Last time, I talked about how an enduring piece of Americana— The Lone Ranger— began in 1933 on WXYZ radio in Detroit.
Now, in the second of this three-part series, I’m going to talk about the Lone Ranger himself. Who was he and why did he start Lone Rangering?
First a word about the actors. According to Terry Salomonson’s Lone Ranger Log, they were George Stenius (later Seaton) Jan. 31, 1933- May 9, 1933; Jack Deeds (Lee Trent) May 11, 1933; director Jim Jewell; May 13, 1933; Earle W. Graser, May 16, 1933- April 7, 1941; and Brace Beemer, April 9, 1941- the end of the series.*
(*Announcer Fred Foy played the part on March 29, 1954, when Beemer had laryngitis.)
With the occasional exception, John Todd played Tonto throughout the radio run.
Dave Holland, in From Out of the Past: The Pictorial History of the Lone Ranger (Page 87), notes that Seaton later wrote and/or directed several films, including Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Airport (1970).
Graser died in a car crash on April 8, 1941. A New York Times obituary is reprinted in The Lone Ranger Log (page 233).
(By the way, it’s Graser’s recorded voice shouting “Hi Yo, Silver, away!” at the end of the TV episodes.)
Transcription recordings didn’t begin until Jan. 17, 1938 (Lone Ranger Log, page X), so Graser and Beemer (and Foy) are the only Lone Ranger actors whose adventures we can hear.
Now back to our story. Six Texas Rangers, led by Captain Dan Reid, were ambushed in Bryant’s Gap by Butch Cavendish. Only Captain Reid’s unnamed younger brother survived. Nursed back to health by Tonto, his childhood friend, the survivor made a sixth grave and let the world believe he’d died. From then on, he fought for justice from behind a mask.
Seems straightforward, but The Lone Ranger used retroactive continuity long before that became a staple of the comics industry. While the TV series began with the ambush story, the radio series began in medias res, with the Lone Ranger already Lone Rangering. And according to both From Out of the Past (page 374) and The Lone Ranger Log (page 1), he did so without Tonto until Feb. 25, 1933.
The ambush first occurred in the 15-chapter 1938 serial. The Ranger himself didn’t mention it (and only in passing) until Oct. 13, 1941 (From Out of the Past, page 351).
According to From Out of the Past (page 357), as late as May 1937 and the second issue of The Lone Ranger Magazine, Tonto still didn’t know why the Ranger hated crime.
In the 1938 serial, the ambush occurred in Grant’s Pass (From Out of the Past, page 359). It wouldn’t become Bryant’s Gap until the 1941 novel The Lone Ranger Rides by Fran Striker.
In the novel, Bryant’s Gap was named for rancher Bryant Cavendish, no relation to the yet-to-be created Butch.
The novel also has the Ranger riding Silver before becoming the Lone Ranger; and he was found by Tonto (established for the first time as a childhood friend (From Out of the Past page 379)) after riding away from the ambush site.
In The Lone Ranger Rides, Tonto makes six graves because the survivor doesn’t know who attacked his company. It makes more sense for the Lone Ranger to bury his identity under these circumstances than in the later “official” origin story in which the Ranger knew who’d ambushed them.
In the Dec. 1, 1941 episode, the sister of one of the other Rangers provided the initial first-aid before Tonto showed up. A plot point dropped in later retellings. Key sections from that script are reprinted in From Out of the Past, pages 363-365.
The Dec. 25, 1942 episode re-told the origin, introducing both Captain Reid and Bryant’s Gap. It also depicted Tonto saving the Ranger (From Out of the Past, page 367).
Butch Cavendish became part of the origin in the June 30, 1948 15th anniversary (plus six months) episode (From Out of the Past, pages 367, 369).
Some reference works, including both John Dunning’s Tune In Yesterday: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (1976) and its revised version, On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (1998), give the Lone Ranger’s name as “John Reid.” A name subsequently used in the movies The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) and The Lone Ranger (2013), as well as the Dynamite comics series. That’s flat-out wrong. At no point in either the radio on TV series was the Ranger’s first name ever mentioned.
The surname “Reid” first appeared in 1942. The Ranger had different first and last names in the serials, neither of which was “John.” As Holland notes in From Out of The Past (page 289), “somehow he was incorrectly given the name of John in an early ‘old time radio’ reference book… and that was repeated in book after book and article after article by writers who didn’t know any better. Fabrication slowly became fact.”
Yes, his name could have been “John.” But it just as easily could have been “Paul.” Or “George.” Or “Jedidiah.” Again, it was never mentioned on either the radio or TV series.
Of course, every true Lone Ranger fan knows The Lone Ranger’s real first name.
So, how did the Lone Ranger and Tonto originally meet? The Ranger rescued Tonto following a mine blast.
That Feb. 25, 1933 episode wasn’t recorded, but the story was re-told on Dec. 7, 1938, narrated by “Cactus Pete.” He also made an oblique reference to the ambush featured in the serial, saying it happened some time after the mine blast. As Holland writes (From Out of the Past, page 378), the ambush story seen in theaters couldn’t be completely ignored by WXYZ. It had to get a mention, at least.
By 1948, with the ambush part of the radio origin, the mine blast had to be explained (From Out of the Past pages 378-379). Holland writes that official press releases said Tonto saved the Ranger; disappeared for several years; then reunited with the Ranger after the mine blast.
Holland adds that Tonto initially came upon the injured Ranger by chance; but later retellings (and the TV series) established the two as childhood friends, echoing The Lone Ranger Rides.
So, first the Lone Ranger saved a stranger named Tonto; then Tonto saved a wounded Texas Ranger who became the Lone Ranger and later saved Tonto; then Tonto saved a stranger and they joined forces; then Tonto saved his childhood friend and they joined forces.
Clear as mud, right?
Next time, some thoughts about the stories told on The Lone Ranger.
Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating