So That's Who That Masked Man Was!

Clayton Moore - The Lone Ranger
December 29, 1999

The Lone Ranger rides no more. Clayton Moore, the actor who became the part he portrayed, is dead at 85. "I believe, truly and always, in the Lone Ranger's Creed," Moore once said, reciting it by heart.

"I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one.

"I believe that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world."

And he added, "The Lone Ranger is a great character, a great American. Playing him made me a better person.

"I never want to take off this white hat again. When I take off to that big ranch in the sky, I still want to have it on my head."

He died Tuesday of a heart attack in the emergency room at West Hills Regional Medical Center, near his Calabasas home in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles.

Born Jack Carlson Moore, son of a real estate broker in Chicago, he performed for several years in a circus trapeze act. He had been taught acrobatics, tumbling and swimming as a teenager at the Illinois Athletic Club by champion swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who went on to play Tarzan in the movies.

For countless young Americans, the Lone Ranger was no fiction, an inspiration as well as thrilling entertainment that their parents felt secure in never having to protect them from listening to or watching.

In its obituary of Moore, who played the role on television but not on radio, the Los Angeles Times wrote,

"The Lone Ranger was the purest of the white hats . . .

"He spoke precisely, acted nobly, didn't drink or smoke and showed no interest in women, money or creature comforts.

"He always cooperated with the duly constituted officers of the law and never, ever seriously harmed anyone - a feat the writers explained by giving him such superhuman marksmanship that he was able to disarm villains by shooting the guns out of their hands at great distances."

The Times gave this account of how the Long Ranger legend began "with an ambush of six Texas Rangers, including the two Reid brothers, by outlaw Butch Cavendish and his gang.

"Five Rangers are killed but John Reid, presumed dead by the outlaws, survives.

"Badly wounded, he is found and nursed back to health by an Indian named Tonto (played on TV by Jay Silverheels).

"Disguising himself with a black mask cut from his dead brother's vest to conceal his identity from the Cavendish gang, he sets out on their trail as the lone surviving Ranger of the patrol, the origin of the character's name.

"He and Tonto travel to Wild Horse Valley, where they rescue an injured white stallion, which the Lone Ranger names Silver.

"The Reids owned a silver mine that supports John Reid's crusade for justice while also providing the ranger's trademark silver bullets."

The Lone Ranger drama was such a part of the fabric of America for half a century, in the 1930s through the 1980s, that even a Chinese restaurant in Evanston, Ill., would tune it in on the radio for the benefit of diners.

To this day, there are many adults who can, from indelible memory, recite the famous opening of the radio show, as delivered by a basso announcer against the background of the galloping "William Tell Overture":

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi-yo, Silver!' The Lo-o-ne 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."

The show would close with thwarted villains or rescued victims asking in wonderment, "Who was that masked man?" as the Lone Ranger, on Silver, and Tonto, on Scout, thundered off into the boulders and sage brush.

Now they know.

And now he's gone, for good.

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