On this day in 1914 - Hi Yo Silver! - Clayton Moore was born. He made more than 200 personal appearances, two movies and 169 individual episodes as the Lone Ranger.
Born in Chicago, Moore was a circus acrobat by the age of 8. In his late teens he moved first to New York and then to Hollywood and found work as a stunt man, bit player and John Robert Powers male model.
Moore’s career took a giant leap forward when Detroit lawyer George Trendle, half of the Kunsky- Trendle Broadcasting Company, tapped Moore to play the mysterious masked man on television. The radio version premiered on Detroit’s WXYZ-AM in 1933, a small station that couldn’t afford network programming spawning an international icon.
Moore trained his naturally baritone voice even lower to mimic the radio actor. With its distinctive William Tell theme music, Moore and his Native American sidekick Tonto, portrayed by Jay Silverheels, rode into the television annals as the first western written for television. The series was the fledgling ABC Network’s first hit, premiering in 1949.
Silverheels, a genuine member of the Canadian Mohawk First Nation, was born with the decidedly mundane name of Harold J. Smith, despite the fact his father was a Mohawk chief and military officer.
Silverheels, like Moore, was physically gifted, excelling in lacrosse and as a boxer before turning to acting.
After two years of weekly episodes, Moore and the network reached an impasse over salary. Moore left the series and hanging his name to Clay Moore and made several westerns. He was replaced by John Hart as the Lone Ranger.
When Moore and the series’ producers came to an agreement over pay two years later, Moore was rehired, playing the part until its demise in 1957.
Moore loved being the Lone Ranger. He was often quoted as saying how much he admired his character. As such, he made more than 200 personal appearances, often accompanied by Silverheels.
In 1979, however, owner of the Lone Ranger character, oil magnate and TV producer Jack Wrather, obtained a court order prohibiting Moore from appearing as the beloved masked man. Not unexpectedly, the move was a public relations disaster for Wrather, who also produced Lassie and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.
Wrather was preparing to produce a new film version of the Lone Ranger and feared the public would expect the 65-year-old Moore to be cast in the movie. The new picture, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was a financial disaster. Moore found a silver bullet, however, substituting a pair of Foster Grant wrap-around sun glasses for the black mask, successfully foiling the court order.
He eventually prevailed in his legal battle with Wrather.
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. Moore was so linked with the Lone Ranger that he is the only person on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to have the name of his character share the star with him.
He 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 number of television series following the Lone Ranger and had a second 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.