Monday, April 29, 2013

Return with Me Now to Those Thrilling Rants of Yesteryear

In our last post about one of the most mysterious characters to appear in the early days of the west, we established that the radio series created, developed and refined the fabulous individual known as the Lone Ranger, and the television series perfected it.

(Yes, it’s established…this is an area I intend to stay narrow minded about for the duration of my Silver Bullet worshiping life.)

In 1954, the same year the radio show ended, and Clayton Moore made his triumphant return to television, Jack Wrather bought the rights to the Lone Ranger from George W. Trendle.  Jack Wrather’s leadership and show business knowledge improved the quality of the show, allowing increased budgets and input from the actors. (And pairings of the Lone Ranger and the also owned Lassie on tours and eventually in an episode of the latter’s show.)  It lead to the two TV show based theatrical films, and, in fact, the Wrather Corporation purchased print advertisement space featuring photos of Moore and Silverheels stating the property would be treated well.

Even in the sixties, with the show and movies over, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels continued to make, not only personal appearances, but also showed up in on screen together in Stan Freeberg’s critically acclaimed, hysterical commercials for Gino’s Pizza rolls.  Moore appeared in other commercials alone, refusing only one because it was for beer, and he WAS the Lone Ranger.

Sadly, though I’m pretty sure unrelatedly, after I was born in 1970 was when the owner’s view changed and things hit a nasty patch for the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains.

A mild example occurred on the cartoon landscape.

The 1966 Lone Ranger Filmation animated series received a great amount of praise for both its music, and storylines, which borrowed concepts from the successful sci-fi infused format of the Wild Wild West.

The animated series that ran from 1980 to 1982, and became part of the odd grouping of The Tarzan / Lone Ranger / Zorro Adventure Hour was again by Filmation.  The Tarzan episodes were slightly older reruns, which were fairly true to the Burroughs novels.  However, the use of rotoscoping made much of the movement and action look similar between shows.  Reuse of music and sound effects added to that, and sometimes there were limited cues to help tell the three apart:

Tarzan: A Monkey
Zorro: Spanish Accents
Lone Ranger:  William Conrad voice acting under an assumed name

OK, so there really wasn’t that much of a quality drop in the animation department.  The cartoon was fun, modeled the characters off the real ones, and I spent my Saturday mornings happily glued to all three heroes’ adventures.

Unless Thundarr was on, oddly forcing Robert Ridgely to compete with himself as both the barbarian on NBC, and king of the jungle on CBS. Meanwhile the Superfriends were on ABC…some Saturday mornings tore my fingers apart.  Flipping channels with those big clunky knobs was quite an effort, you spoiled, remote control wielding, DVR/online viewing rotten kids.

However, the heinous act that transpired in 1979 easily nullifies any positive interpretations of the Lone Ranger in the following decade.

Starting with requests and demands as early as 1975, the Wrather Corporation issued a restraining order to Clayton Moore preventing him from using the mask or name of the Lone Ranger in public.  This happened even though, two decades after the series original airings ended, he was in high demand for appearances as the Masked Man, and was willing to bill himself as the man who used to play the Lone Ranger.  I learned of this crime thanks to the crack reporting staff of that bastion of Eighties journalism:  Real People.

The reason for their evil act was claimed to be the prevention of confusion between the TV show actor, and the movie actor appearing in The Legend of the Lone Ranger due out in 1981.  This, despite the fact that there were absolutely no problems or confusion when the television and radio versions of the Lone Ranger ran simultaneously and similarly made separate public appearances during their overlapping time.  The former would dress in red, the latter in blue, with Jay Silverheels touring on his own, or with either one.  (John Todd’s appearance remained wisely hidden.)  During these dark times, Clayton Moore was reduced to wearing wraparound sunglasses in his highly sought after visitations.

Thanks to this, instead of Moore showing up in his rightfully deserved cameos, John Hart was called upon.  He appeared both in the 1981 film (which also included a rude, and anachronistic, sunglass crushing scene) and on Happy Days when Fonzie got to meet his idol as a birthday surprise.  
Moore claims to have been offered the Happy Days role but turned it down.  I don’t think it jives with the restraining order time, but maybe it’s best that it occurred that way after all.  It is entirely possible that the overwhelming coolness that would have occurred if the true Lone Ranger shared a scene with “The Fonz” would have melted my television.

Honestly, if they were worried about any confusion, they should have come to me, and I would have set the record straight.

Clayton Moore featured in what was probably the first “major hit” television series, and was beloved by millions.  He always got the largest ovation of all celebrity attendees when he read the Lone Ranger Creed at the Golden Boot Awards.  He embodied the spirit of the character in his everyday life and was given the ONLY star on the entire Hollywood Walk of Fame that lists the role along with his name.

Klinton Spilsbury starred in the critical and financial failure that was the intensely boring 1981 film.  He was an uncooperative weenie on set, and never made another movie.  He managed to reach a level of incredible underperformance in the role that required James Keach to redub all of his lines.

Seriously, how could ANYONE be concerned about confusion?

The absolute saddest part about that disaster of a cinematic release was that Clayton Moore was suggesting his own story ideas for a film in the time leading up to it.  The tale would feature him training a man at a moral crossroads to be his own replacement after the death of Tonto.  It bore a large amount of similarities to 1989’s Mask of Zorro, the Hopkins and Banderas vehicle that was a critical and financial success.  If only they had used Moore’s idea, we’d have been treated to a scene where, once the lessons were complete, the True Lone Ranger would hand over his silver bullets, turn his back to the camera, remove the mask and present it to his protégé’ urging him to find a faithful companion. While the original rode into the sunset, never revealing his face on the screen, the new Lone Ranger would don the mask and let loose with his first, “Hi-Yo Silver! Awaaay!” as the strains of the William Tell Overture blared.

I’m sorry, there’s something in my eye…take five everyone.

The only bright spot to that movie was it performed at such pathetic levels all around, that the Wrather Corporation’s injunction against Moore had no reason to continue, and was lifted in 1985, possibly as Jack Wrather’s deathbed apology, or possibly as an act of kindness from his widow.  It's pretty obvious what a mistake the ban was, considering now, over SIX decades after starting in the role, it's Moore's picture at the top of the character's Wikipedia page.  

Having lived through the mess that was the Eighties (for the treatment of Clayton Moore and other reasons), it was with trepidation that I approached the “pilot” of The Lone Ranger that aired August 21, 2003 on the WB network. 

Now, I have nothing against Smallville.  I didn’t watch it, because I’m greedy and demand the full funny pajamas with the underwear on the outside on my superheroes.  However, the show had many merits and added multiple items and characters to the Superman mythology.

Whoever made this attempt to return the character to TV, similar to the serials of the thirties, forgot that, while Clark Kent’s origins do trace back as an offshoot of Sir Percy Blakeney AKA the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Lone Ranger has no such analogy.

Trying to copy the Smallville base produced "Lone Ranger Boy...the adventures of the Lone Ranger when he was a boy.”  The first problem with this, of course, was that the Lone Ranger’s origin took place when he was a full grown man.

Having it be merely "very wrong" was a pleasant surprise, since I went in expecting it to be unwatchable.

Some of the Native American/Tonto stuff was cool, and using Silver as a spirit guide and Wes Studi as a Shaman (replaying his Sphinx role from Mystery Men) were neat ideas, but I could have done without Lone Ranger Boy's peyote trip.

I will give them credit for hitting some important origin notes:
The mask was made of his brother's vest.
Kemo Sabe was introduced and well used.
He had a code against killing and shot guns from his opponents’ hands.

It actually had some potential to get better as a show, and I probably would have given it a chance each week.  However, since it had a larger potential to get progressively worse, my wife was thrilled that it wasn’t optioned after listening to me fuss and complain for two hours.

The gravest offenses:

A) A twenty something, scrawny, angst filled man-child with a weak voice in lead, featuring the worst "Hi-Yo Silver!" EVER.  At least the ’81 debacle had the sense to redub the flick with a more manly voice.

B) Crappy modern music instead of the classical type orchestra compositions needed to reflect the sweeping landscapes of the old west.  And really, the William Tell Overture on an electric guitar? Now you’re just annoying me deliberately.

C) Again following Smallville, he was based in one town, not "riding the plains."  The wide open prairies and vistas of the old west were just that…WIDE OPEN. 
Wouldn’t the outlaws start going around his location, and reining in at other settlements pretty quickly?

D) The previously mentioned Pimpernel problem reared its head again.  He had a secret identity as Luke Hartman teen brooder, instead of just being "The Lone Ranger."
Clark Kent's glasses are one thing, but someone in that tiny burgh is gonna notice the big white stallion eventually.

E) He, his brother and nephew had the wrong last name, Hartman instead of Reid.  That meant his nephew wasn’t Dan Reid, who went back east, founded the Daily Sentinel and fathered (radio – grandfathered: TV) Britt Reid, the Green Hornet.
He was another outlaw on the side of good (though the good part was less obviously to law enforcement and criminals alike) also created by Trendle, Striker and directed by Jewell.

F) Romantic interest/sexual tension for the lead character. Well, they already added drugs and rock and roll to the Lone Ranger.  I guess sex was inevitable.

G) Kung Fu Tonto:  I’d like to be good natured enough to think that was an attempt to preserve the Green Hornet connection, linking Tonto to Kato…

But I’m not.

Most importantly:

It looked like a big poop on his head! 

Never send a boy to do a man's job I guess.

There wasn’t anything new on screen after Lone Ranger Boy was mercifully (for those in proximity to me) not picked up.

There was a critically acclaimed comic book that started in 2006. As soon as I read an interview with the writer explaining why he felt it was correct having the Lone Ranger swear, I decided to spare my family excessive, hyperactive rants and never open one.  I will give props to the Ande Parks penned 2011 The Lone Ranger Avenges the Death of Zorro miniseries, for being an entertaining, nostalgia filled story and also recognizing the inherent differences in the two characters' versions of “secret identity.”

I know that this is probably an unreasonable waste of emotion and energy getting incredibly worked up about the reinterpretation of a fictional character, initially designed to appeal to kids in order to generate associated revenue from merchandise.

But the Lone Ranger grew well beyond that over the years, especially when perfectly embodied by Clayton Moore (and Jay Silverheels as Tonto).

From a very young age, he taught me that a person can be honest, fair, upstanding and moral, yet still be heroic, strong and tough enough to stand up for what’s right and to protect those less fortunate than themselves…

And I never even got a chance to thank him.

Hi-Yo Silver!

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