The Lone Ranger (formerly known as John Reid) is a one-time Texas Ranger, the sole survivor of a group of Rangers killed in ambush. He wears a mask to conceal his identity as he travels throughout the West fighting for law and order.
(Although there have been several differing versions of the Lone Ranger's origin over the years, the basic story has remained the same.)
Texas Ranger John Reid and his older brother, Captain Dan Reid, were part of a group of six Rangers in pursuit of a gang of dangerous outlaws led by Butch Cavendish. Assisted by a tracker named Collins (who was secretly employed by Cavendish), the Rangers were lulled into thinking that the gang were camped in an area on the far end of a canyon called Bryant's Gap, but Collins had lied to the Rangers; Cavendish and his men were actually waiting in ambush on the rim on both sides of the gap. As it was near dark, Cavendish's plan was to open fire on the Rangers as they rode through and keep shooting until they were sure the Rangers were all dead.
Cavendish was convinced that all of the Rangers were killed in the ambush, but John survived, nursed back to health after being found by an Indian named Tonto, who remembered John as he had once saved Tonto's life when they were boys. When John recognized Tonto, he remembered the name the Indian gave him: "Kemosabe", which meant 'trusty scout'. Tonto then made the observation that John was the only Ranger left, calling him the "lone ranger". John realizes that he will be a marked man once Cavendish finds out that he survived, but Tonto reassures him that he made six graves while burying only five men, so the outlaws will think John died with the others. Now with a strengthening determination to bring Cavendish and his gang to justice for their crimes, John decides that his name must remain buried with his brother and his colleagues and resolves to assume a secret identity and wear a disguise; it was Tonto who suggested that John wear a mask for a disguise, which he made out of cloth from his brother's vest. When John declares that he'll be the Lone Ranger, Tonto vows to help him.
During the ambush, Dan confided in John that his wife and son were coming from the East, and urged John to look after them in the event of his death; he also expected John to leave the Rangers and work the secret silver mine they owned together, and to see that his family gets his share, which John promised. Once recovered from his wounds, John hires an old friend, a retired Ranger named Jim, to work the mine for him. John tells Jim about the ambush and his intent to become the Lone Ranger and then makes an unusual request for Jim to forge silver bullets for him. Thinking that lead bullets would be just as effective, Jim asks why such an unusual request; John explains that the silver bullets are to be used not as a weapon, but a symbol, a symbol of justice to remind himself and others that life, like silver, has value and is not to be wasted. Jim agrees with the idea and makes the silver bullets. John swears Jim to secrecy about his true identity, then tells him that as far as anyone else is concerned, the mine belongs to him. Jim agrees, and John, with Tonto, rides out for the first time as the Lone Ranger.
At first, the Lone Ranger adopted an outlaw persona, which made it easier to infiltrate outlaw camps and capture the members of Cavendish's gang, a task that took years to complete. But even while doing this, the Lone Ranger made it a point to help anyone along the way who needed it. His adventures and heroic deeds earned him and Tonto a widespread reputation as being champions of justice, revered and admired by the good, feared and reviled by the bad, respected by both.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto were now on the trail of Cavendish himself when he fired from ambush on the two of them inadvertently killing the Lone Ranger's horse. Needing a new mount, the Lone Ranger recalls seeing a magnificent wild white stallion who lived in Wild Horse Valley, and decides to search for the horse while trailing Cavendish. They find the great mustang in a fierce death battle with a buffalo, who had gained the upper hand and was about to finish the horse off when it was shot and killed by the Lone Ranger, who then nursed the wounded horse back to health. As much as the Lone Ranger wanted the horse for his own, he was willing to let it go as it fought for his freedom and deserved to be free. When Tonto remarked on the horse's gleaming coat saying it looked "silver white", the Lone Ranger decided that Silver would be a good name for the horse and called out to it. In a gesture stronger than gratitude, the horse stayed on and became the Lone Ranger's partner. The Lone Ranger then trains the wild stallion who learned quickly, and after a few days was ready.
With the stronger and faster Silver as his new mount, the Lone Ranger was now able to overtake and capture Cavendish, finally completing his long mission. But even after accomplishing his goal, the Lone Ranger decided it was for the greater good to continue to help pave the way for law and order in the untamed Western territories, and with Tonto still at his side, he continued to wear the mask and maintain the identity of the Lone Ranger.
The radio version of the Lone Ranger was portrayed by several actors over the course of the series. The most memorable were Earle Graser, who played the role from April of 1933 until he died in a car accident in April of 1941, and Brace Beemer, who took over after Graser's death and played the Ranger until the end of the series in September of 1954. In order to ease the transition between Graser and Beemer, the Lone Ranger spent several episodes injured and unable to speak above a whisper. The original Lone Ranger was George Seaton, who was on the radio show from January through April, 1933. Director Jack Deeds and long-time announcer Fred Foy stepped in for fill-in episodes in 1933 and 1954, respectively.
The best remembered adaptation of the character is probably from the television show. The Lone Ranger debuted in 1949 and was the first western program to air on television. Actor Clayton Moore was the Lone Ranger for the first two seasons, from 1949-1952. After a contract dispute, Moore was replaced in season three (1953-1954) by John Hart. Moore returned to the role for the final seasons (1954-1957), and he remained associated with the character until his death in 1999.
In 2003 the WB television network sought to create a new Lone Ranger TV series, and commissioned a two-hour pilot episode. Chad Michael Murray was cast as the Ranger. The producers changed multiple aspects of the story, including the Ranger's real name (to Luke Hartman), to try and attract the teenage Dawson's Creek audience. The pilot was not well received, and a new series never produced.
In 1939, Warner Brothers released the Bob Clampett-directed cartoonThe Lone Stranger and Porky, which starred Porky Pig and featured a parody of the Lone Ranger. This animated version of the Lone Ranger wears a mask that covers his entire face except for his eyes, and even uses the names of Tonto and Silver.
On television, there have been two animated series of The Lone Ranger, both of which aired on CBS. The first was produced by Halas and Batchelor with 26 episodes (each consisting of three short stories) airing from 1966 to 1969; the Lone Ranger was voiced by Michael Rye, and Tonto was voiced by Sheperd Menken.
A second version, produced by Filmation, aired 28 episodes from 1980 to 1982; in this version The Lone Ranger was voiced by actor William Conrad (credited as "J. Darnoc"), while Tonto was voiced by Ivan Naranjo, a Blackfoot Southern Ute actor who hailed from Colorado.
The first filmed version of the Lone Ranger was a 15-chapter movie serial in 1938. Titled 'The Lone Ranger,' it starred Lee Powell as the Masked Rider, but was actually designed to leave both the villains, and audience, guessing which of five men was, in fact, the Lone Ranger. This serial was later edited into a feature under the title 'Hi-Yo Silver.' A second serial, 'The Lone Ranger Rides Again,' also 15 chapters, followed in 1939. This time Robert Livingston took over the role.
Clayton Moore took the character from the TV screen to the movie screen for two full-length motion pictures. The first, 1956's 'The Lone Ranger' from Warner Brothers, was the first time the Ranger appeared on film in color. It was released the summer before the TV show's only season of color episodes. The second feature, 1958's 'The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold' from United Artists, was the last time Moore would offically play the character, as it was released after the TV series' cancellation.
The Lone Ranger returned to the big screen in 1981 with the big-budget The Legend of the Lone Ranger, which retold the origin story of the Lone Ranger. Klinton Spilsbury played the title character in the film, though his dialogue was later overdubbed by James Keach.
This film became an unmitigated box office failure, due in large part to a move by Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to the Lone Ranger. In an effort not to 'confuse' the fans, Wrather decided to obtain a court order preventing Clayton Moore from appearing in public wearing the mask. This move caused massive negative publicity as audiences still knew Moore as the Lone Ranger from his frequent public appearances in character. As a consequence film goers stayed away, and the film barely made two-thirds of its original $18 million budget.
Aside from the publicity fiasco, Legend is the first time the Lone Ranger is officially given a full name. His last name was obviously Reid, but throughout the radio and TV series a first name was never given. This movie is the first "official" appearance of the name John (the name previously appeared in book about the history of radio), which has been given the character since.
A new Lone Ranger film, directed by Gore Verbinski, was, as of early March of 2013, scheduled for release on May 31 of that year. Armie Hammer, who played both twins in The Social Network, was cast as the Lone Ranger, and Verbinski chose Johnny Depp to play Tonto.
This Lone Ranger film was accused of de-emphasizing the Lone Ranger in favor of Tonto, and Depp's performance as Tonto was criticized. Already a target of withering fire from critics, this film was also a flop, having cost an estimated $250 million to shoot (not including an additional $150 million for marketing costs), and making back only $260 million at the box office worldwide.
In 2006, Dynamite Entertainment began a new comic book series based on the Lone Ranger legend. The series began with a six-issue story-arc retelling the origin of the Lone Ranger. This re-imagining of the story featured some alterations from previous versions. Most notably, Butch Cavendish, though he ordered the ambush, did not lead it. He was elsewhere pursuing political ambitions. Also, the addition of Julius Bartholomew, a.k.a. Black Bart, as Cavendish's enforcer sent to ensure all the Rangers were killed. Additionally, Dan Reid did not lead the Rangers into the ambush. Instead, the captain is James Reid, father of Dan and John. This series shows John Reid experiencing many more growing pains than previously shown, on his way to becoming the Lone Ranger.