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‘Ranger’ rides to Columbia

Pic to be produced by Red Wagon's Wick, Fisher

Cue the William Tell Overture, kemosabe.

Columbia Pictures has ponied up for the rights to “The Lone Ranger,” inking a deal said to be worth six figures against $1.5 million.

Pic will be produced by “Gladiator” producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher via their Sony-based Red Wagon Prods.

First broadcast Sept. 15, 1949 on the Alphabet web, “The Lone Ranger” was one of the most popular TV shows of the 1950s, before it ended Sept. 12, 1957. The WB Network is currently developing a new take on the Ranger legend for fall 2002.

Deal was made with Gotham-based Classic Media, which controlled the rights. Classic execs Eric Ellenbogen and Bob Higgins will be involved with the pic’s development, though it’s unclear in what capacity.

The 70-year-old tale (it had its start as a local radio show in 1933) will need some freshening, which the studio is ready to do: Sony execs see the pic’s remake in the vein of the studio’s 1998 Zorro update, the Martin Campbell-helmed “The Mask of Zorro.” One wag predicted a lithe, buxom female might even play the part of Tonto.

The “Lone Ranger” tale is now classic: Left for dead in an ambush with five other Texas Rangers, lawman John Reid survives and is nursed back to health by an Indian scout named Tonto. He then dons a mask to avenge the murders of his comrades and to foil evildoers, never accepting payment for his services. His gratis vigilantism is made possible by the silver mine he inherits from one of his slain brothers — the same mine that affords him his endless supply of trademark silver bullets.

Production prexy Peter Schlessel will oversee the pic’s development for the studio with Col exec veepee of production Doug Belgrad. Budget is roughly $70 million, according to Col insiders.

While it remains to be seen how the rest of the country will react to the developments, the move was greeted with jubilation in tiny Kerrville, Texas — home to the Former Texas Rangers Foundation.

“I’d definitely go see it … Everytime I here that song, it sends chills down my neck,” said Joe Davis, president of the Foundation and himself a Texas Ranger for 24 years, “I get choked up just thinking about it.”

The last time the Western tale was tackled on the bigscreen was in 1981, when MCA/Universal released “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” an ill-fated adaptation remembered more for the legal battle waged by the TV series’ star, Clayton Moore, to retain the character’s famous mask than its take on the legend.

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