Clayton Moore, 85, a film and television actor with the famous voice and all but unknown face who became known to millions as the personification of the Lone Ranger, died Dec. 28 in the emergency room of a hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of West Hills, Calif., after an apparent heart attack.
Mr. Moore rode onto the television stage Sept. 15, 1949, in a half-hour Western adventure that quickly became the biggest hit of the fledging ABC television network. In 1950, when the Nielsen company released their first national ratings, "The Lone Ranger" was the only ABC show to appear among the top 15 series.
Mr. Moore starred in more than 170 stirring episodes (an additional 50, or so, starred John Hart) before it ended in 1957. In addition to the television series, Mr. Moore portrayed the masked avenger for several years on radio broadcasts and in two feature films, "The Lone Ranger" in 1956 and "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold" in 1958.
The Lone Ranger never seemed to ride into the sunset. In the 1980s, CBS had a cartoon version of the series, and a feature film, "The Legend of the Lone Ranger," appeared in theaters starring Klinton Spilsbury.
However, to true fans, there was only one Lone Ranger, the one who appeared in that first 1949 episode. The shows traditionally began with the Lone Ranger riding his magnificent white steed, Silver, to the musical accompaniment of the Gioacchino Rossini's "William Tell Overture."
An excited announcer told us that we were seeing "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi Yo Silver!' "
Then, after Mr. Moore shouted "Hi Yo Silver! Away!" the announcer explained that "With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!"
In the first episode, "Enter the Lone Ranger," we see the beginning of the legend. A group of Texas Rangers, accompanied by a young man named John Reid, whose brother was one of the Rangers, rode into a trap. The dastardly Butch Cavendish Gang killed all five rangers and left the young civilian for dead.
John Reid undoubtably would have died, but he was nursed back to health by a passing Indian. Reid buried the rangers, and then left a sixth grave for himself--intending to go undercover and avenge the massacre. Young Reid decided to wear a mask and become "the Lone Ranger."
Tonto informed his new partner that "You kemo sabe, it mean 'trusty scout.' "
While regaining his health, the Lone Ranger patched up a wild white stallion that had been gored by a buffalo and that took the name Silver. Tonto, the faithful Indian companion who was portrayed throughout the series and in both 1950s films by the late Jay Silverheels, rode a paint horse, Scout.
After bringing the Cavendish gang to justice, the partners decided to ride west, fighting injustice. Their income came from a secret silver mine the Lone Ranger and his brother had discovered. The silver also supplied the Lone Ranger with his trademark "silver bullets," that became his calling card.
Children were thrilled by the Lone Ranger and his sidekick. Many of them even relished the way each episode seemed to end. Invariably, someone would wonder, exactly "who was that masked man?" because they "wanted to thank him." The truth would dawn on them as they discovered a silver bullet the masked man had left behind as he rode into the sunset with a "Hi Yo Silver! Away!"
Parents seemed to like the show, too. "The Lone Ranger," unlike other TV cowpokes, used faultless grammar, was unfailingly polite and somehow was always cleanly dressed. Though he packed two six-shooters, he was such a good shot that he never seemed to shoot anyone--unless it was to graze the odd knuckle as he shot a gun out of an outlaw's hands. It was said that the Lone Ranger never killed anyone throughout the series.
Others admired the fact that the Lone Ranger's companion, an Indian, was more partner than underling and that the two men often fought for the rights of Indians against outlaws.
Mr. Moore, who was born in Chicago, worked as a model and in a circus trapeze act before becoming an actor in the 1930s. "The Lone Ranger" made its first appearance as a local radio show in 1933, with George Seaton as the original voice, and quickly became a huge national series. Mr. Moore took over the role for television.
After the series ended its television run, many thought Mr. Moore had trapped himself in the Lone Ranger role. A huge star in that guise, his face was largely unknown. But Mr. Moore seemed unperturbed by this.
He spent years appearing as the Lone Ranger, including an appearance in a Stan Freberg commercial for pizza rolls. The commercial, which included a deafening rendition of the "William Tell Overture," ended with Mr. Moore and Silverheels appearing, in costume, to question the sponsor's use of the music.
In 1979, the owners of "The Lone Ranger," had a restraining order issued against Mr. Moore preventing him from appearing in costume. The order was lifted in 1985, and Mr. Moore rode again.
After his court victory, he told a reporter: "I'll wear the white hat the rest of my life. The Lone Ranger is a great character, a great American. Playing him made me a better person."
Mr. Moore and his late wife, the actress Sally Allen, had one daughter, Gwen.
CAPTION: Clayton Moore's Lone Ranger was in 170 TV episodes and two films.
CAPTION: Clayton Moore, left, delighted viewers with adventures of his Lone Ranger, the avenger's sidekick, Tonto, played by Jay Silverheels, and his horse, Silver.