Actor Clayton Moore, who galloped to fame on 1950s television as the Lone Ranger, “daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains,” died Tuesday at 85 of a heart attack, hospital officials said.
Spokesman Rick Miller of West Hills Hospital in West Hills said Moore, a former acrobat turned actor, had been rushed to the emergency room and died at 9:20 a.m.
Born Jack Carlton Moore in Chicago on Sept. 14, 1914, the actor changed his name to Clayton Moore at the suggestion of a producer after moving to Hollywood to become a stuntman and movie extra in the late 1930s.
He played in dozens of B movies with such titles as “Intentional Lady” and “The Gay Amigo” until 1949, when he beat out 75 other actors to star in the TV version of “The Lone Ranger.” The series had become a hit on radio soon after struggling Detroit station WXYZ created it in 1933 because it could not afford network shows.
By 1949, “The Lone Ranger” — always introduced with the words “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of a dust and a hearty ‘Hi-yo, Silver!’ The Lone Ranger” and Rossini’s William Tell Overture — was a national institution. It was so popular that a San Francisco couple got out of a speeding ticket by telling a judge they had been rushing home to hear the show.
Moore may have won the title role on television because he already had played a masked man in the movie “Ghost of Zorro” and was considered to have experience in the masked-hero genre.
Years later he would say it was the only job he ever desired. “I wanted to be a either a cowboy or a policeman. As the Lone Ranger, I got to be both,” he told the Los Angeles Times. His autobiography was titled “I Was That Masked Man.”
Wedded to “the white hat”
“I like playing the good guy. I’ll wear the white hat for the rest of my life. The Lone Ranger is a great character, a great American. Playing him made me a better person,” he added in the Times interview.
Moore starred in the television series from 1949 to 1951, when he was forced out in a salary dispute, and from 1954, when he returned at higher pay, to 1957. In the end, he appeared in most of the series’ 169 episodes.
Moore also starred in two movie adaptations, “The Lone Ranger” (1956) and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” (1958). He twice played Zorro, in the 1949 film “Ghost of Zorro” and a 1959 remake with the same title.
Once the “Lone Ranger” series was finished, Moore continued to play the character in commercials and in public appearances, at which he would greet fans, talk to Silver, shoot a Colt .45, and lecture about “truth, justice and the American way.”
But in the late 1970s, black hats appeared on the horizon. The Wrather Corp., which owned the rights to the character, went to court to stop him from making public appearances because it did not want him to interfere with a film it was making called “The Legend of the Lone Ranger.”
Wrather’s feeling was that two masked men at the same time would confuse the public and Moore was getting too old for the role.
The film came and went in 1981, but the court fight dragged on for years until Moore won the right to don his mask again. In the interim, he continued appearing, but wore sunglasses instead of a mask.
Moore had to work to lower his voice so that he sounded like the radio actors who had played the character.