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Clayton Moore, the 'Lone Ranger,' dead at 85

Clayton Moore

December 28, 1999
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EST (2200 GMT)

From Dennis Michael
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

WEST HILLS, California (CNN) -- Clayton Moore, the actor forever identified with the Lone Ranger character, died of a heart attack Tuesday morning at West Hills Hospital, about 20 miles north of Los Angeles. He was 85.

The man behind the mask was originally a trapeze artist and model who came to acting through stunt work. Clayton, born Jack Carlton Moore on September 14, 1914 in Chicago, changed his name when he moved to Hollywood.

Clayton Moore remembered

There, he graduated from stunts to bit roles, and finally, became the leading man in many Saturday afternoon serials in the late 30s and '40s.

When the radio program "The Lone Ranger" was transplanted to television in 1949 on the brand new ABC network, Moore took the role of his life.

Moore as the Lone Ranger on the back of his trusty horse Silver

Moore played the Lone Ranger from 1949 to 1951, riding his trusty horse Silver and accompanied by his faithful American-Indian friend Tonto as the pair brought law and order to the Old West in every half-hour episode. When he sat out a contract dispute with the producers, actor John Hart took over the role for two years. But Moore completed the show's run until it was canceled in 1957.

The show was ABC's biggest hit for a time in the early '50s, when the fledgling network was far overshadowed by CBS and NBC. Fans loved the show's trademarks: the opening theme, from "The William Tell Overture"; the Ranger's horse, Silver, described by the show's announcer as "a fiery horse with the speed of light"; Tonto's name for the Ranger, "kemo sabe"; the silver bullets; the Ranger's habits of never shooting to kill and never removing his mask, unless the plot had him donning some other disguise.

Who was that masked man?

Even after the cancellation, Moore continued to wear a mask in public appearances until 1979, when producers of a new film version of "The Lone Ranger" won a court order forcing him to replace his mask with a pair of wraparound sunglasses.

The Lone Ranger talks with his faithful sidekick, Tonto

"Once I got the Lone Ranger role, I didn't want any other," Moore said in a 1985 Los Angeles Times interview. "I like playing the good guy." He said that as a child, "I wanted to be either a cowboy or a policeman. As the Lone Ranger, I got to be both."

But Moore had his revenge. The 1981 movie, entitled "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" and starring Klinton Spilsbury in the mask, was a resounding flop. In 1984, a court lifted the restraining order.

He was largely retired in recent years, living at his home in Calabasas. He and his late wife, former actress Sally Allen, had one daughter, Gwen.

At the opening of a museum honoring his fellow screen cowboy, Gene Autry, Moore talked about the importance of the heroes of the Old West, real and otherwise.

"It's the good guy in the white hat, fair play and honesty," Moore said. "The settling of the Old West. Don't forget the cowboys, the trials and tribulations they went through. What we have now is because of our ancestors and pioneers."

And that's true of Moore as well, one of the pioneers of the early television frontier.

Comic book writer Paul S. Newman dead at 75
June 7, 1999

Clayton Moore Tribute Page
Mary's Clayton Moore Fan Site
IMDb: Clayton Moore
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