The very lovely Mary called to comment on last week’s column about Jay Silverheels. She said she has a hereditary Native American bloodline and has been a lifelong fan of both Tonto and the Lone Ranger. Then she asked what we knew about the life of Clayton Moore.
The character that made Clayton Moore famous was on “The Lone Ranger,” which first aired on a Detroit radio station in 1933 and was carried by more than 400 American stations by the end of the decade. It was the popular radio program that introduced the Lone Ranger’s theme song, the “William Tell Overture,” and it created “Hi yo, Silver, away!” It seems as though the Silvercup Bread Company was the original sponsor on radio. Hence, the use of silver bullets and the horse named "Silver."
The 10-year-old thoroughbred/quarter horse called Silver, which you might say was born for the part, was not owned by Moore, but he did work out Silver often on the trails around his own residence while living in Tarzana. The horse he actually owned was a Buckskin named "Buck."
Clayton Moore was born Jack Carlton Moore in 1914 and grew up in Chicago. Naturally athletic, he practiced gymnastics, eventually joining the trapeze act “The Flying Behrs” at 19 during the 1934 Chicago World's Fair. Playing off his good looks, he was signed by John Robert Powers as a model. Then a friend urged him to make the move to Hollywood in 1938, where he entered films as a bit player and stuntman.
In 1940, at the suggestion of his agent, he changed his first name from Jack to Clayton. Beginning with “Perils of Nyoka” in 1942, he eventually became “King of the Serials” at Republic Studios. During this period, he also worked in many westerns, earning his acting chops alongside Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and interestingly enough, Jay Silverheels.
Later in 1942, he entered the military, stationed in Kingman, Arizona and was assigned entertainment duties, including the production of training films. While in Arizona, he married Sally Allen, the first of his four wives. After the war, he returned to supporting roles while concentrating on westerns.
His turn as Ghost of Zorro – A Republic Movie serial – in 1949 came to the attention of the radio's hugely successful Lone Ranger producer, George Trendle, who was casting the lead role for the new Lone Ranger television series. The premiere episode was the first western specifically written for the new medium.
After 169 episodes, the TV series typecast Clayton Moore to the point it made it impossible to move forward as an actor, but he continued to make commercials and personal appearances as "The Lone Ranger" for the next three decades.
In 1978 the Wrather Corp., which owned the series and the rights to the title character, got a court order to stop Moore from appearing in public as "The Lone Ranger." However, after Wrather’s death in 1984, his widow, actress Bonita Granville, dismissed the lawsuit, allowing Moore to continue to appear as the masked man.
Moore's legacy to the entertainment industry and western film genre has been cemented with the installation of his legendary mask in the Smithsonian, his star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and a U.S. postage stamp bearing his image alongside Silver. On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his star says, "Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger".
He was also inducted into the Stuntman's Hall of Fame in 1982, and received the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1990.
Having a history of heart trouble, Moore died of a heart attack in 1999, a millionaire.
Reference: “I Was That Masked Man,” by Clayton Moore.
Reach Ted W. Stillwell at Ted@blueandgrey.com or 816-896-3592.