WXYZ in Detroit, under the creative genius of George W. Trendle, played a key role in making radio legendary. According to a recent article in "American History Illustrated," Trendle was literally responsible for "those thrilling days of yesteryear."
It was 1931 when Trendle decided he wanted to do a Western to complement his rather ambitious programming, which included H.V. Kaltenborn, a studio orchestra, and the Army Band. "I see him a sort of lone operator. He could even be a former Texas Ranger," said Trendle. A staff member quickly provided his name - "The Lone Ranger."A freelance script writer named Fran Striker started writing the scripts, focusing on a lone cowboy traveling the West to right wrongs. No one knew it then, but the Lone Ranger was destined to become radio's most popular and enduring hero.
Trendle kept very close to the project. At first he was not happy with the character, who was being pictured as happy-go-lucky and prone to singing. Trendle saw him as much more serious. "The Lone Ranger always uses perfect English, no accent. Don't ever cast aspersions at any race or religious group. Be fair. Make him more serious. Don't let your scripts get far-fetched; keep 'em logical. Remember, the Lone Ranger never shoots to kill. He is a somber-minded man with a right-eous purpose. Make the kids look up to him. Make him their idol."
WXYZ succeeded. The Lone Ranger's faithful Indian companion, Tonto, emanated from a boy's camp in northern Michigan called "Kee-Mo Sah-Bee," a word said to denote friendship. A local Indian who told stories at the camp remembered that an Indian who had too much to drink would often be called a "Tonto," meaning a "wild one."
When a white horse named "Silver" and some stirring classical music - Rossini's "William Tell Overture" and Liszt's "Les Preludes" - provided the introductory theme to the show, plus its transitional bridges - the program was off to an impressive start.
The first program aired on Jan. 30, 1933. Jack Deeds and George Seaton were the first two actors to play the role of the Lone Ranger before Earle Graser became recognized for the part. He played it for eight years before he died.
Graser was shy and quiet, but he had a booming voice that brought the character to life. In 1941, Bruce Beemer, who had been the announcer for the show, assumed the title role. Since his voice was not quite as impressive as Graser's, the producers kept the "Hi-Yo, Silver, away!" as recorded by Graser.
According to those close to the program, Beemer "was the man physically, he was the man mentally, and he was the Lone Ranger in his heart." Beemer was a large man and an expert horseman, and so he SEEMED like the Lone Ranger. He played the role until 1954, when the program finally ended. At that time, it was reaching tens of millions of listeners over nearly 250 stations. It was to become the oldest continuous half-hour adventure program in radio history.
I grew up on that husky voiced Lone Ranger. When the program shifted to television and the role taken by Clayton Moore, I was shocked that the man, while physically well-built, sounded disappointing. He just didn't sound like the Lone Ranger ought to have sounded. His voice was on the high side and a little weak, definitely lacking the booming tones I had remembered.
Although the new Lone Ranger never quite did the job for me, the TV show had a highly successful life of its own, and Clayton Moore continued to play the Lone Ranger in personal appearances around the country after the show was taken off the air. It was evident that like Beemer before him, Moore had "become" the Lone Ranger. Those masculine, straight shooting values had emblazoned themselves on his psyche.
If all actors became so enmeshed in the roles they play that they actually became those people, it would probably be disastrous for our own sense of reality. But the tendency explains why this character so completely dominated radio and television for so many years. Listeners wanted good to triumph over evil, and they had faith that the Lone Ranger could do it three times a week withoutfail.
I still think the radio version was the best. If the voice succeeded, I couldimagine all the rest. "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again.