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Clayton Moore, TV's 'Lone Ranger,' Dies

Obituary: Actor's identification with the masked hero long outlasted the series.

December 29, 1999|STEPHANIE STASSEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The TV show adopted the opening lines made famous by the radio show, dramatically delivered by a basso announcer accompanied by the rousing "William Tell Overture":

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi-yo, Silver.' The Lone Ranger.

"With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again."

Moore starred in 169 half-hour Lone Ranger television shows and two feature films, "The Lone Ranger" (1956) and "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold" (1958).

But the end of the show did not mean the end of his identification with the character.

Years later this was to get him into legal trouble when the Wrather Corp., which owned the rights to the Lone Ranger, decided to resurrect the masked man in a movie. Moore, then 65, apparently was considered too old for the role.

The corporation obtained a court order in 1979 preventing Moore from appearing at public functions as the Lone Ranger, apparently so the role's identity could be transferred to Klinton Spilsbury, star of the movie the corporation was making: "The Legend of the Lone Ranger." The film, released in 1981, was a box office flop, and Moore tenaciously pushed on with a personal crusade to regain his adopted identity.

Moore's fans wrote letters to newspapers. The city councils of several towns passed resolutions favoring him. A five-year court battle ensued, and in late 1984, the corporation backed down, allowing Moore to exchange a pair of very dark, mask-shaped sunglasses for the traditional black mask. Moore rarely allowed anyone to photograph him without his mask.

He spent his retirement years touring the country as the Lone Ranger, appearing in parades, at county fairs and at shopping mall openings. Like the Lone Ranger, Moore said he didn't drink, smoke or swear.

The actor had dreamed of doing one more movie, giving him the chance to hand over his mask to a younger man and ride off into the sunset with a last "Hi-yo, Silver."

Ironically, after his many years attending public events, the octogenarian Moore became something of a recluse in his Calabasas home. "I'm retired from that. I've done all my personal appearances," he told The Times by phone in 1994, refusing any more face-to-face interviews. A party celebrating his 80th birthday on Sept. 14 that year was strictly private.

Moore's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, placed in 1987, is the only star that includes the name of the actor and his major character. Moore was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1990, and twice won a Golden Boot Award created by western second banana Pat Buttram to benefit the Motion Picture & Television Foundation. Moore's family asked that any memorial donations be made to that foundation to benefit the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital.

Thrice married, Moore is survived by his wife, Carlita, and daughter Dawn Moore Gerrity. Services will be private.

"I never want to take off this white hat again," Moore once said, ever in his Lone Ranger persona. "When I take off to that big ranch in the sky, I still want to have it on my head."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A Ranger's Creed

I believe:

*That to have a friend, a man must be one.

* That God put the firewood there, but every man must gather and light it himself.

* That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.

* That sooner or later, somewhere, somehow, we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.

* That all things change but truth, and that truth alone lives on forever.

*

--Excerpts from "The Lone Ranger Creed," according to Clayton Moore

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