I think it was in the fall of 1953 when I first saw “The Lone Ranger” on the used 13-inch Philco TV my folks had recently bought. Most Saturdays we could get fair reception with the rabbit-ear antenna about half the morning, punctuated by those seemingly endless periods where the screen would darken and hissing static would all but wipe out dialogue.
Despite those handicaps of early TV, I managed to watch about all the episodes of “that masked man and his faithful Indian companion,” even those few where John Hart replaced Clayton Moore. Those were the days that marked what some call the golden age of television. Saturday morning shows such as “The Lone Ranger” and “The Adventures of Superman,” featuring George Reeves, were at the top of the list of things to do.
Today, 46 years later, actors Clayton Moore and George Reeves still command instant recognition from at least two generations of TV viewers. Reruns of “Superman” and “The Lone Ranger” have been regular fare through the 1980s and even in the 1990s. No other serialized shows that I can recall have had that kind of success, nor their stars the following of these two heros.
Tuesday, Moore died at the age of 85, probably taking with him the last of the legend that was the Lone Ranger. What did he leave behind? For many years, I have been embarrassed by the poor-quality black-and-white, simplistic dialogue and plot of the Lone Ranger episodes. Compared with westerns of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the Lone Ranger series was child’s play.
But there was something about the series that created a lexicon of its own. How often have we all heard the remark, “Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger”? How many Lone Ranger and “kemo sabe” jokes have been told? I am sure that reruns of those old serials still play somewhere in America, featuring a youthful and vigorous Moore and Jay Silverheels.
For all its naivete — the white stallion rearing up majestically as a mellow-toned announcer boasted of the fantastic character and exploits of this masked man dispensing justice and protecting the weak, the brace of nickel-plated Colts, the silver bullets, the “William Tell Overture” and, most of all, the black mask — the Lone Ranger and Clayton Moore remain fused as an American icon of fair play and sterling character. The Lone Ranger held himself to a higher standard than we have since seen in American movie entertainment.
Yet some laugh at this image and many are ashamed to admit they ever watched Moore and Silverheels.
The passing of the Lone Ranger from Saturday morning children’s entertainment was ushered in by slick but cynical westerns of a sophisticated age in which the good guys were barely distinguishable from the bad and were as likely to do a little justifiable homicide as the next character with which they shared the screen.
The Lone Ranger never killed anyone in the many episodes in which gunplay was featured. The masked man was above that and I am fairly certain that Moore was, too.
I have a few videotapes of “Lone Ranger” serials that I rarely watch. They were given to me as sort of a joke by my wife and daughter. But I am not above watching a few “Lone Ranger” episodes, should a producer somewhere decide it is time for that masked hero to ride again.
For all its corny qualities, the series and its improbable hero gave us children of the ’50s a character goal that I wish more people — actors included — would strive to reach today. Our newfound sophistication in entertainment has not served us nearly as well as this children’s drama from the golden age of Saturday morning TV and I, for one, will miss Clayton Moore.
John Hubbard is the NEWS religion editor. Those who surf the Internet may visit www.geocities.com/TelevisionCity/7286/home.html for a history of Clayton Moore and the legend he played. Another good site is www.outofthenight.com/moore2.html.