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After 60 Years, the Lone Ranger Still Lives : Nostalgia: The Masked Man packs a wallop even today. A celebration in Lone Pine brings out fans and Clayton Moore, the TV actor who played the legendary hero.

June 12, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before fielding questions, Moore offered a personal tribute to Jay Silverheels, the Lone Ranger's "faithful Indian companion, Tonto," who died in 1980.

"I loved him very much; he was always there when I needed him," said Moore, noting that Silverheels, a full-blooded Mohawk from Canada, "was very proud of the Indian people. And believe me, ladies and gentlemen, the Indian race was extremely proud of their son, Tonto--Jay Silverheels!"

Moore--a Chicago native who worked briefly in a circus trapeze act and then as a model in New York before coming out to Hollywood in 1938--said that he received $50 every time he reared Silver on camera and "I made sure no other actor or double was going to rear the horse but old kemo sabe."

Wearing light-tinted glasses, a gold satin jacket and anaconda snakeskin boots, Moore also said that although he still owns guns, he can no longer spin them like he did during his cowboy heyday.

True to character, he warned parents in the audience, "Guns are dangerous, especially with little kids." At one point, he even recited the Lone Ranger Creed: "I believe in order to have a friend, a man must be one. . . ."

It was the Saturday evening outdoor concert in the rugged Alabama Hills--in the same spot where outlaws ambushed the Texas Rangers in the 1938 "Lone Ranger" serial--that provided the weekend's \o7 piece de resistance.\f7

Conductor James King's 28-piece CinemaSound Orchestra played selections from not only "The Lone Ranger" but also from other Republic Western movies and serials--pieces heard publicly for the first time \o7 sans \f7 dialogue, gunshots and other sound effects.

Unfortunately, it grew so chilly that nearly half the audience headed for the buses back to town by intermission. Even the black-outfitted B-Western tough-guy hero Lash LaRue, "the King of the Bullwhip," bailed out. (Moore, fans be assured, remained seated until the finale: the "William Tell" Overture.)

Rossini's stirring music provided the opening of "The Lone Ranger" from its start on radio in 1933, according to Holland, who grew up listening to the program in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1940s.

"I probably didn't know it at the time, but it might have been the best produced radio show, therefore the most realistic," he said. "When you listen to the shows today, you find the marriage of the music and the sound effects and the words has never been surpassed."

Holland said WXYZ radio station owner George Trendle was having trouble competing with the popularity of such network stars as Eddie Cantor and Amos 'n' Andy when he decided a new show was in order: "What happened was Trendle had run motion-picture theaters and he said, 'We never lost money with a Western, so what we have to do is create a Western radio show.' "

"The Lone Ranger" was an unexpected hit from the start. A few months after its debut, an offer of a free Lone Ranger popgun brought the station an avalanche of 25,000 letters within three days. One of Brace Beemer's personal appearances as the radio Lone Ranger reportedly drew a crowd of 130,000 fans.

The show remained in the Top 10 for years, Holland said, "and well into the 1950s, polls showed that more than half the audience was adults. It's only in retrospect, with people not knowing the history, that they assumed it was a children's show."

Holland said another misconception is that the famous Texas Ranger ambush scene, which prompted the legend of the Lone Ranger, originated on the radio show. Not true, says Holland. The ambush was written for the 1938 serial.

"The serial version took everyone's imagination so that it finally became the official version and is to this day," he said.

The exact ambush story varies in detail from the serial to the radio show to the TV series, Holland said, "but one thing remains constant through all the tellings: Outlaws ambushed a band of Texas Rangers. When the battle was over, all the rangers were dead. All but one. He was the only Ranger left. The lone survivor. The Lone Ranger. . . .

"God, I get goose bumps every time I say that."

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