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New Proof of 1955 Lone Ranger "Color" Origin Film Brings More Mysteries

AZ Western Film Historian. Fellow of Arts @ Scottsdale's Museum of the West. Apacheland Wall of Fame & Spirit of the West Alive recipient.

Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels


Hardly seen today, this 1949 original Lone Ranger opening has a lot of things to notice. Watch the mask.

Abbreviated version of original. This one became the usual lead-in.

From silver screen to the tube

When the baby boomers of today, Medicare recipients or soon to be, were children many went crazy over fictional characters coming into their home on television. Characters like The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and Hopalong Cassidy were hold overs from the last 20 years of the silver screen B westerns. Except for “Hoppy” none at that time were in the same class as Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. But that was soon to change.

On radio The Lone Ranger had been played by several actors. The actor most associated with the radio character, Brace Beemer, voiced the character from 1941 until the end of the radio show in 1954. While June of 1949 saw the premiere of heavily edited versions of Hopalong Cassidy films on TV, the honors for the first expressly made episodic television western series belongs to The Lone Ranger, which premiered in September that year.

By the time the television show began most of the origin story was in place. Butch Cavendish and his gang ambush the rangers leaving only Dan Reid’s younger brother to avenge their deaths and become the “Lone” Ranger. The origin story would be tweaked from time to time - especially the ranger’s relationship with Tonto; 30 years later the ranger was officially given the first name of John on screen - but the underlying story has remained the same. The television show set on film what basically would be the template for everything that followed; discounting the two Lone Ranger serials by Republic Pictures; Republic was notorious for changing their serials to fit their whims.

Today it’s hard to imagine a TV series running for 78 continuous episodes before taking a break, but that’s exactly what was done for The Lone Ranger. The original 78 would air twice before new episodes began. This means that these 78 episodes ran for two full years before any new segments for the 1952 third season where shown. When The Lone Ranger returned with 52 new episodes the audience noticed that something was very different about the ranger?

1st season episode with Clayton Moore. Notice that the 1956 color lead-in has now been altered to make it the official opening for 1949 to 1957.

3rd season episode with John Hart. Hart said that Silver and Scout didn't get along. To avoid confrontation between the two mounts he and Silverheels would do

Clayton Moore's autobiography "I was that Masked Man." This is straight from the ranger's own mouth.

Color lead-in that was "altered" for use on shows prior to 1956.

Clayton Moore and John Hart


No one will notice a change in the Masked Man…will they?

What happened to the masked man? What changed? Unless he was in disguise to catch a criminal, as Clayton Moore did from time to time, he was never seen without his mask. The producers hoped the audience wouldn’t notice the big switch in the ranger but fans couldn’t be fooled. This clearly was not the Lone Ranger they had grown accustomed too over the last two years.

As the story goes, John Hart was signed to play the ranger after Moore asked Trendle and producer Jack Chertok for more money. In his autobiography, I Was That Masked Man, Moore denies the split was over money. What he does say is that Trendle intended to replace him at least one year prior to his dismissal. Moore’s reasoning was that Trendle was very possessive of the ranger and didn’t like anyone else being so closely associated with the character in the public's view. Moore contends that the larger mask was in preparation of firing him. The time frame and reasoning for the mask enlargement and Moore’s release doesn't make sense unless Trendle took an instant dislike to him. For the first 6 episodes of the first season the mask is much smaller and does not cover the entire bridge of the ranger's nose. With episode seven, Pedro and Pete, the larger mask is in full view. I talk extensively about this in my book, Riding the Hollywood Trail II: Blazing the Early Television Trail; I found the chapter on the Lone Ranger the most interesting to research and the one that caused the most debate. As proved by this very article, I still obviously have somewhat of an obsession with this show and will no doubt hear from others who have their own notions.

So what exactly does "Kemo Sabe" mean?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. In the television series, what did Tonto (Jay Silverheels) say Kemo Sabe meant?
    • Masked Friend
    • Trusted Ranger
    • Trusty Scout
    • Avenging Knight
    • Brother from Another Mother

Answer Key

  1. Trusty Scout

Interpreting Your Score

If you got 0 correct answers: I had no idea that John Hart wasn't Clayton Moore?

If you got 1 correct answer: I even know that Britt Reid, the Green Hornet is related to the ranger.

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It’s not the size of the mask, but who wears it.

By 1953, George W. Trendle was in the market to sell the Lone Ranger franchise. Looking at the ratings told him the truth about his creation; not just anyone would be accepted wearing the mask no matter how big you make it.

Nielsen ratings for 1950 - 1951 episodes proved to score high, #7 in overall popularity, the first hit for ABC . The rating sank to #18 for the 1951 - 1952 season, this is where the Moore repeats began to appear, so this can't be blamed on Hart. John Hart's episodes began running in September of 1952, concluding in September of 1953. The rating for that season had dropped to #29. Trendle obviously could see from the failing ratings that he would get a better price with Clayton Moore behind the mask instead of John Hart. Moore was back by season four and once again all was right in "Rangertown."

Clayton Moore's claim that his dismissal was due to fans associating him too much with the character, making Trendle a bit jealous, sounds pretty reasonable to me. Money could have come into play later. To be fair, replacing a popular actor is never easy when the audience gets used to someone in a certain role. Which Darrin did you like in Bewitched Dick York or Dick Sargent? I'll bet most will say, the first one, Dick York. What would you say if I told you Dick Sargent was originally asked to play Darrin but had to turn it down? In that case which would you have liked? The more subdued Sargent or the manic York? Can you imagine replacing George Reeves on TV as Superman two years into the run?

John Hart in Happy Days (top photo) Greatest American Hero (bottom photo). I was told once that Hart wore the very first mask in Happy Days. Couldn't have been,


Did George Trendle Sabotage John Hart's Lone Ranger?

Looking back on the whole third season it seems that Trendle may have realized he had made a mistake in allowing producer Jack Chertok to let Clayton Moore go and began undermining Hart's tenure. There are plenty of signs making the case for this and showing that the blame shouldn't all fall on Hart nor did he really have a chance in the role.
The 1952 theatrical release of The Legend of the Lone Ranger a nearly 75 minute film, cleverly edited from the first three 1949 origin episodes and not to be confused in any way with the 1981 film, couldn't have help erase the thought of Moore. The same year Trendle gave CBS the rights to run Moore's earlier episodes on Saturday mornings, thus competing with Hart's ABC first run prime time series. Then there's the lead-in to each new John Hart episode. Each week it was still Clayton riding Silver up to what would become known as "Lone Ranger Rock."
Looking at the facts it's evident that John Hart was indeed the "official" Lone Ranger on ABC, but with a film in neighborhood movie theaters, reruns once a week on CBS Saturday mornings and, probably more subliminal then apparent, there was Moore riding Silver at the beginning of every new ABC episode. It indeed would appear there was no push to eradicate the memory of Clayton Moore. Hart was not given much of a chance. 52 episodes were filmed two per week, with one week off in between; one year as the ranger not including reruns. This means that by the time the show started repeats of John Hart's episodes Clayton Moore was already back behind the still quite large mask.
One other point concerning the lead-in at the top of the show. Was there ever one filmed with John Hart? Is there one floating around out there? That would be another find if there were. When Clayton Moore was firmly back where he should have been all along, Hart's 52 episodes were stored away where they would not see the light of day for almost 30 years; when released it was quite a surprise to many fans to find out there had ever been another Lone Ranger on the program. Hart would make guest appearances representing the Lone Ranger on both The Greatest American Hero in 1981 and Happy Days in 1982. One other brush with the character came in the 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger - no comment on the film - playing a character named in honor of Lone Ranger co-creator Fran Striker, here renamed Lukas Striker. Finally, Hart got some recognition for his time with Tonto.

Jay Silverheels appearing with radio's Lone Ranger, Brace Beemer. By now even Tonto might be saying "Who really IS that masked man?


Are you familiar with the Masked Men of film"

Where is the Tex Hill pilot?


The mystery of the unseen pilot?

One of the most confusing tales in the Lone Ranger saga is that of the Tex Hill pilot that was said to have been filmed in 1961. All that can really be researched on this pilot says much the same thing:

"An attempt by CBS to revive the series in 1961, Return of The Lone Ranger, did not get past the pilot stage. The Lone Ranger was played by Tex Hill in the pilot."

It seems very strange that Jack Wrather would have any wish to do a new series so close after the ABC series left the air in June of 1957. The reruns were successfully running in daytime slots on both ABC and NBC until September of 1961. Maybe CBS felt left out and wanted to jump on the bandwagon.

Tex Hill was a very interesting character who would show up at western festivals to sell his self produced "westerns," really just cheaply produced videos using anyone who wanted to be in his productions. Sometimes he would be dressed in his Lone Ranger outfit, which by this time had been altered a bit I'm sure. Unfortunately this was in the early 1990's and I was just starting down the road as a western film historian and had no knowledge of Tex Hill's ranger relationship. One of those lost moments of which I've had a few.

The real Lone Ranger?

Was there really a Lone Ranger?

It’s appropriate that there is such an air of mystery about the Lone Ranger. Although it’s a fictional character there are even rabid fans who argue that John Reid is not the ranger, believing through their research that it was actually Dan Reid himself who survived and became the masked man. There are people who contact me and say I’m not correct on researched issues and that the Official Lone Ranger Fan Club is also wrong on many of their findings.

The Lone Ranger appears to mystify Hollywood as well. When it was announced that one of the subplots in the 2013 film would involve werewolves the fans revolted and it was taken out. Why can’t they seem to get the story right on screen for each new generation? This includes 1981, and the 2003 television pilot where teenager Luke Hartman was the ranger. Is the original simply a product of it’s time to enjoy as a classic and leave it at that? I enjoyed the 2013 version for what it was, entertainment. But it wasn’t the Lone Ranger’s story, it was Tonto’s and the special effects department.

Now, however, it’s been pretty much proven that there really was a basis for the Lone Ranger. Bass Reeves, one of the first black Deputy U. S. Marshals west of the Mississippi River, seems to have had many of the same characteristics as the masked man. Maybe it’s his turn to be recognized for his contribution. He’s recently been covered on several television biographies and a new film project is also in the works.

James Cagney (or double) as the Oklahoma Kid (1939), at the rock. Horse rearing 10 years before Silver. Could this have been inspiration?


Not Only the Mask Changes.

The opening credits showing the Lone Ranger and Silver galloping along the trail as the ranger shoots at some unseen foe had me stumped for a great while. Upon examination there was something peculiar, out of sync, about how the piece fits together. The answer is quite simple; it's the same opening from the 1956/57 season now altered to black and white to fit every episode going back to 1949. Looking closely you'll see that Clayton Moore will always look like an older ranger in the lead-in no matter what season. It also appears that no one really notices or cares, except for trivia purposes, about the size changing mask after all it had been doing that in reused footage for years.

Lone Ranger Rock today (dead center of picture). That's progress?


Positively the Last Word . . . for now.

Of course the dead give away to the lead-ins is the location. The early lead-in begins in Lone Pine before switching to Lone Ranger Rock which is located in Chatsworth, California, once location of the Iverson Movie Ranch. The 1956 version now seen was shot totally in the Iverson Ranch area.

There's one more mystery that has caused quite a bit of controversy and that's the debate over a 1955 color origin remake with Moore and Silverheels. The fan club insists it is out there somewhere. Many people insist they have seen it, including yours truly, but I cannot remember where I've seen it? Videos pass by me all the time and I see them once and move on. After some further investigating, my conclusion is that what we probably remember seeing as a new color version of the origin story is probably the opening of the 1958 film The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, (1958) which retold the origin story in vivid color and song at the beginning of the film.

Although proof has turned up there was indeed fresh footage shot in 1955 for an origin film, The Lone Ranger Rides Again, a closer look at the IMDb site for this supposed color film shows flaws in the claim; especially when comparing the exact same cast and crew to the earlier black and white Legend of the Lone Ranger from 1952. The new footage, not in color, is more than likely just the added prologue and epilogue to the 1952 tele-film. The whole project was then cut to an hour and repeated in '56, '57, and '58 as The Lone Ranger Story. The different air dates and new title may be a reason for confusion as well. The whole project was then cut to an hour for the television run. This is now available on the DVD, The Lone Ranger Double-Barreled Feature, which also has the film version of Republic Pictures' 1938 Lone Ranger serial, Hi-Yo, Silver.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I would really love for a 1955 color origin film to show up in someone's vault or tucked away in a closet or under a bed, but until then I have to go with the conclusion that it's just faulty memory...

Nonetheless, I have some very insistent people who won't let me forget about this. I have just as many who want me to give up? Those are the ones that make me want to keep looking for answers.


EXTRA! EXTRA! Further Proof of 1955 Origin Film?

****This just in**** The newspaper articles I have attached are proof that Jack Wrather, the new producer, was shooting a new origin special; nothing says it was in color, although the timeline would make it probable.

The article says it's a co-production between ABC and CBS, but also leaves us with more mysteries that go unanswered? For example, the only origin film found to exist is the one pieced together from the original Trendle/Chertok series. We can see that extra footage has been shot for a prologue and epilogue. In the article, however, it leads the reader to believe that Wrather is telling the reporter that he's going to retell the origin all over again.

However if you read the way the article is written it could be taken two different ways. Here's what it says (2nd paragraph), read it a few times: "Idea of the pic, produced as the original half hours by Jack Chertok was to tell the entire history of how the Lone Ranger became the Lone Ranger all over again." Upon first reading it gaves the impression that it would be a whole new film, upon reading it a few more times you begin to think they may be talking about the original origin film, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, which was edited from the original three 1949 episodes?

What really muddies the water is the listing marked, "this is on page 302 8th edition feature films." Clearly listed is a 70 minute Wrather production shot in color named, Lone Ranger Rides Again. So here we go again!

Purists refuse to acknowledge "John Reid" as the Lone Ranger's official name?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Why do so many "Lone Ranger Purists" refuse to acknowledge John Reid as the Lone Ranger's given name
    • It was first used on film in a John Hart episode, 'nuff said.
    • It was first used on film by Klinton Spilsbury in the 1981 movie which many consider a mistake.
    • The name is credited to the 1961 pilot with Tex Hill which can't be found
    • Clayton Moore disavowed the name because he never used it

Answer Key

  1. It was first used on film by Klinton Spilsbury in the 1981 movie which many consider a mistake.

Interpreting Your Score

If you got 0 correct answers: Welcome to the Klinton Spilsbury Fan Club. Dues statement will be sent to you.

If you got 1 correct answer: Welcome to the "Kemo Sabe Club," You definitely know your ranger.

Let's get the last line right, Kemo Sabe!

Let’s end where the show always ends, with the masked man’s final words each week. It’s “Hi-Yo, Silver,” not “Hi-Ho, Silver.” Unless one of the unsolved mysteries is that the ranger was once a pirate, I guess it could be? So this is the latest on mysteries surrounding the TV show. Someday, the many unanswered questions about the television series is worthy of a whole book. Someday.

© 2016 Charlie LeSueur

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