Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear . . . a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty hi-yo Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!
BUT THE masked man who carved a trail of law and order through the Wild West for almost 10 years on television and films, last week aimed a six-gun lawsuit at the corporation that owns the rights to the "Lone Ranger Show," claiming (among other things) it took "unfair advantage" of Clayton Moore.
IN an interview last week, Moore said he had just filed suit against the Jack B. Wrather Corporation (the same folks who own "Lassie") for more than $30 million; a sum that could keep him in silver bullets for years. "You've got to go high," Moore said.
Jay Silverheels, his faithful Indian companion Tonto ("Him no good, kemo sabe") filed a separate lawsuit against the Wrather Corporation last November for at least $3 million dollars, citing "general damages." Silverheels - now in his 60's - suffered a stroke in 1974 that left his right arm partially paralyzed and his speech impaired. "But he's coming along," Moore says. The two men live near each other outside Los Angeles and are still the best of friends.
The dispute was triggered by an advertisment for cologne, picturing the Lone Ranger as portrayed by Clayton Moore. He says the perfume company originally came to him for permission to use the picture and he refused. The photograph was subsequently obtained through the Wrather Corporation - without Moore's consent. "Cologne has nothing to do with the "Lone Ranger Show," he said. "I signed a contract to do the 'Lone Ranger Show,' not to advertise some smelly cologne."
Stanley Stunnel, vice president of the Wrather Corporation, said the company had a right to release the picture and denied knowledge of any lawsuit filed by Moore. He did, however, confirm that the fact that Jay Silverheels had filed suit against the company but declined to talk about the case. Attorneys say both suits could take up to three years to settle.
The 63-year old Moore, who played the Lone Ranger from 1949 to 1957, is currently riding the wave of 50's nostalgia, with personal appearances at rodeos, county fairs and shopping malls. "Have mask will travel, I call it. Fortunately, I can still get into the same costume."
But the Wrather Corporation, which purchased the rights to the "Lone Ranger Show" in 1954 for $3 million, says Moore is no longer associated with them. Said Stunnel, "We control the property which is known as the Lone Ranger. Whatever contractual arrangement we've had with Clayton Moore would be considered our private business and of a confidential nature."
While Moore did have an active contract during production of the TV show (now in syndication), Stunnel said, "Clayton Moore no longer is under contract. He is not receiving any money. He was paid at the time the show was in production and in early re-runs. That was it. But Clayton Moore has made a fine living for himself over the years portraying the Lone Ranger. We allowed him to do it, even though legally we could have stopped him. I guess it was our way of expressing appreciation for past services rendered."
The appreciation did not extend to a line of Lone Ranger products the company promoted - everything from toys to T-shirts - including Lone Ranger and Tonto dolls. Moore and Silverheels received no royalties from the sale of such items. "Why should they?" said Stunnell. The dolls, according to the vice president, do not depict Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. "They are humanoid forms," he said, "an artist's rendition of the characters."
Moore's lawyer, Bob Michaels, disagrees. "Clayton Moore, in the hearts and minds of America is the Lone Ranger. They use his picture and his voice to promote their product. All he has to do is open his mouth. He is the Lone Ranger." But not the only one. "There were other Lone Rangers before Clayton Moore," Stunell pointed out. "John Hart played in 25 percent of the television episodes."
But Moore, who says he's given his whole life to the role, is the Lone Ranger most people remember. "Nobody recognizes my face," says the actor who was never photographed without the black mask. "But when I start to talk, people say 'I know that voice.' I call it my fog-horn voice.
"I've given up everything for the Lone Ranger. I enjoyed the part. I loved the white horse. I loved being the good guy. I guess I'm still a kid," he laughs, "I'll never grow up."
Moore says he identified with the Lone Ranger's philosophy. "This is part of my code of life. The silver bullets stood for law and order, fair play and honesty. I never took advantage of people. Even fighting an outlaw on the show, I never kicked him when he was down."
Moore still owns the original black mask, costume and silver bullets from the show. Kids today, he says, wouldn't watch so much violence on television if the Lone Ranger was around. "All they want is a hero to worship." Is Moore that hero? "You're damn right."
And the white horse?"Silver died last year at 29 years of age. We kept him in exellent condition," Moore says sadly. "He went to Horse Heaven."