A short history of the Lone Ranger
The Gore Verbinski/Johnny Depp version of The Lone Ranger opens in the USA on July 3rd.
The character has been around for eighty years, and is a solid part of pop culture.
Before I give you a chronology, let me talk a bit about the Lone Ranger. If you know nothing about the character, it’s possible that you might consider some of this as spoilers, but I think that’s unlikely for most people. I have not seen the movie, so this won’t reveal anything specific to that production (which looks like it is going to take a different approach).
The future Lone Ranger was one of the Texas Rangers, along with his brother. The group rode into an ambush set by the Cavendish gang. All of the rangers except for the one who would become The Lone Ranger (in the original series, his first name was not given, but he is generally now thought of as John Reid) were killed.
The future Lone Ranger was rescued by Tonto. Tonto buried the other rangers (including the future Lone Ranger’s brother), and made an extra grave for the future Lone Ranger, in order to fool the Cavendish gang and give the future Lone Ranger a chance to recover.
After being helped back to health by Tonto, he becomes the Lone (the last left alive) Ranger. He dons a mask, made from the bullet-ridden vest of his brother.
There is a wild stallion that he later names Silver. It may not be appropriate to say that he tames Silver, but they do become a team.
Traditionally, the Lone Ranger doesn’t shoot to kill his opponents. In fact, he avoids gunplay. That’s why he uses silver bullets…it’s because they are rare, expensive, and difficult to get. That means he will always think twice about using one. Obviously, there is also symbolism here, as seen in naming his horse Silver as well.
The Lone Ranger travels around, helping build the West. Tonto travels with him. It’s important to note that the Lone Ranger generally treats him as an equal, and the audience is expected to do the same. While Tonto does encounter a great deal of prejudice, it’s from other characters (townsfolk, bad guys), and the audience believes the prejudice is wrong.
There are other things associated with the Lone Ranger. “Hi-yo, Silver, away!” starts a ride. When the Lone Ranger leaves an area, after having saved someone, they might say, “Who was that masked man? I wanted to thank him.” The William Tell Overture, used in the radio show and the TV show, is also closely linked to him.
The Lone Ranger is someone who has sublimated his own identity for the greater good. He believes in the individual and helps others. He tends to side with the less powerful against those who abuse power and who might dictate the way the West develops.
To quote the show, “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…
Timeline (click links for information and content, including the original radio shows)
January 31st, 1933: the first Lone Ranger radio show is broadcast (there is some suggestion that it might have played on January 30th as a test, but the 31st was the official debut). It would run for close to 3,000 episodes, and become a national show and sensation
1936: the first Lone Ranger novel is published. Seventeen more in the series will follow through 1956. The Lone Ranger Rides
Late 1930s: a serious silent cartoon version is produced
1938: Parker Brothers released The Lone Ranger boardgame Board Game Geek listing
September, 1938: A Lone Ranger comic strip starts, and will run through 1971. Lone Ranger comic strip
January 7, 1939: The Lone Stranger and Porky, a parody with Porky Pig (and directed by Bob Clampett) is released Watch at YouTube
February 25, 1939: A Republic sequel (again, fifteen chapters) is released: The Lone Ranger Rides Again Watch a restored version at YouTube
1947: As a premium for Kix cereal, kids can get a Lone Ranger Atomic Bomb ring…which reportedly actually contains a radioactive isotope Tracy’s Toys
1948: Dell Comics begins a Lone Ranger comic book, originally reprinting strips, but later including original material. It will run for 145 issues
1948: Cheerios prints special editions of the boxes with 9 different paper card model sets, in honor of the 15th anniversary of the show Board Game Geek listing
1951: Dell publishes a Tonto comic book series…it runs 31 issues
1951: Dell adds a Silver comic book series…it runs 34 issues Silver comic book
January-February, 1953: Mad Magazine does a parody: Lone Stranger!
December 1953 – January 1954: Mad Magazine does a parody…sequel: Lone Stranger Rides Again
1956: Parker Brothers releases The New Lone Ranger boardgame Board Game Geek listing
1956: A theatrical release is done with Moore and Silverheels
1956: Lisbeth Wirthing releases The Lone Ranger and the Silver Bullets boardgame. It is reportedly later pulled due to licensing issues Board Game Geek article
1958: Another theatrical release with Moore and Silverheels, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold
September 1964: Gold Key begins a Lone Ranger comic book series
1965: Bill Cosby’s album I Started Out As a Child features a Lone Ranger routine audio clip on YouTube
1966: A Lone Ranger animated series runs, with Michael Rye as the Ranger. It is reportedly a darker tone than might be expected at the time
1966: Milton Bradley releases The Lone Ranger boardgame, apparently based on the cartoon series Board Game Geek listing
1973: Gabriel Toys released a line based on the Lone Ranger Skooldays article
1978: Warren Company releases The Lone Ranger& Tonto boardgame Board Game Geek listing
1980: The Tarzan/Lone Ranger (later Zorro was added) animated series. William Conrad (Cannon) voiced the Ranger. Ran through 1982
1980: Milton Bradley releases a Lone Ranger board game, The Legend of the Lone Ranger Board Game Geek listing
1981: A big budget version is made…with Christopher Lloyd as Butch Cavendish. A controversy at the time is Clayton Moore, TV’s Lone Ranger, being prohibited from wearing the mask in public appearances (so as not to conflict), and switching to sunglasses
1994: Topps comics does a four-part Joe R. Lansdale miniseries
July, 1991: Konami released a Lone Ranger videogame for the NES
February 26, 2003: A TV movie with Chad Michael Murray as the Lone Ranger IMDb listing
September 6, 2006: Dynamite Entertainment begins another comic book series
2013?: Lego releases a series of figures and sets connected to the new movie Lego
June 6, 2013: Disney releases Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer inspired characters for Disney Infinity L.A. Times article
July 3, 2013: The Johnny Depp version opens
The Lone Ranger search at Amazon
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.