LONE RANGER (1949)
Created in 1933 for the radio
by WXYZ (now WXYT) owner Georg W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker, The Lone Ranger was
a masked cowboy vigilante. He began as a Texas Ranger named John Reid (Earle Graser until his death, Brace Beemer for the
remainder, and several fill-ins), the sole survivor of an ambush on him and
five of his fellow Rangers by a gang led by a man named Bartholomew “Butch”
Saunders). He was found and nursed to health by Native American Tonto (John Todd). Reid
adopted the guise of the Lone Ranger to bring Cavendish to justice with Tonto
and his trusty horse, Silver, by his side, and to continue to protect the west.
As the Ranger was never identified as such verbally, those he helped were often
left to ponder “Who was that masked man, anyway?” at the end of each episode.
The show proved immensely popular, running until 1956 and spawning two Republic serials and
largely written by Striker. In 1949, Trendle brought the series to television
with Clayton Moore in the title
role and Jay Silverheels as
Lone Ranger debuted on the fledgling ABC, who bought WXYZ in 1946, on September 15,
1949. Like the radio show, it used the ending of the “William Tell Overture”
Rossini as its theme, which has become synonymous with the franchise as a
result. 78 episodes were filmed and aired for 78 weeks, then rerun all-over
again for another year. It became the first hit for the network, earning an Emmy nomination in 1950. For the next batch
of 52 episodes, Moore was fired over a contractual dispute and replaced with John Hart. It was believed that
the mask would hide the change and keep the audience invested, but he was
disliked in the role and his episodes weren’t aired again until the 1980s. In
1954, Trendle sold the rights to Jack
Wrather who produced another 52 episodes after promptly hiring back Moore.
For the final season, only 39 episodes were produced, as that had become the
industry standard, and Wrather fronted the money to produce them in color
despite ABC still broadcasting in black and white. Wrather decided to skip
dealing with the network and went on to produce two theatrical films, while
ABC kept the show in daytime reruns for years.