My encounter with The Lone Ranger

Clayton Moore with Jay Silverheels in TV’s original The Lone Ranger

“Are ya grindin’?” the Loan Ranger said to me. “Shut ‘er down.”
Thus began my interview with Clayton Moore, the actor who played TV’s The Lone Ranger from 1949 to 1957. The series, which ran for years on radio, was the first made-for-TV western.
I met Moore at a press event in Los Angeles in 1985 when he was still making public appearances in his powder blue cowboy suit and white Stetson. Then in his early seventies, Moore seemed convinced he was the Loan Ranger and you didn’t dare question him on it.
Friday’s release of Johnny Depp’s new Disney feature The Lone Ranger brings back memories of coming face to face with Moore, who was not wearing his mask at the time I met him. Instead, he had on a pair of those wrap-a-round Cito Gaston shades. If memory serves, he was legally prohibited from wearing the mask. Seems the movie studio behind the really bad early ’80s remake The Legend of the Lone Ranger wanted to make sure nobody confused Moore with their star, Klinton Spilsbury.

Moore’s legend is almost as epic as his alter ego’s. There’s that great story Jay Thomas tells on Letterman every Christmas involving Moore in the back of a car, coming to the rescue at just the right moment. Watch Thomas tell the story here in this 2009 Letterman clip.
Then there’s the time Moore fired his six shooter at a TCA event. I wasn’t there, but The Toronto Sun’s Jim Slotek was at the Nashville Network press conference in 1985 when Moore walked in, aimed at the ceiling and fired a blank to get everyone’s attention. It worked! Read Slotek’s ear-splitting  account of his showdown with Moore here.
No guns were drawn when I spoke with Moore, although he demanded I shut off my tape recorder. I asked about Jay Silverheels, the Canadian Mohawk First Nations actor who played Tonto in the series. Silverheels hailed from Brantford, Ont.
Moore spoke warmly about his “kemosabe,” who died in 1980. “He has gone to the Happy Hunting Ground,” said Moore, who went there himself in 1999.
Silverheels original name was Harold J. Smith. He was a boxer and a lacrosse player as a young man in Upstate New York and took his stage name from his nick name on the lacrosse field–Jay Silverheels.
Moore started his showbiz career as a circus acrobat and later worked as a model and a stuntman. After starring in his second Lone Ranger movie in 1958, he pretty much devoted the rest of his life to making personal appearances as the noble cowboy hero–paving the way for Adam West, William Shatner and others who eventually embraced, rather than fought, being typecast on TV.

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