Six-Gun Saturday: ‘The Lone Ranger’

The Lone Ranger and Tonto in a 1956 episode of "The Lone Ranger"

When it comes to TV on Saturdays, you can either think of Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) of Gunsmoke, gentleman gunfighter Paladin (Richard Boone) of Have Gun – Will Travel, bounty hunter Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) of Wanted: Dead or Alive, or Texas Ranger Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris) of Walker, Texas Ranger.  

But there is another name you may or may not know of when you think TV on Saturdays.  The survivor of Bryant’s Gap, his face and mask are unknown: carrying silver bullets and riding a great white horse named Silver.  Nowhere in the pages of history is there a greater champion of justice than the avenger known as the Lone Ranger, who made his debut on WXYZ radio in Detroit on January 30, 1933.

The Lone Ranger rode the animated plains of CBS not once but twice on Saturday mornings: first in 1966, where the daring and masked rider and his faithful, fearless Indian companion/friend Tonto brought law and order against over-the-top villains like the Black Widow and the Puppetmaster.  Their adventures were similar to that of dashing Secret Service agent James T. West (Robert Conrad) and his master-of-disguise partner/friend Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin) from The Wild, Wild West (1965-69).  

In 1980, actor William Conrad provided the voice of The Lone Ranger, as he and Tonto continued the long drive for justice in the early days of the American West: protecting President Ulysses S. Grant from an assassin and encountering famous people like reporter Nellie Bly, inventor Alfred Nobel, and author Mark Twain.

It was forty years ago that The Legend of The Lone Ranger debuted in theaters with Klinton Spilsbury as the man in the mask and Michael Horse as Tonto, who becomes a mentor to his trusted friend.  Together, they set out to bring Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd) to justice and rescue President Grant (Jason Robards).  The film featured a special appearance from John Hart, who made two guest spots on ABC’s Lone Ranger (1949-57) and succeeded Clayton Moore for one season (1952-53) as the masked man.  However, The Legend of The Lone Ranger failed to dispense justice at the box office, as the film was more like a two-hour pilot for a new series with so much promise and potential.  Still, The Legend of The Lone Ranger remains better than the 2013 Disney film with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp as Tonto.

The Lone Ranger became inspiration for urban shows like CBS’ Walker (1993-2001), Renegade (1992-96, syndication; 1996-97, USA Network), NBC’s Knight Rider (1982-86) and Stingray (1986-87), and Hardcastle & McCormick (1983-86, ABC).

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty “Hi-Yo Silver!”, return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, as the Lone Ranger rides again.  


Video courtesy: ABC-TV

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