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Lone Ranger Keepsakes Ride the E-Frontier

A mask, costume and other memorabilia of the '50s television hero are up for bidding on the Internet.

October 25, 2000|AL RIDENOUR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The felt on the leather in front has worn away, and you can see the back has been patched and touched up with dye. But the price isn't quite as shabby; $30,000 is the starting bid set by Sotheby's for the mask worn by Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger in the 1950s television series. Also on the block are hundreds of other props, wardrobe accessories and memorabilia from the estate of the late actor, who died at 85 in December.

If you don't have $30,000 or more to drop, there's a corral-full of lobby cards, posters and toys starting at well under $100. Better still, you don't even have to change out of your bathrobe to bid. It's all online, happening now through Monday at http://www.sothebys.amazon.com.

Dawn Moore, 42, only child of the late actor, says the mask was one of three preserved in a case in her father's den. "There were probably dozens made, but they got huge abuse: Fifty years of personal appearances and children tugging on them and rolling in the dirt and everything else."

Worn under studio lights or the desert sun, these masks were drenched in sweat, stretched and softened over the years, eventually conforming more exactly to the actor's facial structure. Of the three in her father's collection, the mask on sale is the most well-worn and comfortable, and therefore the actor's favorite.

A high roller looking for a Halloween costume could complement the mask with an authentic Lone Ranger outfit. The two-piece superhero-tight baby-blue ensemble crafted by Nudies Rodeo Tailors consists of a shirt with Robin Hood lacing at the collar and pants with Velcro tabs to make sure the masked role model never rode off into the sunset with shirttail flapping.

Boots and red neckerchief are included in this outfit's $30,000 starting bid, but you'll need at least an additional $40,000 for matching black-gun rig, and $6,000 for the Stetson. As of Tuesday, the fifth day of the auction, there are no bids on any of this costuming, though more moderately priced items are drawing plenty of offers.

"The nice thing is, there's a broad price range," says Moore. "My father wanted these pieces accessible to everyone the character touched and influenced." In particular, she says, that influence had a powerful effect on future law enforcement officers, many of whom sent the actor mail crediting him with their career choice. A flurry of early bidding on a collection of sheriff and police badges presented to the actor as gifts seems to point to this.

Moore says the fate of the memorabilia is something her father discussed frequently over the years. "I remember being 7 years old helping my father clean these gun belts and his boots. He'd say, 'You know, some day this is going to be worth a lot of money.' "

Today, Moore is West Coast sales director for Harry Winston Jewels in Beverly Hills and has more appreciation for worldly transactions. But despite her father's wishes, she found the process often painful deciding which items should go to auction, such as a set of small prompt cards used on promotional tours. Sewn into booklet form by the actor's wife, who died in 1986, Moore says, "It's something that has meaning for me because my mother helped with it.

"I did this sorting at a time when I probably should've stepped away from it a little and slowed down, but you know--there was just so much stuff!"

Like her mother, Moore helped her father prepare for appearances. Using a whip to clip a cigarette from someone's lips requires some preparation, and the Lone Ranger rehearsed in his backyard with his daughter. "There I'd be--10, or younger, with a cigarette in my mouth, and him with the whip," recalls Moore. "My mother would look out the window and get absolutely hysterical." The whip is included in the auction.

Also up for bids are items from Moore's five-year "prohibition period," during which the actor was forbidden to publicly don the mask, while Wrather Corp., which licensed the character, set about to recast another Ranger, Klinton Spilsbury, for a theatrical release. After Wrather's "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" crashed at the box office in 1981, Moore was allowed to set aside the brown-not-trademark-black gun rig, and the ski-goggle-style sunglasses substituting for the mask.

Media of that era may have joked that the aging actor galloping around the country as the embodiment of Truth and Justice had become quixotically confused, but, the actor's daughter says, "I guess the joke's on them," pointing out that Clayton Moore's earnest effort to influence children was balanced by something never allowed to come through in his role--"a tremendous sense of humor."

Nor was her father's home a memento-cluttered shrine to the past. Dawn Moore is quick to point out that the smaller trinkets on the block were largely gifts from fans that were kept in storage rather than on shelves. Now the items are at Sotheby's New York, where Moore had originally planned to spend the duration of the auction, but at the last minute, she changed her mind.

"It's what he wanted, but I don't need to go [to Sotheby's] and watch all the gory details. When it's over, it's over." And when that happens, Moore will still have quite a substantial collection of her own, including one of the three masks. And even without spending $30,000, you'll still have access to the third at the Smithsonian Institution, where it was recently donated.

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