The Lone Ranger is a beloved character who has been around for over 80 years. There have been numerous spin-offs of the original radio show, and it was particularly popular in the 1950s. The Lone Ranger paired up with a Native American named Tonto to fight crime and pursue justice.
If you’re a fan of the Lone Ranger, there are several things you may not know about the show, the books, and other corresponding media. And remember how Johnny Depp took over the role a few years ago? We have some scoop on that too…
The Lone Ranger Started As A Radio Series
This photo is from July 21, 1958. Actor Clayton Moore spent four weeks in London on tour, and he is pictured posing as the Lone Ranger without his guns, which were held by British customs and Excise at London Airport. The Lone Ranger was characterized by his mask and his penchant for fighting outlaws in the American Old West.
The Lone Ranger first came on the scene in 1933 in a radio show. It was so popular, it was turned into a book series by Fran Striker and later a popular TV show as well as comic books and several films.
Loyal Listeners Could Get A Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring
Many radio shows in the 1930s would reward its loyal listeners with special prizes. They were usually children’s toys, such as deputy badges. But there was one special item that was particularly odd now that we look back at it.
Several years after World War II started, children of all ages clamored to get their hands on a “Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring.” You could remove the red base, which was a secret compartment, and the company assured parents: “The atomic materials inside the ring are harmless.”
Tonto Called The Lone Ranger Kemo Sabe, Which Means ‘Trusted Scout’ Or ‘Faithful Friend’
The origin of the Lone Ranger involves an ambush in which only one of six Texas Rangers survives. Then a Native American named Tonto happens upon the scene. He nurses one of them, John Reid, back to health. Tonto later gives John the name Kemo Sabe, which translates to “trusty scout” or “faithful friend.”
John decides to hunt down Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish, who is in charge of the outlaws that killed his fellow Texas Rangers, including his brother. John wears a domino mask of cloth from his dead brother’s vest to hide his identity.
There Were Strict Guidelines When It Came To The Lone Ranger’s Behavior
When creating the Lone Ranger character, writer Fran Striker and lawyer and producer George W. Trendle came up with several guidelines to describe his personality and his behavior. For example, the Lone Ranger always wore a mask and was never supposed to be seen without his mask.
Also, he used perfect grammar, avoided slang and colloquialisms, and almost never referred to himself as the Lone Ranger. Instead, he would present a silver bullet to anyone questioning his identity.
The Lone Ranger Rarely Battled Non-Americans
Most of the time, the Lone Ranger battled other Americans instead of minorities. This was to avoid conflict. However, when the Lone Ranger had adversaries that were foreign in nature, their nation of origin was usually not revealed. On one occasion, he helped a Mexican against French troops of Emperor Maximilian in several radio episodes.
Generally, unsympathetic characters were referred to by a nickname or a surname only. The writers tried to avoid using two names if possible.
The Lone Ranger Never Drank Or Smoked
The writers portrayed the Lone Ranger as a very wholesome character. He did not smoke or drink liquor. Whenever he appeared in saloon scenes it was often a cafe with waiters and food instead of bartenders and alcohol. In the 1980s, he would have been referred to as “straight edge” because he refrained from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
As for his criminal adversaries, these characters were never portrayed as being wealthy or glamorous. The writers didn’t want listeners, viewers, or readers to admire these types of people.
Tonto Means ‘Wild One’ But Something Completely Different In Spanish
Tonto first appeared in the 11th episode of the radio series. He was written into the show so the Lone Ranger had someone to talk to. WXYZ radio actor, producer, and director James Jewell came up with the name as well as the endearment Kemo Sabe, which was the name of his father-in-law’s summer camp.
The name Tonto is Native American for “wild one.” Tonto’s English was not very good because it was his second language. In Spanish, Tonto means “stupid,” so the name was changed to Toro in Spanish-speaking regions.
The Lone Ranger Acquired Silver After Saving Its Life
The Lone Ranger rode a mare named Dusty before meeting Silver. He saved Silver’s life from an angry buffalo, and the horse decided to give up its wild life in return for his favor. Tonto rode a horse named White Feller as well as one named Scout. One popular catchphrase was “Git-um up, Scout!”
Tonto also had an eagle named Taka in animated features that aired from 1966 to 1968. Several episodes included the Lone Ranger saying, “Fly, Taka! On, Scout!” before ending with, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”
Who Exactly Is The Lone Ranger Based On? Zorro? Robin Hood?
There are many possible inspirations behind the Lone Ranger. Many believe the character was based on Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes. He may also be based on the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River, Bass Reeves. According to the book “Black Gun, Silver Star,” Reeves was very famous during his career.
Reeves wore disguises, had a Native American sidekick, rode a white and grey horse, was an excellent marksman, and he gave out silver keepsakes. Still, others believe the Lone Ranger is based on Zorro or Robin Hood.
The Lone Ranger Is Related To The Green Hornet
The radio adventure The Green Hornet debuted in 1936 and starred a masked vigilante known as the Green Hornet. It aired on the same local Detroit station as The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger’s nephew was named Dan Reid. In The Green Hornet, the titular character’s father was named Dan Reid, so Britt Reid, the Green Hornet’s alter ego, was the Lone Ranger’s grandnephew.
The 1947 radio show episode “Too Hot to Handle” revealed the information after Dan said the family had a vigilante “pioneer ancestor” that he rode with in Texas. Then the Lone Ranger theme was played in the background.
The TV Series Was A Big Hit For ABC
Perhaps you’re most familiar with the Lone Ranger from the TV series, which aired from 1949 to 1957. The show starred Clayton Moore as the titular character and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The show was a massive success for ABC in the 1950s.
Moore’s portrayal of the Lone Ranger is probably the most famous. He left during the third season and was replaced by John Hart before returning to play the ranger again in the last two seasons. All of the show’s 221 episodes were filmed in black and white except for the fifth and final season.
The Theme Music Is Unforgettable
One of the most memorable things about the Lone Ranger is the theme music. The song is the March of the Swiss Soldiers, which is the finale of the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini. Because of its use in the swashbuckling TV show, the song is one of the most recognizable pieces in the classical canon.
The overture has been used repeatedly in both classical music and media. It’s been used in Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert as well as in cartoons that parody classical music or Westerns.
Clayton Moore Was Sued For Making Appearances As The Lone Ranger After The Show Ended
Clayton Moore starred in 169 of the 221 Lone Ranger episodes. In 1958 after the series ended, he started making personal appearances as the infamous character. He appeared on TV shows, commercials, etc. wearing the signature mask. His costar Jay Silverheels would appear alongside him occasionally.
In 1979, the owner of the Lone Ranger character, Jack Wrather, sued Moore so he would no longer make appearances as the Lone Ranger. Moore countersued, and Wrather eventually dropped the lawsuit in 1984. He died two months later.
Moore Completely And Fully Embodied The Lone Ranger Persona
Clayton Moore wasn’t just acting when he appeared as the Lone Ranger outside of the TV series. He took the role to heart and became inseparable with the character. In 2006, he was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with his character’s name next to his on the star: Clayton Moore — The Lone Ranger.
In 1982, Moore was inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame. Eight years later he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Jay Silverheels, A Canadian, Was An Excellent Lacrosse Player
Jay Silverheels was born in Canada and was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. His grandfather was a Mohawk chief. Silverheels was a very accomplished athlete who played lacrosse for the Toronto Tecumsehs as well as other teams in the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association.
While he was touring North America with his team in 1937, he was discovered in Los Angeles for his athletic abilities. He did a screen test and shortly afterward started stunt work and playing as an extra.
Silverheels Was Typecast After Appearing In The Lone Ranger
When he first started in Hollywood, Silverheels was billed as Harold Smith or Harry Smith, names he used as a lacrosse player. Silverheels initially started in low-budget features and westerns. His greatest and most memorable role was as Tonto in the Lone Ranger TV series.
After the show ended, he had trouble finding roles because he was typecast as a Native American. He became a salesman and bred and raced horses as a hobby. He and his wife had four daughters and one son. He died at age 67 in 1980 due to complications from a stroke.
There Have Been Six Lone Ranger Movies
Clayton Moore starred in two Lone Ranger movies: 1956’s The Lone Ranger and 1958’s The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold. In 1961, CBS made Return of the Lone Ranger, which starred Tex Hill and was intended to be the pilot episode for a TV series. The 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger was made by Wrather Corp.
The WB network aired 2003’s The Lone Ranger with Chad Michael Murray in the titular role with the aim of turning it into a TV series. However, it did not draw a strong audience. Johnny Depp starred in 2013’s The Lone Ranger as Tonto. The film was critically panned and didn’t perform well at the box office.
Depp’s Lone Ranger Film Nearly Included Werewolves
As you may recall, the Lone Ranger only used silver bullets, which reminded him of how precious life was. He would not fire his gun unless absolutely necessary. His bullets were also his calling card, so people would know who made the shot. The screenwriters of the 2013 Johnny Depp-starring film considered including werewolves in the script.
They thought the Lone Ranger and Tonto could battle the creatures in the Old West and kill them with silver bullets. Yet, somehow the script was not approved in this incarnation, according to ScreenCrush. We can’t imagine why.
The Rights To The Lone Ranger Have Changed Hands A Lot
In the 1930s, George W. Trendle owned the Lone Ranger and its affiliated characters through his company called The Lone Ranger, Inc. In 1954, Trendle sold the rights to producer and oilman Jack Wrather for $3 million. Thirty years later following Wrather’s death, his widow sold the rights to Southbrook International Television Co. for $10 million
In 1994, Broadway Video bought the rights to the Lone Ranger and then turned it over to Classic Media in 2000, which was acquired by DreamWorks Animation in 2012. NBCUniversal then acquired DreamWorks Animation (now DreamWorks Classics) in 2016 for $3.8 billion. The rights are now owned by Universal Pictures, which is a division of NBCUniversal.
Over 18 Actors Portrayed The Lone Ranger
This photo is from July 22, 1958. Actor Clayton Moore visited the Horse Guards on parade at Buckingham Palace during his stay in London, where he appeared on Children’s Television on BBC and radio programs.
As we noted earlier, The Lone Ranger started as a radio series. There were a total of 3,500 radio shows, two 15-chapter Republic serials, 221 television segments, and three theatrical releases. The TV series is still in syndication, and over 18 actors have portrayed the Lone Ranger in its various incarnations.
Clayton Moore Used To Be A Circus Acrobat
When he was a young boy, Clayton Moore performed in the circus as an acrobat. He even appeared as part of a trapeze troupe at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago in 1934. Afterward, he took jobs as a model before moving to Hollywood.
Once he moved to Los Angeles, Moore found more modeling jobs and some opportunities as a stuntman. It was at this time that he changed his name from “Jack Carlton Moore” to “Clayton Moore”.
Clayton Moore Was Called Up To The US Army Air Forces
During World War II, plenty of young men like Clayton Moore had a good chance of being called upon to serve in the military, regardless if they were starting their careers as a budding actor in Hollywood. Luckily, Moore was also able to continue his interest in film making while serving his country.
He joined the First Motion Picture Unit in the US Army Air Forces, putting together training films.
Moore Was Replaced In 1951 Over A Contract Dispute
While Clayton Moore might be the actor most associated with the Lone Ranger, he only originally wore the mask for a few years. He began his run as the character in 1949 before being replaced by John Hart in 1951 over what was rumored to be a contract dispute.
Moore returned to the character in 1954 after Jack Wrather bought the rights to The Lone Ranger for $3 million. The next few years saw the market over-saturated with material including several movies.
Universal Wanted To Make The Character More Hip
In 1978, Jack Wrather decided to sue Moore so he could no longer appear in public as the Lone Ranger. The court order barring Moore, however, might not have been Wrather’s idea.
By the end of the ’70s, Universal Pictures wanted to reboot the franchise and make the Lone Ranger younger and more hip. Having an actor in his 60s running around the country dressed as a vigilante cowboy. Moore described the incident as being slapped in the face.
Fans Stood Behind Moore
After being forced to take off the mask, Moore began wearing dark, wrap around sunglasses. He appeared on over 250 talk shows and quickly became the victim of the entire situation.
Moore’s biggest moment came in 1980 when he appeared on Real People after the story was shown. When he walked on-stage, the audience erupted in applause that lasted for his entire segment. Before Moore could say a word, producers had to cut to commercial break.
The Legend Of The Lone Ranger Was A Box-Office Bomb
With controversy still in the headlines, The Legend of the Lone Ranger was released in theaters in 1981. It starred Klinton Spilsbury in what should have been his breakthrough role. Unfortunately, the film bombs, essentially ending his upstart career.
In 1996, Clayton Moore wrote about the failure of the film in his autobiography, “many people expected me to feel smug and satisfied. But I would never wish failure on anyone.”
The Lawsuit Was Dropped In 1984
Three years after The Legend of the Lone Ranger bombed at the box office, Jack Wrather dropped his case against Clayton Moore. No explanation for the change of heart was given. Jack Wrather passed away one month later.
A letter set to Moore’s agent from Wrather read, “please be advised that Wrather Corporation hereby grants to Clayton Moore the rights to wear the Lone Ranger mask.” Finally, after a long six year wait, Moore was able to put his mask back on.
The Lone Ranger’s Mask Was Made From His Vest
According to one origin story of The Lone Ranger, his famous mask was made from a piece of his vest. After his entire group was killed, Reid was nursed back to health by Tonto, who agreed to help him seek vengeance.
To conceal his identity, Tonto took a piece of Reid’s vest and turned into a mask. And in that simple moment a new legendary hero and his sidekick were born.
Tonto Was “Retconned” Into The Ranger’s Origin
As you may remember, Tonto was introduced into The Lone Ranger in he show’s 11th episode. If that’s the case, though, how could he play such an important role in the hero’s origin?
Once Tonto became a fan favorite he was “retconned” into the ranger’s history. Writer’s backtracked their original origin and re-wrote it to turn Tonto into a major part. This kind of re-narration is more common in Hollywood then you might think!
Johnny Depp’s Casting As Tonto Was Not Well Received
When The Lone Ranger was made into a big budget spectacle by Walt Disney in 2013, Johnny Depp was cast as Tonto. It was a dream role for the actor, but one that came with heavy criticism.
Depp is a very small part Cherokee, and his involvement was shown as exclusive to actors who more fully embodied the heritage. To help settle down the rising swell, producers had Depp adopted by the Comanche Nation in a private ceremony.
The Character Has Appeared In Every Medium
Throughout the history of The Lone Ranger, the character has appeared in just about every entertainment medium possible. He began on the radio before transitioning to television and the movies. The ranger has also been turned into a Saturday morning cartoon and comic book series.
Not many characters have made as large of a cultural impact as The Lone Ranger has. One of the only other characters we can think of who has been so widely used is Superman.
Fran Stiker is credited by many as having created The Lone Ranger. The author wrote the books about the character, and created the following creed for the character to live by:
“I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one. That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world. That God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself.”
There Were Several Changed Made To The Final Season
As the final season of The Lone Ranger rolled around at ABC, Jack Wrather made several changes. The first major change was that the entire season was filmed in color. This turned out to a waste of money though, because ABC refused to broadcast it that way.
More action scenes were shot outside as well instead of on a studio lot. The final season also aired 39 episodes, which had become industry standard at the time.
Silver Is Important
The Lone Ranger uses a lot of silver. His bullets are crafted from silver to remind him about how precious every human life is. But how does he so easily have access to so much silver?
According to his origin, the ranger was an heir to a silver mine. Sounds pretty lucrative to us. Why would anyone ever get into law enforcement and vigilantism when they had a fortune like that?
The 2013 Film Bombed
After spending years in development and going way over-budget, the 2013 movie of The Lone Ranger bombed. Made an a reported budget of $215 million, the movie only made $89 million during its domestic run.
Critics weren’t kind either, with one writing, “Gallops across our skulls for two and a half hours, pounding them into the same kind of desert as that on screen: a barren flatland with occasional rearing outcries of rock.”