Clayton Moore was the only Lone Ranger fans will accept

Time Before Now – September 1914 First term president, Woodrow Wilson, was promising U.S. neutrality as much of Europe was swept up in war following the assassination of  Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand  in June.  Henry Ford introduced the  eight-hour work day and raised worker’s wages to $5 a day, nearly double the average daily wage of $2.76 elsewhere.  Japanese-American, Makoto Hagiwara, manager of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park  Japanese Tea Garden, is credited with inventing the Fortune Cookie, now associated with Chinese cuisine.  Babe Ruth pitched his first professional baseball game in April and Charlie Chaplin introduced the Little Tramp character to movie goers in his second film, “Kid Auto Races at Venice.”

September 14, 1914

On this day, Hi Yo Silver himself, Clayton Moore, was born in Chicago.  While he appeared in more than 40 movies, his hundreds of personal appearances and 169 TV episodes as the Lone Ranger permanently fixed his persona with the public.

The youngest son of Charles and Theresa Moore, his father was a prosperous real estate broker.  Exceptionally athletic, (right) Clayton “joined the circus” at the age of 8 and by 20 appeared in his home town’s Century of Progress Exposition as a trapeze artist.  Moving to New York, he signed on as a John Robert Powers model.  The agency and its controversial founder were popular with Broadway and Hollywood hopefuls. 

It sort of worked for Moore.  He migrated to Los Angeles as a bit player and stunt man.  But his a giant leap forward came when the successful radio series, “The Lone Ranger” moved to television.  Begun on Detroit’s WXYZ-AM, the station was too small to afford network programing.   

Some historians  point to Western writer Zane Grey, as the original inspiration.  The famous author’s 1915 novel and perhaps is best know nbook,  “The Lone Star Ranger” is dedicated to the real life Texas Ranger, John R. Hughes. (Left)

After 16 years on the radio, Detroit lawyer George Trendle (left) of  Kunsky-Trendle Broadcasting Company, tapped Moore to be the mysterious masked man on TV.   The  actor trained his naturally baritone voice even lower to mimic the radio voice people knew so well.  With its distinctive William Tell theme music and his sidekick, Jay Silverheels as Tonto, the pair rode into the television annals as  the first western written for the young medium.  The series was the fledgling ABC Network’s first hit, premiering in 1949.

Silverheels, (left) a member of the Canadian Mohawk First Nation and the son of a Mohawk chief,  was born Harold J. Smith, a pedestrian name that failed to invoke his authentic heritage.  Silverheels, like Moore, was physically gifted, excelling in lacrosse and a boxer before turning to acting. 

As one of the most successful and best known native actors, Silverheels appear in more than four dozen movies and nearly 300 television episodes.  His role as Tonto, however, was his most memorable.

After two years of weekly episodes, Moore and the network reached an impasse over salary.  Moore left the series, changed his professional name to Clay Moore and made several westerns.  He was briefly replaced by actor John Hart.  Reportedly following a public outcry, Moore and the series’ producers came to an agreement.  He was rehired and played the part until its demise in 1957.

Moore loved being the Lone Ranger, making more than 200 personal appearances as the masked hero, often jointly with Silverheels.   It came to a troubled finale in 1979, however.  Owner of the Lone Ranger character, oil magnate and TV producer, Jack Wrather, (right) obtained a court order prohibiting Moore from appearing as the beloved masked man.  Not unexpectedly, it was a public relations disaster for Wrather, who also produced the popular series, Lassie and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.

Wrather, hoping to produce a new 1981 film version of the Lone Ranger, feared the public would expect the 65-year-old Moore to reprise his role.  “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” was a financial disaster.  Fans were further outraged when Klinton Spilsbury, (right) an actor known only for a few appearances in daytime soaps, was cast as their hero.  In addition, Spilsbury’s dialog was dubbed by film-maker James Keach, younger brother of Stacy Keach, Jr.  

Moore, however, found a silver bullet, substituting a pair of Foster Grant wrap-around sun glasses for the  signature black mask, successfully foiling the court order. He eventually prevailed in his legal battle with Wrather.

There appears to be no end of attempts to remake the legendary series.  The latest to lose money was the 2013 Gore Verbinski effort, “The Lone Ranger,” starring Armmie Hammond and Johnny Depp. (Right) It started off with a controversy over the casting of Depp in the role of Tonto.  While Depp claimed a smidgen of Native  American ancestry, it failed to move the needle either at the box office or with it’s critics.  

Apparently the originals still own the franchise.  Moore was inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 1990.  Linked so closely with the Lone Ranger, he is the only person on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to share his name with his character’s on the coveted star.  Moore died of a heart attack in 1999 in West Hills, California, at age 85 and is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

Jay Silverheels made a number of guest appearances in a variety of television series following the Lone Ranger’s cancellation and had a second successful career in harness racing and horse breeding.  He died in 1980 from complications of a stroke in Los Angeles at age 68.

Wrather, the man who sued the mask off the Lone Ranger, died in 1984.  He finally gave Moore permission to resume his personal appearances before his death.

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, 100 Texas Ranger Trail, Waco, Texas, tells the story of the state’s most historic lawmen and honors the best who have served from 1823 to 2004.  A second honor roll commemorates those who died in the line of duty.  The Homer Carrison Gallery, dedicated in 1968, houses more than 14,000 artifacts dating  from the founding of the service and one gallery pays tribute to the fictional character, The Lone Ranger. 

Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and military with ID, $4 for children 6 to 12 and children under 6 free.  The museum is open from 9 to 5 daily and the last guest is admitted at 4:30.  Gift shop hours are 9 to 4:30.  Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.  For more information go to, e-mail between 9 and 5, call (254) 750-8631 or write Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, 100 Texas Ranger Trail, Waco, TX 76706.

© Text Only – 2021 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.