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Radio / The Lone Ranger

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The Lone Ranger is a radio series that first premiered on Detroit, Michigan’s radio station WXYZ on January 30 or 31, 1933 and ran for over 3,000 episodes (the 20th anniversary episode bills itself as the 3,128th adventure). The character was the brainchild of George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. According to actor/director Chuck Livingston, who began working on the show in August 1933, George Trendle wanted to create essentially a Robin Hood type character in the old West. Original director Jim Jewell found writer Fran Striker, and between them and Trendle they created the character. The tales of his tragic origins, partnership with Tonto, and selfless heroism to defend the innocents of the American frontier led him to become an enduring icon of American culture.

Even though the radio show was aimed at children, adults made up at least half of its audience, and it was eventually picked up by the Mutual Broadcasting System, and eventually NBC’s Blue Network, which would become ABC.

While Tonto was voiced by Fred Mc Carthy, who went by the stage name John Todd, throughout the series (with isolated occasions when he was replaced by Raleigh Parker), the Lone Ranger himself was voiced by a number of voice actors:

  • John L. Barrett, on test broadcasts on WEBR in January 1933;
  • George Seaton (under the name George Stenius) (January 31 – May 9, 1933);
  • Series director James Jewell, for one episode;
  • An actor known only by the pseudonym "Jack Deeds", for one episode;
  • Earle Graser (May 16, 1933 – April 7, 1941). Graser would play the role with great success for eight years until his death. On April 8, Graser died in a car accident; and, for five episodes, the Lone Ranger was unable to speak beyond a whisper, with Tonto carrying the action. In addition, six episodes broadcast in August 1938 did not include the Lone Ranger's voice other than an occasional "Hi-Yo Silver!" in the background. In those episodes, Tonto carried the dialog;
  • Brace Beemer (April 18, 1941 to the end in 1955), he had actually played the role before Graser got it, but was promoted to station manager. He became one of the show's narrators for several years; he was given the role after Earle Graser died and he played the Lone Ranger until the series ended.
  • Fred Foy (March 29, 1954), also an announcer on the show, took over the role for one broadcast when Beemer had laryngitis.

Other regular actors on the show included Paul Hughes, Raleigh Parker, Jay Michael, John Hodiak, Frank Russell, and Ernie Winstanley. Directors included Jim Jewell, Chuck Livingston (also an actor on the show in the early days) and Fred Flowerday, who preserved many of the recordings of the show. Ernie Winstanley was one of five or six actors who played the Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid, until he aged out of the part. Jay Michael was a "heavy" and often played villains. Among other characters, Chuck Livingston played the Ranger's rival Black Bart. Actors on the show would often play multiple parts per episode.

Tropes found in the radio show:

  • Antiquated Linguistics: the characters within the show often employ Western slang. "Slap leather" means drawing a gun, "dry gulch" means ambushing someone, "nesters" for homesteaders, "owlhoots" are outlaws, etc.
  • Apron Matron: Mustang Mag, who talks tough and puts up a tough front, but underneath cares deeply for Missouri, and for the Ranger and Tonto.
    The Narrator: Years of struggle against drought and famine, rustlers and Indians, gave Mag the aggression of a man. Yet her rough manner concealed a soft heart.
  • Artistic License – History: various episodes depict the Ranger operating in and meeting historical figures from as early as the 1830s (where he's involved with Sam Houston while Houston is President of the Texas Republic) to as late as the 1880s. The Ranger would be an old man by the 1880s if any sort of logical chronology was applied to his life, so obviously the writers prioritized story over logical consistency.
  • Badass Baritone: applies to both Earle Graser and Brace Beemer as the Lone Ranger. John Todd as Tonto counts as well.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The opening narration often informs us, speaking of the Ranger, "It was he, more than any other man, who made possible the winning of the West."
  • Best Friend: The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The Ranger in particular will often describe Tonto this way.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: The Ranger does this frequently, either by outdrawing someone trying to shoot him, or to save someone else from being shot. When the person who just lost their gun would complain about their hand, the Ranger almost invariably insisted without any sympathy "You're not hurt!"
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Missouri almost always runs his mouth and gives away secret information that he really shouldn't.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The June 27, 1947 episode "Pete and Pedro" completely ignores all the previous episodes featuring Pete and Pedro and plays out as if this is the first time the Lone Ranger and Tonto have ever met the lazy pair. This episode was adapted for the television series.
  • Chaste Hero: neither the Lone Ranger nor Tonto have any time for romance. On rare occasions a woman will express interest in one or the other, but even when this happens it's not reciprocated.
  • Cool Horse: Silver, almost always described by witnesses as the finest horse they've ever seen. He's faster and can go far longer without getting tired than any other horse. He even gets his own origin story episode.
  • Cool Mask: even on radio, the Ranger is never without his mask, unless he's wearing a disguise. The only exception would be when Tonto is helping him put on a disguise, when of course Tonto can see his face. There are very rare exceptions, but almost no other character, other than his nephew Dan, ever sees the Ranger's face.
  • Crimefighting with Cash: It's almost never brought up, but the Lone Ranger is part-owner of a silver mine, meaning he's got more than enough money to travel the West without having to earn any sort of living.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: after Breed Latham and his gang murder a train engineer and fireman, the Ranger and Tonto dish out some justice of their own. It's two versus four, and the crooks don't stand a chance.
    The Ranger: I'll talk, you just listen. We couldn't save the life of the engineer and fireman of this train. I'm sorry for that. There have been a lot of times in the past when I've felt dissatisfied handing members of your Black Arrow legion over to the law. I felt that I wanted to administer a little punishment myself. So has Tonto. There are four of you and just two of us. I'm not going to draw my guns, and you're not going to get the chance to draw yours. We're going to hogtie you, but first we're going to give you a thrashing you'll remember until you hang!
  • Determined Homesteader: Many, many plots revolve around homesteaders (referred to as "nesters") determined to preserve their land, often from cattlemen who resent their presence on the formerly open range.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Joan Barkley/"the girl", an agent of the U.S. government who covertly helps the Ranger all through the Black Arrow storyline. She gathers the information and passes it along to the Ranger and Tonto, who take care of the actual confrontations with the criminals. She doesn't hide her face from anyone but the Ranger himself, and she does this because she's the sister of one of the Texas Rangers killed in the ambush by the Cavendish gang, and she's afraid she'll remind him of his old life and change who he is. There are hints that she was in love with him as well, but doesn't want to be an impediment to his life of fighting for justice and the future of the West.
  • Dramatic Half-Hour
  • Dramatic Unmask: in the 20th anniversary episode, Butch Cavendish returns and attempts to kill the Ranger at Bryant's Gap, where his gang had ambushed the six Texas Rangers years before. Over the course of the fight, Cavendish ends up falling from the cliff and as he lies dying, the Lone Ranger takes off his mask and shows his face to Cavendish so he would know not only who finally beat him, but that Cavendish had helped create the Lone Ranger, the scourge of criminals in the West. Cavendish recognizes him right away, calling him "Reid" and wishing he'd died without learning the truth.
  • Engineered Public Confession: a favorite tactic of the Ranger. He often tricks one villain into thinking another has betrayed him, and when the first confronts the second, he and the Sheriff are nearby to hear the whole thing.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: one of the Ranger and Tonto's favorite (and effective) tactics is to listen at open windows to learn important information.
  • Faking the Dead: there are several occasions when the Lone Ranger allows himself to be believed dead so he can operate more freely. This type of storyline was usually employed when Graser or Beemer was on vacation, for obvious reasons.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: the Ranger employs this tactic on multiple occasions when he knows someone is guilty of a crime but can't prove it.
  • Frontier Doctor: several episodes feature a doctor having to fight the distrust and prejudice of the local population when it comes to more modern medicine compared to what they're used to on the frontier.
  • Folk Hero: This is how the character is presented in many early episodes, as someone whose exploits were not recorded by historians, but who we know about because the stories have been passed down through the generations.
    Narrator: His heroic deeds were recorded in the memories of the people of seven states. Even today, cowboys sit around the campfire and relate stories of his daring... history does not record his many adventures, but the West will always remember the shout which has come down through the years...
  • Group-Identifying Feature: All the members of the Legion of the Black Arrow have a small tattoo of an arrow on their wrist, often used by members to identify themselves to other members of the conspiracy.
  • Hanging Around: Westerners in this series are often ready to lynch someone at the drop of a hat, and even lawmen speak with relish to a crook when informing them that after a fair trial, they'll hang.
  • History with Celebrity: the Ranger once states that George Armstrong Custer is the only person who knows his true identity. Custer appears in several episodes and dies offscreen in another. Billy the Kid also appears in an episode. Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and "the President" (probably Ulysses Grant, though he's not named) appear during the Black Arrow storyline. Later on the Ranger meets a number of famous names from the old West, including Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt, Sam Bass, Pawnee Bill and Bat Masterson, among others. President Rutherford B. Hayes comes west to visit Dodge City in an episode, and of course, meets Tonto and the Lone Ranger.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Generally speaking, criminals are arrested and tried rather than killed outright, but there are times when a crook falls into his own trap. One example is a homesteader who, with the help of his fellow settlers, has discovered gold in a valley that is sacred to the local Indian tribe. He plots to kill all the other settlers and take the gold for himself, and to that end he rigs an explosion that will drop a boulder at the entrance to the valley, set to be triggered by a tripwire. When he's found out he runs for it, trips over the wire and is crushed to death by his own trap.
  • Horse Jump: On more than one occasion, Silver makes a jump that no other horse would be able to make. Tonto usually tries to dissuade the Ranger from attempting the jump, certain that he'll fall short and be killed, but Silver is invariably able to do just what the Ranger thinks he can.
  • Identity Amnesia: the Ranger has a temporary version brought about by a bullet grazing his scalp in "When Memory Failed".
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Lone Ranger simply does not miss if he shoots at something or someone, whether he's on foot with a steady aim or riding Silver at full gallop from half a mile away. In earlier episodes he is constantly shooting the guns out of someone's hand, while later he will often shoot them in the arm instead.
  • Invisible President: the Ranger meets with him several times, but the President is never named (though given the time period this storyline takes place in, he's almost certainly Ulysses Grant). He's just "the President". Even though this is a radio program, he's often described with his face "hidden in shadows", meaning some of the agents he meets with don't see his face any more than the listening audience does.
    • Averted with the appearance of Rutherford B. Hayes, who is specifically named and who appears in public.
  • Invulnerable Horses: As often as people on horseback shoot at each other, you'd think horses would be shot, but it rarely happens. Crooks and lawmen alike shoot at the Ranger and Tonto as they're riding away, but the horses are never hit, though the Ranger or Tonto are hit on rare occasions.
  • Knight Errant: the Ranger is a classic example. He fits the definition in almost every way, except that he's not a loner and is almost always accompanied by his Best Friend, Tonto.
  • Legion of Doom: the Legion of the Black Arrow, dedicated to breaking away from the United States and forming a new country in the West.
  • Long-Lost Relative: the Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid, located by the Lone Ranger and Tonto after the boy had been living with someone he thought was his grandmother for 14 years. Dan is the only son of the Ranger's older brother, orphaned twice on the same day when he was an infant. His father was killed by the Cavendish gang, and his mother in an Indian attack as they were traveling to meet Captain Reid in Texas.
  • Long-Runners: the show ran three times a week from January 1933 to 1956, producing over 3,100 episodes.
  • Lost Voice Plot: Used to explain a voice actor change when Earle Graser died in a car wreck and had to be replaced. Snopes has the story here.
  • Lovable Rogue: the Black Caballero, who is only committing crimes for the thrill of it. Though the Ranger captures him and sends him to jail, he is given The Pardon for his role in helping prevent war between the United States and Mexico.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: The Ranger experiences this in "The Last Bullet" when Silver stumbles in the desert and is injured and the Ranger breaks his leg. Low on water, stuck in the hot sun for days with vultures circling, the Ranger loses himself in memories as he and Silver suffer from heat and thirst and come very close to dying until Tonto tracks them down.
  • Mysterious Past: The series never delves too deeply into the Ranger's past and who he was. We know his last name is Reid, and that he had an older brother who was also a Texas Ranger, but very little else. Hints about his knowledge and education appear in the form of the grammatically precise way that he speaks, avoiding the western slang that all the other characters use, and the way he quotes literature from time to time or displays skills that the vast majority of Westerners don't have.
  • Narrator: Every episode starts with a narrator introduction and setup, and many episodes feature the narrator describing some aspect of the story that can't be covered by the characters describing what they see or are doing.
  • Obfuscating Disability: When posing as an elderly Prospector, the Ranger would place a stone in his shoe to force himself to walk with a limp.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: when Graser or Beemer were on vacation, if the Ranger was still active rather than wounded or assumed dead, the story would often follow Tonto or other characters, and anything the Ranger did would be known only when the other characters describe it.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Sometimes said verbatim when the Ranger or Tonto get shot, usually in the shoulder or a bullet graze on the scalp. If the Ranger shoots someone it will be this, a shot in the arm or hand designed to incapacitate, not kill.
    • Averted during the storyline used to replace Earle Graser with Brace Beemer, when the Lone Ranger is shot and comes very close to dying from the gunshot wound. It takes an army surgeon and plenty of care from Mustang Mag and Tonto for him to recover.
    • Also averted in the episode "Mr. Gulliver" where the Ranger is shot and loses enough blood that he passes out and needs the help of a couple of boys to get him to their father's ranch where he can get medical help.
  • "On the Next Episode of..." Catch-Phrase: "Will the Lone Ranger triumph as he fights on for justice, law and order? Tune in next week when General Mills brings you another exciting episode of The Lone Ranger!"
  • Once per Episode: Someone will exclaim "You're masked!" to the Lone Ranger, and his reply will be "I'm not an outlaw." Sometimes the mask is just more trouble than it's worth, given how often people assume the Ranger is a crook because he's wearing it.
  • Opening Narration: "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear..." It wasn't always the first line though. Usually, it was: "A fiery horse with a speed of light, a cloud of dust, and hearty 'Hi-o Silver!' (The Lone Ranger rides again!)".
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The El Mundo storyline from March and April, 1943. For six episodes, a series about stealing gold, robbing stages, cattle rustling, and other Western genre staples becomes a series about a mad scientist hiding underground in Aztec ruins, using lost tech and his inventions to wreak havoc on the locals.
  • Phrase Catcher: "Look! He left this Silver Bullet!" "Who was that masked man?"
  • Pony Express Rider: several episodes deal with dangers to the Pony Express, with one plot even requiring the Ranger to act as a rider for a short time.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The theme song ("William Tell Overture," second movement) was originally written in 1829 as part of Rossini's opera William Tell, but today it is inextricably linked to the show.
    • All the music on the show was classical. Kids grew up listening to Mendelssohn and Liszt thinking they were just themes for the show.
  • Prison Episode: 'Black Hole' is a rare episode set in the Hellhole Prison where the Black Caballero was sent after the Ranger captured him. The prison is only as bad as it is because Wardens Are Evil, and once the Ranger finds out the situation, he straightens it out quickly.
  • Proto-Superhero: A masked do-gooder with an alias, a Secret Identity, and a sidekick.
  • Quick Draw: No one can pull his pistol faster than the Lone Ranger, who will sometimes even draw and aim at a man who already has his gun out of the holster before that man can aim at him. Characters in the show are constantly amazed at the speed of the Ranger's draw.
  • Recurring Character: A number appear in multiple episodes and storylines:
    • Mustang Mag, an older lady rancher with a fiery temper who is one of the Ranger and Tonto's best friends.
    • Old Missouri, Mustang Mag's foreman and later Sheriff of the local town
    • Arizona Lawson: a wolf-pelt bounty hunter who travels with his dog
    • the Padre, a friend and contact who runs a Spanish mission
    • the Black Caballero: a thrill-seeking crook in his first storyline who earns the Ranger's respect, after which the two become friends
    • Bolliver Bates and Hacksaw Hawkins/Hastings (his last name changes in his second appearance), down on their luck Confederate vets who claim to have ridden with Jeb Stuart
    • Chief Thundercloud, an Indian chief who is friends with the Ranger and Tonto, and who gifted Tonto the paint horse that Tonto later named Scout.
    • Pete Lacey & Pedro Martinez, a couple of drifters who rarely hold a job for long, but are nonetheless friends with the Ranger and Tonto. They also appear on the television series, albeit for only a single episode.
    • Torlock, one of the leaders of the Black Arrow who appears in a number of episodes during the first half of the storyline before being poisoned to silence him.
    • "The Girl"/Joan Barkley, an agent working for the President to help the Ranger fight the Legion of the Black Arrow. Her brother Bob was one of the Texas Rangers killed in the same ambush at Grant's Pass that almost killed the man who would become the Lone Ranger, and she found and tried to help him before Tonto arrived, possibly saving the Ranger's life. By the time she brought help back the next day, six graves had been dug and she assumed at the time that he must have died just like the others. She later learns otherwise, meaning she knows who the Lone Ranger is beneath his mask. She never lets him see her face during the Black Arrow storyline, but later the President introduces them and the Ranger recognizes her.
    • "Peaceful" Parker, U.S. Marshal
    • Barnaby Boggs - starts out as essentially a snake-oil salesman and a bit of a con man, though he generally reforms in subsequent appearances. One of the few characters to cross over and appear on the television series.
    • "Pop" Hendricks, teller of tall tales about his past and constant chewer of tobacco.
    • The President - never named, but probably Ulysses Grant.
    • "Thunder" Martin (played by Paul Hughes)- a mule driver and good friend of the Ranger and Tonto
    • Clarabelle Hornblow - a fiery tempered lady rancher who employs Thunder Martin.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Tonto is said to be one of the best trackers in the west, although he's not infallible.
  • Searching for the Lost Relative: a storyline in 1943 sees the Lone Ranger locate his nephew Dan Reid, son of the Lone Ranger's older brother.
  • The Seven Western Plots: With several thousand episodes, you can be sure variants of these plots appear many times over.
  • Shoot the Rope: given his incredible shooting skills, the Ranger has pulled this off to stop a hanging on a few occasions.
  • Silver Bullet: The Lone Ranger makes his bullets from silver as a reminder that they are to be fired only when necessary.
  • Spotting the Thread: the Lone Ranger often removes his mask and disguises himself to avoid drawing attention. His disguise is usually effective, but there have been times when someone sees through it. On one occasion, a man with a background in theater recognizes that the Ranger is a man in disguise because he's familiar with the stain used to change skin color that the Ranger is wearing.
  • Superhero Sobriquets: The Phantom Figure of the Plains, the Masked Rider of Justice
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Bolliver Bates and Hacksaw Hastings still wear their tattered Confederate uniforms, but in their case it's because they have nothing else to wear.
  • Story Arc: most episodes of this series are standalone half hour stories, with the occasional three part story, or in rare instances, a longer story arc, such as the eight episode "Stage Line Challenge". The exception is the months-long "Legion of the Black Arrow" story arc which ran for over 60 episodes from Oct 13, 1941, to the end of February 1942.
    • Immediately following the Black Arrow storyline's conclusion is a series of connected episodes where the Ranger and Tonto hunt down the five leaders of the Black Arrow and though the there is no evidence linking them to that organization, the Ranger manages to get them all convicted for other crimes.
    • The Iron Spur series, about a gang of criminals trying to stop the transcontinental railroad from being built, also ran for many weeks.
    • The Ranger spends weeks in San Fransisco investigating the Barbary Coast and then logging problems in northern California.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: During a trip to New Orleans, the Lone Ranger takes the place of the son of one of his fellow Texas Rangers to fight a duel to the death using rapiers. The Ranger displays a never-before mentioned skill with a sword and defeats his opponent, said to be one of the best swordsmen in New Orleans.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Clarabelle Hornblow and Thunder Martin fill the roles in the series previously filled by Mustang Mag and Old Missouri, down to scripts that were originally used for Mag and Missouri being repurposed for Clarabelle and Thunder.
  • That Man Is Dead: The Ranger leaves his name behind when he decides to put on the mask and let the world think that he's dead.
    I'll do it, Tonto. I'll wear a mask. No one will know who I am. Let them think all six of those Rangers have... gone west. There'll be one who is still riding. I'll have no name. My name is beneath the mound of earth you built beside the graves of my friends. I'll just be... the Lone Ranger.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Lone Ranger will not kill, though as the series goes on he is certainly willing to shoot opponents in the arm or leg to put them out of the fight, something he would not have done early on. Tonto occasionally expresses more willingness to kill than the Ranger, but he also abides by the no killing rule.
  • Thrill Seeker: this is what motivates the Black Caballero. He lives for the thrill that the danger of the criminal life provides him. He doesn't really care about the loot, and generally gives it all to his men.
  • To Absent Friends: During the 20th anniversary episode, the Ranger revisits the graves of his fallen friends to remember them and show his nephew Dan the grave of his father. He names them all: Captain Reid (his brother), Jim Bates, Sam Cooper, Jack Stacy, and Joe Brent. The Ranger's name is on the sixth cross. As an aside, different names are sometimes given in earlier episodes. Long term continuity is not always perfect on this program.
  • Tonto Talk: Every Indian in the series talks this way.
  • Undying Loyalty: there's a reason Tonto is often characterized as the Lone Ranger's faithful friend. He cares deeply for his friend.
  • The Unmasking: The Ranger actually takes off his mask and reveals his face to the President of the United States in the episode "A New Mission" which begins The Legion of the Black Arrow storyline, after first telling him why he wears the mask. No one else is present in the secret meeting between the two.
  • Victory Through Intimidation: Another common tactic. The Ranger can often stand off crowds or win without a fight by showing no fear and making an enemy back down. He's even escaped a firing squad using this technique.

Alternative Title(s): The Legend Of The Lone Ranger