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Those thrilling days of yesteryear

In Children and Family, Entertainment, Media, Movies, National News, Opinion, sociology, television, Uncategorized on July 9, 2013 at 8:39 am

DIH LOGOThe Lone Ranger first debuted in 1933 from the studios of WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan. Created by station owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker, the character is said to have been based on the exploits of Bass Reeves, a real life federal peace officer who worked in Indian Territory during the late 1870s. Accompanied by his trusty Indian sidekick, Tonto, and themed by the thrilling rhythm of Gioachino Rossini’s operatic William Tell Overture, The Lone Ranger became an immediate success.

By the time that last surviving ranger hit the airways Wild West lore had been incredibly popular for more than two decades, particularly in dime novels, on the radio and in traveling shows. Originally aimed at children, it is estimated that more than half the audience for the program were adults, many of whom had grown up with stories about western legends like Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

Unlike his historical counterparts who clearly had bad sides to their character, The Lone Ranger would be the ultimate good guy, with a mask to both maintain his anonymity and help confound corrupt government officials as to his true nature. In order to keep continuity for the character, the original writers created a set of guidelines that established who and what The Lone Ranger is meant to be. Some of the guidelines were a little silly, but others far ahead of their time.

For example, one of the rules stated that the Ranger would never be pitted against an adversary who was not American so as to avoid criticism from minority groups. In other words, it was already practicing political correctness. Another said that he could never drink or smoke and any “saloon” scenes had to be portrayed as cafes with waiters serving food instead of bartenders pouring drinks. One of the most interesting was a rule that stated he would always use perfect grammar and diction, devoid of slang and colloquialisms.

Many people who remember those days believe that actor William Conrad, star of the 1970s P.I. show, “Cannon,” was the original voice of The Lone Ranger on radio, but that is not so. In fact, Conrad voiced another famous western lawman, Gunsmoke’s Marshall Matt Dillon.

In 1949, the show made the ultimate leap from radio to the fledgling technology known as television, with Clayton Moore donning the famous mask and Native American actor Jay Silverheels as Tonto. After eight seasons on ABC, two of which with a different actor in the lead role, the show was cancelled in 1957. A year later, a theatrical feature was released starring the TV actors in a new adventure but the demand for the masked man never quite returned to its former pitch, though a couple of other failed attempts were made to return him to both the theatre and the small screen.

In 1981, a big screen version of The Lone Ranger was met with the harshest of criticism and dismal box office receipts. The movie failed partly because it was just a bad film, but mostly because the producers sued former star, Clayton Moore, to forbid him from wearing the signature mask in public appearances. Who says there’s no such thing as bad press?

The most recent incarnation of the Masked Man hit the silver screen this summer as a tongue-in-cheek Disney flick featuring Armie Hammer as Ranger John Reid (The Lone Ranger) and Johnny Depp as his trusted Indian partner. Unfortunately the campy tone that worked so well for Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean series falls flat in this film, detracting from the nature of the characters and overshadowing the story.

Disney had the opportunity here to introduce two beloved characters of Americana to a new generation. But, instead of using the elements that made the show a success originally, they changed the formula and merely created another summer flop from a classic franchise. Hopefully, The Lone Ranger has not forever ridden off into the sunset and will get another chance to let audiences experience, “a cloud of dust and a hardy ‘Hi-Yo Silver!’”


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