Originally a Radio Drama, The Lone Ranger first aired on January 30, 1933 and ran through September 3, 1954. It featured the adventures of a mysterious masked man who traveled The Wild West with his faithful companion Tonto and his famous white horse Silver, righting wrongs as they went. It quickly spawned a Long-Running Book Series, and later became a very successful television series, which ran from 1949 to 1957. The character has also appeared in a Comic Strip, movies (both serials and feature films), two Animated Series, and comic books (Tonto and Silver even got their own individual Comic Book series!)
While the details of the Lone Ranger's origins have changed between the various adaptations, the general outline is as follows. A Texas Ranger named "Reid" is the Sole Survivor of an ambush that kills the band of Rangers he'd been riding with, including his brother Dan Reid. Left for dead, Reid is found by Tonto, who happens to have had his life saved by the Ranger in the past after renegades wiped out Tonto's home village. A chance remark by Tonto gives Reid the name "Lone Ranger." The Lone Ranger dons a mask, initially to prevent the criminals from finding out which of the Rangers had survived and targeting their family. At some point, the Lone Ranger acquires the services of Silver. He also convinces a retired Ranger to be his agent, working a secret silver mine that supplies the Lone Ranger's silver bullets and otherwise modest needs.
Finally, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are able to capture the criminals responsible for the ambush and bring them to justice.
The Lone Ranger was noted for his unusually strong moral and ethical code. He used his silver bullets ("reminders of the preciousness of life") to disarm opponents, not to kill, unless there was no other option. The radio and early TV series were careful to keep the Ranger's abilities somewhat plausible — yes, he could outdraw any single opponent, but had to be more clever to deal with multiple attackers. And while Tonto's devotion to the masked man sometimes had Unfortunate Implications, the Lone Ranger never treated his faithful companion as anything less than a human being and full partner. It was also a standing rule on the show that the scripts must never vilify Native Americans -- in stark contrast to so many other early westerns.
As it stands, the series still had to be updated as sensibilities changed by the 1980s. Most notably, in the 1981 Saturday Morning Cartoon, Tonto began to speak in perfect English and became a proud warrior who would not tolerate being mistreated.
A 1981 film, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was a critical failure, panned by audiences and critics. It did not help the film's chance of success when the owners of the film rights literally pulled the mask off the old Lone Ranger prior to release: Clayton Moore, the Ranger's TV actor, who toured around the country at the time for autographs and enjoying the fans at county fairs. This Executive Meddling was a public relations disaster. But justice prevailed: Moore sued and won back his right to wear the mask. The Western flavor of Fred Rogers in terms of one of the nicest people on and off-screen, Moore passed away in 1999.
The most recent Lone Ranger revival came in the form of Dynamite Comics' new publication. The series is notable for its darker tone and occasionally graphic depiction of violence. This incarnation included a detailed version of the Lone Ranger's backstory. Tonto is characterized as a forlorn wanderer outcast from his tribe, who is more willing to use lethal violence than the Ranger. The Ranger also has a darker portrayal. Readers expect him to shout, "I'm the goddamn Batman!" any day now.
A new The Lone Ranger movie produced by Disney was released on July 3rd, 2013. Johnny Depp was cast as (the main character) Tonto, and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger. The film was originally pushed back from December 2012 to May 2013 after Cowboys & Aliens didn't perform as expected, and, when it finally did reach the theaters, proceeded to bomb even more thoroughly than the 1981 film.
Tropes seen in the various Lone Ranger series:
- Ambiguous Time Period: There are hints that the Ranger and Tonto are adventuring out west while The American Civil War is going on, though this is never explicitly stated in the early seasons, and no year is given. Abraham Lincoln's portrait is seen on the wall in numerous episodes, and one season 2 episode features a soldier returning home, wearing what is clearly a Confederate uniform (though the characters all refer only to him having been in "the army"). Later seasons would explicitly reference and build plots around the aftermath of the war and Reconstruction.
- Animated Series:
- Done by Filmation, with all that that implies: generally cheap-looking animation combined with very good writing, artwork, voice acting, and music. While their original productions varied a great deal in quality, Filmation always did a conscientious job with their shows based on established classic adventure heroes. Starring William Conrad (radio's version of Matt Dillon) as the voice of the Ranger.
- And then there's the 1966 Format Films version, which was surprisingly good, averted several cliches (death was mentioned even in the opening itself, which by the way, was absolutely epic).
- Arch-Enemy / Breakout Villain: Butch Cavendish, being a major villain in the last two film adaptations, and the comic book.
- Big Damn Heroes: The Ranger, more often than not. Especially in the TV show.
- Bilingual Bonus: "Tonto" is Spanish for "fool".
- Which is why he was renamed "Toro" (Bull) in Spanish translations, who is a shorthand for Toro Sentado (Sitting Bull, after the famous Lakota chief)
- That Other Wiki says the name was taken from the Tonto Basin in Arizona and that "tonto" means "wild one" in the Potawatomi language. The NPR was appalled when accusations of racism appeared years later, claiming to be unaware that the word meant that.
- In fact, as played by Jay Silverheels (Mohawk), whose "Hmmmm..." spoke volumes, one had the distinct impression that Tonto was smarter than the Lone Ranger.
- Although that doesn't necessarily mean much. Many scripts of this version were recycled into Dale Of The Mounted scripts in Canada, which replaced Tonto with a dog.
- Blasting It Out of Their Hands
- Calling Card: The Lone Ranger's silver bullets. He would frequently leave one with those he saved so they would know who had rescued him.
- Canon Discontinuity: The Republic serials are ignored, although the full-face mask is sometimes used for a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo in The Green Hornet.
- The Cape: Or at least the Western equivalent. The Lone Ranger can probably be said to share the spot with Superman as the most iconic fictional Good Guy for that generation of American children.
- Catch-Phrase: "Hi-Yo, Silver, away!", "Who was that masked man, anyway?" (By whomever he saved this episode.)
- Cattle Punk: The 1966 Films Format animated series could include a lot of surprisingly sci-fi stuff, from malevolent boy genius Tiny Tom using animated toy soldiers to commit crimes to a maniac planning on taking over the Wild West with an army of Zeppelins, from a man with bear's paws replacing his own hands to a mad botanist who bred Man Eating Plants.
- Celibate Hero: The Lone Ranger has no time for romance, and neither does Tonto. This was actually written into the show's "bible" back in the earliest days.
- Clothing Switch: Happens every so often in the TV show.
- Comic-Book Adaptation: A few over the years, including a recent series from Dynamite Comics, taking The Lone Ranger & Tonto down a Darker And Grittier path.
- Tonto had his own title from Dell Comics, back in the day.
- Cool Horse: Silver, and to a lesser extent, Tonto's horse Scout.
- Cool Mask: One of the codifiers for smaller eye ring types.
- Design By Committee: The original radio show was created by a committee — station owner George Trendle and a team of writers led by Fran (Francis) Striker — at WXYZ in Detroit. The objective was purely financial. Trendle had dropped the station's CBS affiliation and wanted an original, well-written program that would have children (a less critical audience) flocking to hear the radio (and the commercials) in droves.
- The Faceless: Once having assumed his new identity, the Lone Ranger is never seen without his mask or some form of disguise. Actor Clayton Moore carried this through in his public appearances as the Ranger for years afterward, even after being harassed by ITC in an ultimately fatal PR disaster. When he wasn't allowed to wear the mask, he wore big sunglasses.note
- Fanfare: The overture to an otherwise-obscure opera by Gioachino Rossini about William Tellnote . (You're probably hearing it in your head right now while you're reading this page.)
- Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: Though not well-known, there is a Lone Ranger theme with lyrics, which then segues into the famed instrumental.
- Frothy Mugs of Water: The radio and TV series avoided even the mention of alcohol, causing villains to have to gather in "cafes" instead of the usual saloons. Again, this was specified in the writer's guide.
- Henpecked Husband: One appears in the TV episode Man of the house. He gets better by the end of it.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: In the TV episode "Pay Dirt" (See above), Cavendish tried to escape by the door he set up to trigger a rifle to fire. Guess what happened when he opened the door?
- Hollywood Natives: Frequently appeared as supporting characters.
- Horseback Heroism: As the intro to the radio series puts it:A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! ... 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 western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Tonto was responsible for rescuing John Reid and helping him become the Lone Ranger. Most writers tend to emphasize the fact that Tonto can get along without the Lone Ranger much better than the Lone Ranger can do without Tonto.
- Keep It Foreign: Oddly enough, the Mexican Spanish dubs of many parts of the franchise keeps the Lone Ranger's Catch-Phrase "Hi-Yo, Silver, away!" untranslated from English, possibly because there's no good translation for it in Spanish.
- Kneel, Push, Trip: In The Lone Ranger/Green Hornet #5, the Lone Ranger and Elliot Ness do this to defeat Black Bart (Ness does the kneeling, the Ranger does the pushing).
- Improbable Aiming Skills: How the Lone Ranger avoided ever having to kill anyone.
- The Lad-ette: "Cannonball" Mck Kay from the tv episode featuring her.
- The Legend of X: The title of the 1981 film.
- Let's You and Him Fight: A frequently recurring plot is for some bad guys to manipulate the local settlers and Indians in an area into fighting, usually by framing the Indians for some act of violence, and Tonto and the Ranger have to expose the scheme and make peace between the two sides.
- MAD: In one of Dave Berg's The Lighter Side Of... two kids are shown watching TV, Leonard Bernstein is saying "What you know as The Theme to The Lone Ranger is actually a piece by Gioachino Rossini about William Tell. Now we are going to play The William Tell Overture...let's see how grown up you are — try to listen to it without thinking of The Lone Ranger. Next panel shows the kids squinting their eyes as the music plays, trying to listen only to the music. Last panel, cue the undershirt wearing, beer toting father walk through the room shouting "Hi, oh, Silver!"
- You'll often hear that the definition of a person with a one-track mind is someone who can listen to The William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. Dan Rather uses this as the definition of an intellectual.
- Magical Native American: Possibly.
- Master of Disguise: Beyond that fiendishly clever domino mask, that is.
- Nephewism: Dan Reid Jr., the son of the Ranger's murdered brother.
- No Name Given: "Reid's" given name is never mentioned in the radio or TV series, though some ancillary material indicates it may be "John."
- The name Reid was first associated with the Ranger's brother and fellow Texas Ranger, Captain Reid, killed in the first episode. The Ranger himself is referred to as Reid in the second episode by an old friend and retired Ranger who works the silver mine where the Ranger gets the silver for his bullets and living expenses. The name also belongs to his nephew Dan, who in later episodes traveled with him to learn about his heritage, almost as a kind of Robin figure. Trendle later established that Dan was the father of Brit Reid, the Green Hornet.
- No Problem with Licensed Games: The NES game version of The Lone Ranger, while not a well known game, is considered a Cult Classic by the few who played it.
- Once an Episode: The radio drama's penchant for having Tonto sent to town to get information and getting the snot beaten out of him by the bandits was famous enough to become a Bill Cosby routine.Bill Cosby: Now Tonto, to me, always was like — I would say to Tonto, why does he do the same thing, because the Lone Ranger would always say, "Tonto?" "Yes, Kemosabe?" "I want you to go to town." And every time he'd go to town, the bandits would beat the snot out of him! No, they'd get him! *BAM! BAM!* "Nice to have you in town, Tonto!" *BAM! BAM!* That kind of thing. And he'd go back and the Lone Ranger'd look at him, "Oh, my, goodness, Tonto. Did you get the information?" "Yes, me have information, Kemosabe..." And I'd always holler at the radio, "Tonto! Don't go to town! They're gonna beat you up again, man!"
- Outlaw Town: The TV series had an episode titled "Outlaw Town".
- Phrase-Catcher: "Look! He left this Silver Bullet!" "Who was that masked man?"
- 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.
- Race Lift: The man the Lone Ranger is based on was actually black.
- Rage Breaking Point: The Lone Ranger occasionally lost his temper, but good. He once delivered a terrific beating to a mangy owlhoot who had blown his cover, a disguise on which many people's lives depended. Then he forced the guy to lick his boots. At gunpoint. Honestly.
- The Remnant: Colonel Augustus Barton and his renegede Confederate buswhackers in The Lone Ranger and Zorro: The Death of Zorro from Dynamite Comics.
- Silver Bullet
- Sole Survivor
- So Once Again, the Day Is Saved
- Spaghetti Western: The main influence on the Dynamite Comics series.
- Spin-Off: Sort of; The Green Hornet, created by the same people, was the Lone Ranger's grand-nephew Britt Reid.
- Spiritual Successor: The Green Hornet is this explicitly, featuring the Ranger's grand-nephew.
- Superhero Packing Heat
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: The Lone Ranger is very clear on this.
- Title Drop: Someone says the Lone Ranger's name just about Once an Episode.
- Tonto Talk: Tonto talked like this until the '80s. Word of God had it that he actually spoke several languages, just had trouble with pronouns in English.
- Towering Flower: In the cartoon episode "Forest of Death", a Mad Scientist has created a large variety of dangerous, mutant plants. One of these is a carnivorous bloom large enough to eat a grown man.
- Unbuilt Trope: The 'masked hero' trope gets this in one episode where it makes a posse looking for a kidnapped boy (as well as being with an Native American in an era were they were mistrusted) makes them suspect he's the kidnapper.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Almost Once an Episode . In the third episode of the tv show, the Ranger pulls this off twice.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Pete and Pedro from the episode of the tv show featuring them.
- Wicked Toymaker: The malevolent boy genius Tiny Tom who used animated toy soldiers to commit crimes in the 1966 Format Films animated series.
- The Wild West