Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!

The story of how the Smithsonian came by its mask rivals in interest the way the Lone Ranger got his

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Moore and Silverheels were inseparable during the show’s eight-year televised run, except during the 1952-1953 season, when Silverheels rode with John Hart while Moore and the network hammered out differences (the details of which remain unclear).

The first televised episode of The Lone Ranger aired on ABC on September 15, 1949. Although set in the Southwest, much of the show was shot at Iverson’s Ranch, in Chatsworth, California, about 15 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Indoor scenes typically used the old Hal Roach Studios in Culver City.

At one point early on, the Lone Ranger’s mask covered most of Moore’s face. Gradually, it shrank to cover only his eyes, and metamorphosed from loose cloth to felt-covered fitted fiberglass that gave Moore better vision. For close-ups, cameramen used a special magenta light, called a hinky dink, to highlight the actor’s eyes that were otherwise hidden in the depths of his mask.

By the time the final episode aired June 6, 1957, The Lone Ranger, one of the first westerns to gallop across the nation’s airways, was competing with Maverick, Cheyenne and Gunsmoke, with many more to follow.

After founding a school for Native American actors a few years after the show’s demise, Jay Silverheels died in 1980 at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills, California. He was 60.

Clayton Moore had continued on as the Lone Ranger, starring in two films and making personal appearances in costume, often on horseback. Still in character, he hawked everything from rental cars to pizza in self-mocking TV commercials.

When the Wrather Corporation, which purchased the rights to the show in 1954, decided to make The Legend of the Lone Ranger, a 1981 feature starring Klinton Spilsbury, it stripped Moore of his right to wear the mask, a right reinstated only after the movie flopped at the box office. In the meantime, Moore had waged a public opinion campaign, generating renewed interest in the actor, the Lone Ranger and the mask.

Now, the Lone Ranger’s black mask has found its way to the Smithsonian, a quiet reminder that cultural history matters, be it the mythical Old West, the pioneering radio shows that re-created it, or the television programs that reinterpreted that myth for a generation or two...or more. Hi-Yo Silver, Away!

by David H. Shayt


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