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49 Years of Anonymity Fighting Ignominy

April 09, 1998|JOAN FANTAZIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Lone Ranger" isn't the hippest TV western ever made. The first installment--in black and white, of course--was made nearly 50 years ago, after all.

There's no clever banter. The Ranger, who uses perfect grammar and enunciates as deliberately as a foreign-language tape, never shoots to kill--only wound, so he can bring the lawbreakers to justice. He looks pretty silly in his disguise, and some of the coincidences that move the story along are laughable. Not very '90s.

Nevertheless, this hokey old thing remains remarkably watchable, which is why TV Land is having a "Lone Ranger" marathon Saturday from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. It starts with "Enter the Lone Ranger," from 1949, which shows who that masked man is and begins with a voice-over: "This is the story of one of the most mysterious characters to appear in the early days of the West. He was a fabulous individual. . . ."

In this first episode--which is tied to the second and third--a detachment of six Texas Rangers is lured into a canyon and ambushed by the Cavendish gang. One of the Rangers, John Reid (Clayton Moore), is left for dead but drags himself to safety, where he's found by an Indian, Tonto (Jay Silverheels), who recognizes Reid as a boy who had once come to his aid.

Tonto (who seems to have buried the Rangers' bodies without getting dirty) nurses Reid to health, and Reid decides to be a masked force for law and order and call himself the Lone Ranger.

In the next episode, the pair find Silver, a wild horse who's about to be gored by a buffalo; establish a home base--Reid's silver mine (where they get their money and silver bullets); and tangle with Cavendish. In the third, they bring in Cavendish.

Marathon highlights: A baby-faced DeForest Kelley ("Star Trek") guest stars as a rancher in 1949's "Legion of Old Timers," at 6:30 p.m. John Hart--who would later become the Lone Ranger temporarily while Moore was gone in a pay dispute--appears in "Rifles and Renegades" at 11:30 p.m. At 2 a.m. is the show's first color episode, from 1956, and at 2:30 is the series' final episode, first broadcast in 1957.

DETAILS, DETAILS: What is the link between the characters the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger? Answer next week. The answer to last week's quiz (What early '60s police drama did Leslie Nielsen star in?): "The New Breed" (which co-starred John Beradino, later of "General Hospital").

Set your VCR

Mr. Carlson's Thanksgiving promotion idea goes hilariously wrong on "WKRP in Cincinnati" (Tuesday at 7 p.m. on KDOC Channel 56). Oh, the humanity!

Is it "Barnaby Jones" or "Cannon"? In a series crossover, it's Barnaby Jones (Buddy Ebsen) on "Cannon" (Monday at 4 p.m. on KDOC Channel 56). Betty Jones (Lee Meriwether) shows up too.

Will Smith leaves his tough Philadelphia neighborhood to live with his rich relatives in Bel-Air in the pilot of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (today at 6:30 p.m. on KTLA Channel 5).

Why does it matter that Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen appear on the "Lucy Show" (Monday at 11:30 a.m. on KDOC Channel 56) in which Lucy and guest star Carol Burnett get their stewardess wings? Rogers and Arlen starred in "Wings," the first best picture Oscar winner.

Parts one and two of the eight-hour Franco Zeffirelli miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977), with Robert Powell, Olivia Hussey and Anne Bancroft, air Sunday at 7 and 9 p.m. on the Family Channel. Parts three and four will be shown Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Ellen Burstyn appears in a "Perry Mason" (Tuesday at 3 a.m. on KTTV Channel 11) from 1962, when she was known as Ellen McRae.

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