Tuesday, September 15, 2015

MASKED RIDER OF THE SILVER SCREEN by Tom Rizzo



On this day, Sept. 15, 1949, The Lone Ranger—starring Clayton Moore, and Jay Silverheels as Tonto—premiered on ABC television and ran until September 12, 1957. Moore appeared in about 170 episodes between 1949 and 1957. 


Years ago, I met Moore to interview him after an appearance at a Columbus, Ohio, car dealership that paid him $275 an hour to “unmask” that year’s new car models. I knew the owner of the dealership and told him I would have done it for a hundred bucks.

“Appreciate the offer, but we’re trying to attract a crowd, not your friends and relatives.”

Hmm, touché.

Moore, born Jack Carlton Moore, September 14, 1914, grew up in Chicago and spent much of his youth practicing gymnastics. He eventually joined a trapeze act called The Flying Behrs at age 19.

Moore traveled to Hollywood in 1938 and found work in films as a stuntman and bit player. 


He appeared in a number of serials as well as B-westerns. After a serving in the military, he returned to Hollywood and took a number of supporting roles, mostly in westerns. 

According to IMDB, one of his movie roles caught the attention of George W. Trendle, who produced the successful Lone Ranger radio series. Trundle, in the process of casting the lead role, approached Moore to offer him the role.

“Mr. Moore, would you like the role of the Lone Ranger?”

“Mr. Trendle, I AM the Lone Ranger.”

If there was any hesitation about his confidence, his performance in this 1949 pilot for the Lone Ranger series quieted the doubters.  

The day I met the Masked Rider of the Plains, I spotted him standing on a riser surrounded by Lone Ranger fans. 


The aging actor wore the all-too-familiar Lone Ranger costume but, in place of the famous half-mask, he wore large sunglasses. 

“Before I say anything else,” he told the fans gathered inside the showroom, “I’m required by law to tell you that my name is Clayton Moore who used to portray The Lone Ranger.”

Later, during our interview, Moore couldn't mask his disappointment at losing the right to wear The Lone Ranger mask. 

The Wrather Corp., at that time, owned the rights to Moore's character and planned a feature film starring a younger man as The Lone Ranger

The issue ended up in court. Wrather won the argument that two Rangers would confuse the public. (Courts, movie producers, and politicians always seem to consider the public a bit feeble-minded and stupid in these kind of matters). 

During our conversation, Moore shook his head slowly as if still in disbelief at the disheartening turn of events.  


“Here's a company that said to me for all these years: 'as The Lone Ranger, don't to this, don't do that. Uphold the name of The Lone Ranger.' I've done that for 30 years. I have lived the part of The Lone Ranger.”


In what was believed a backlash of fan support for Moore, the movie flopped at the box-office, sort of giving Moore the last word. But, to his credit, he never displayed any public pleasure at the film's disappointing showing. 

In fact, in his 1996 autobiographyI Was That Masked ManMoore said he would "never wish failure on anyone,” displaying strict adherence to The Lone Ranger persona. Always a class act. 

Moore counter-sued, but the legal proceedings went on for years until Jack Wrather—without explaining why—simply dropped the case. Wrather died a month later. His widow Bonita sent a letter to Moore, in which she wrote: “please be advised that Wrather Corporation hereby grants to Clayton Moore the rights to wear The Lone Ranger mask.”

I remember watching Moore that afternoon at the dealership captivate his audience as he revealed the legend of the masked rider's origin. And, he was more than believable. 


"From a personal perspective, what kind of impact has the The Lone Ranger character made on you?"

He flashed a warm smile. "I'm sure the character I've been portraying has helped make a better person of me. More tolerant. More considerate."

For a second, I was skeptical and thought he might have been carrying the Lone Ranger persona a little too far. But I was wrong. Clayton Moore was the real deal. Genuine and steadfast in his beliefs. 

“Sounds like you’ve taken a page out of The Lone Ranger Creed," I said.

“I tell the truth,” he countered in a soft but firm voice. “Part of the Lone Ranger Creed is: I believe that everything changes on this earth but the truth. And it goes on forever.”

If I had any doubts about the sincerity of the role he cherished, I remember watching The Late Show with David Letterman one evening. One of his guests, Jay Thomas—actor, sportscaster, and writer—told a great story about Clayton Moore.





Thomas said he appeared on a radio show where Clayton Moore was a guest back in the early 70s. At the end of the broadcast, Moore's transportation to the airport didn't show up so Thomas agreed to give him a ride. 

Moore, still wearing his LR outfit—including mask—climbed into the back seat of Jay’s Volvo. Thomas and his producer—both of whom wore extremely long hair that was stylish at the time—sat up front. 

During a stop in heavy traffic, the driver ahead of them backed up and hit the Volvo and then took off. Thomas decided to give chase and finally caught up the guy. Thomas and his producer jumped out of the car and confronted the other driver. 

“What are you going to do?” the man asked. 

“We’re going to call the cops,” Thomas replied.

“Oh really. Who do you think they’re going to believe, you two hippie freaks or me?”

At this point, Clayton Moore climbed out of the backseat of the Volvo, approached the hit-and-run driver, rested his hands on the handles of his six-shooters and said,  “They’ll believe me, citizen.” 

When I left the interview and made my way out of the showroom, one of the salesman corralled me.


“This guy really thinks he’s The Lone Ranger,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper, rotating his eyes to the ceiling.

Obviously not a believer.

"Stranger," I said to him, feeling the need to provide cover for one of my childhood heroes, “he is The Lone Ranger.”

____

Tom Rizzo blames the The Lone Ranger, Durango Kid, Randolph Scott, Tim Holt, and Paladin for triggering his lifelong obsession with the American Frontier—and for convincing him that outlaws must face justice, no matter how many guns they carry or how high the odds. 
A novelist and naturally curious amateur historian, Tom’s new three-volume collection, Tall Tales from the High Plains & Beyond features dozens of quick-read true stories featuring characters and events of the Old West, crafted with a fictional technique that drops readers into the middle of the action. If you enjoyed the story above, please share it with your friends. And visit Tom's Blog and rediscover the Old West.










24 comments:

  1. Excellent article and a terrific subject, Thanks, Tom.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Enjoyed this anecdote, Tom, as usual! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. He WAS the Lone Ranger ... there never has been, never will be, another actor who can pull that off as well as he did!

    I'm as big a fan of Armie Hammer as the next guy, but he just wasn't as believable as Clayton Moore. The shoes were just too big to fill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You nailed it, JES, He indeed WAS the LR.

      Delete
  4. I was a Lone Ranger fan, but I also love Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, and any of those hero cowboys who always did the right thing and acted like a gentleman at the same time. That's my definition of a good man, one who is also a gentleman. Thanks for this story about interviewing Clayton Moore. The "insider" look was great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Celia, they all shared the "likability" factor that made them so popular.

      Delete
  5. I did a Ben Johnson Pro-Celebrity rodeo back in '90 in Burbank with Clayton. Believe me there was an aura around him. I was totally in awe just to be around him...and to tell the truth, so was Ben and everybody else.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well put, Ken. He did have a certain "aura" that made you feel good just being around him. A rare quality.

      Delete
  6. Great article, Tom! I don't wish to take anything away from Clayton Moore who did an excellent job as LR. But I believe that he tried, to some extent, to copy the speech patterns of Brace Beemer, radio's Lone Ranger.
    Jim Meals

    ReplyDelete
  7. That's entirely possible, Jim. If so, he did it in his off-stage voice as well. His natural conversational tone was identical to that of his character...But then again, so was Ben Johnson's.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well done, Tom. Because the job description is “acting,” not all cinema good guys carried their screen personas into their real lives. Even a few of the white-hatted heroes of our favorite western films, sometimes, left their scripts on the set and lived black-hatted lives. Clayton Moore understood the value of his series’ message concerning the choice of right over wrong, good over evil. Moore really was a great role model for American youth, as were William Boyd and Tim McCoy, among others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Darryle. Moore did indeed understand the "message," as you so aptly put it.

      Delete
  9. Excellent post, Tom. Quite simply, he was the Lone Ranger and he had a huge impact on many young lives. He certainly drew me to the western genre.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely a huge impact, Keith. Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  10. Tom,

    In this world living a clean life, telling the truth, standing up for right and doing no wrong is a rare thing indeed.

    Who does that today? Sadly it seems, not very many.

    Look at all these comments! Could be Mr. Tom Rizzo has his own fan base!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes, Charlie--sort of a takeoff on "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." Some still buy into it; others have lost their way.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Replies
    1. Glad to hear it, Daniel. Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  13. Tom,
    Such a wonderful piece that caused a rush of amazing emotions and memories from my child hood. Great work and thanks for sharing. And yes, he is the Lone Ranger and forevermore shall be. Stay safe, -Shane

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shane, great childhood memories trigger such great emotions. He definitely is the Lone Ranger, citizen.

      Delete
  14. Hello
    un interview fort intéressant d'un héros de mon enfance
    MERCI
    So long

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello
    un interview fort intéressant d'un héros de mon enfance
    MERCI
    So long

    ReplyDelete