue to the ranger mask, the studio assumed no one would notice the switch, and Moore was replaced with John Hart. After Hart's 52 episode run, Moore returned to the TV show as the masked rider from 1954-1957. Silverheels stayed in his role as Tonto throughout the entirety of the show's run.

Two motion pictures based on the show were also released with Moore and Silverheels reprising their signature roles —  The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958). In addition to personal appearances as the masked hero, Moore even reprised his character in an episode of the TV show Lassie.

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In 2013, Hollywood decided to revisit the classic story of the western hero and his Native American companion. The film starred Armie Hammer as the masked hero and Johnny Depp as Tonto. Putting Depp in makeup to play the role of a Native American didn't sit well with audiences. The film, directed by Gore Verbinski, was a massive flop at the box office, losing millions. It's probably in some Hall of Fame for the biggest flops of all we should probably all skip it.

Moore will always be considered the real Lone Ranger, the role he is still best known for. The character's name is even listed next to his own on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Chicago, Illinois native passed away in 1999 after suffering from a heart attack. At the time he was being treated in a hospital in West Hills, California in Los Angeles.

This article was originally published in March of 2020.

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