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The sixth Ranger and the birth of a legend
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A classmate from days past, Alan Hixson, recently sent me a piece about the Lone Ranger, one of my boyhood heroes, prompting nostalgic memories.

Memories - no, not of Clayton Moore of the television series that ran from 1949 to 1957. The only time I saw one of those television episodes was during a trip to Chicago visiting relatives who had an early television set. I was disappointed. No television actor could possibly live up to my image of the "real" Lone Ranger, as portrayed by the stentorian voice of radio's Brace Beemer. To me, Clayton Moore was a second-rate imitation of the real thing. But then, how could he compete with a kid's imagination?

The stirring introduction to those radio programs is indelibly etched in the memories of radio fans of those days. To the upbeat William Tell Overture, the sound of galloping hooves, and announcer Fred Foy, "... Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse, Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again." - followed by Brace Beemer's deep voice, "Come on, Silver. Let's go, big fellow. Hi-yo Silver. Awaaaay." Who could not be captivated?

As engrossing and captivating as those radio programs were, a series of novels by Fran Striker conveyed a more complete picture of the Lone Ranger. With a book, as opposed to television or movies, you can get inside the character's head, share his inner thoughts, and even appreciate the Lone Ranger's sense of humor that is not evident through other media.

So, who was this courageous, mysterious masked rider of the plains, this champion of justice whose objective was to bring law and order to the American West?

His secret identity originated out of tragedy. Captain Hargraves of the Texas Rangers orders a band of six Rangers on a dangerous mission to Bryant's Pass, an outlaw stronghold. The objective includes the capture Butch Cavendish and his gang that have been terrorizing ranchers and townspeople of the area. The outlaws set up an ambush and in a deadly hail of gunfire massacre the six rangers.

From here, the narrative varies depending on the source. In one version, an Indian comes upon the scene and discovers one of the Rangers still alive. The Indian carries the severely wounded Ranger to safety and gradually nurses him back to health. As the Ranger slowly recovers, he finds that the Indian has dug and marked six graves, creating the illusion of death of all six Rangers.

In a slightly different version, the Indian, Tonto, recognizes the badly wounded Ranger as someone who had earlier saved his life. He and the Ranger together dig and mark six graves.

In either version, Tonto fashions a mask to conceal the Ranger's identity from the Cavendish gang. With five dead Rangers and six graves, Tonto proclaims, "You now lone ranger." Thus was born The Lone Ranger. He pledges to bring the outlaws to justice and avenge the dead Rangers. With the aid of his faithful Indian companion, he fulfills the pledge.

The Lone Ranger had earlier inherited a small silver mine. Having achieved his goal of bringing the Cavendish gang to justice, he has no desire for the staid life of a mine owner. He believes it his duty to continue the fight for justice and law and order in the American West. It is unclear whether it was his idea or Tonto's to use silver from the mine for his bullets. But the rationale was that the precious metal would be a reminder of the value of human life. The Lone Ranger would never shoot to kill - only to disarm.

Thus was born the legendary hero for movies including serials and full-length features, comic books, a series of novels, the longest western series in the history of radio - and the television series through which most Americans came to know the Lone Ranger - if somewhat superficially. But then I admit to bias toward books and radio that capture the character in greater depth.

The fictitious origin of the legend begs the question, "Who in real life originated the concept?"

Those radio programs originated out of Detroit during the early days of the Great Depression. Radio station WXYZ was one of the few stations not on the East or West Coasts that originated programs. The Lone Ranger episodes ended with the announcement that they were produced by George W. Trendle. "Who was Trendle?" I had often wondered.

Trendle was a Detroit lawyer with a reputation as a tough negotiator, specializing in the entertainment business. During early days of the Great Depression, Trendle linked up with theater owner John Kunsky. After negotiating a lucrative sale of Detroit movie theaters, Trendle and Kunsky formed the Kunsky-Trendle Broadcasting Company. They purchased radio station WGHP and changed its call letters to WXYZ.

In June 1932 Trendle, who would become known as the "Motown Miser," decided that his station, instead of purchasing syndicated programs, would produce its own radio drama series. Jim Jewell would be the station's dramatic director, supplying actors from his Detroit company, "The Jewell Players."

Trendle hired freelance writer Fran Striker to write many of the station's early dramas. Striker eventually became head of WXYZ's script department.

In late 1932, Trendle had the germ of an idea. He started thinking about and discussing ideas for a new radio series with a cowboy hero. He wanted the hero to be mysterious, after the fashion of Zorro, or Robin Hood.

As his target audience was children, Trendle insisted that the hero be a wholesome character with the highest moral standards. Action and violence - there is a difference. Trendle wanted a minimum of violence. Thus began the genesis of the Legend of The Lone Ranger.

Next week: The Legend comes to fruition.

- John Waelti's column appears every Friday in the Times. He can be reached at