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Clayton Moore (September 14, 1914 – December 28, 1999) was an American actor best known for playing the fictional western character The Lone Ranger.
Born as Jack Carlton Moore in Chicago, Illinois, Moore was a circus acrobat as a boy, then later enjoyed a successful career as a John Robert Powers model. Moving to Hollywood in the late 1930s, he began working as a stunt man and bit player between modeling jobs. According to his autobiography, around 1940 Hollywood producer Edward Small persuaded him to adopt the stage name "Clayton" Moore. He was an occasional player in B westerns and Republic Studio cliffhangers, ultimately starring in more such films than serial hero Buster Crabbe.
Moore served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II and made training films (Target--Invisible, etc.) with the First Motion Picture Unit.
As The Lone RangerEdit
Moore's big break came in 1949, when George W. Trendle spotted him in Ghost of Zorro. As producer of the radio show and creator of "The Lone Ranger" character, with writer Fran Striker, Trendle was about to launch the masked man in the new medium of television. Moore was cast on sight.
Moore then faced the challenge of training his voice to sound like the radio version of The Lone Ranger, which had then been on the air since 1933, and succeeded in lowering his already distinctive baritone even further. With the first notes of Rossini's stirring "William Tell Overture" and announcer Fred Foy's "Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear ... ," Moore and co-star Jay Silverheels, in the role of Tonto, made history as the first Western written specifically for television. The Lone Ranger soon became the highest-rated program to that point on the fledgling ABC network and its first true "hit," even earning an Emmy nomination in 1950.
After two successful years, which presented a new episode every week, 52 weeks a year, Moore had a pay dispute and left the series. As "Clay Moore," he made a few more westerns and serials, sometimes playing the villain. The public did not accept the new Lone Ranger, actor John Hart; so the owners of the program relented and rehired Moore at his requested salary. He stayed with the program until it ended first-run production in 1957. He and Jay Silverheels also starred in two feature-length "Lone Ranger" motion pictures. Moore made appearances in other series, including a role in the 1952 episde "Snake River Trapper" of Bill Williams' syndicated western, The Adventures of Kit Carson.
After completion of the second feature, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold in 1958, Moore embarked on what eventually became 40 years of personal appearances, TV guest spots, and classic commercials as the legendary masked man. In real life, Moore was close friends with Silverheels, who occasionally joined him in appearances over the years; throughout his career Moore expressed his tremendous respect and love for Silverheels.
Lawsuit over public appearancesEdit
In 1979, television producer Jack Wrather, who had purchased the rights to the Lone Ranger character a year earlier, had obtained a court order prohibiting Moore from making future appearances as The Lone Ranger. Wrather anticipated making a new film version of the story, and did not want the value of the character being undercut by Moore's appearances, nor anyone to think that the 65-year-old Moore would be playing the role in the new picture. This move proved to be a public relations disaster of the first order. Moore responded by changing his costume slightly and replacing the mask with similar-looking wraparound sunglasses, and then counter-sued Wrather. He eventually won the suit, and was able to resume his appearances in costume, which he continued to do until shortly before his death. Wrather's planned motion picture remake, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was released in 1981 and was a critical failure. Although it was customary for previous stars to cameo in a movie where a new actor had taken over their role, Clayton Moore declined to do so in Legend, due not only to the bad blood resulting from the legal actions against him, but also his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the film handled the character. The film was also a commercial flop, having only made made back $12 million of its $18 million budget.
Moore often was quoted as saying he had "fallen in love with the Lone Ranger character" and strove in his personal life to take The Lone Ranger Creed to heart. This, coupled with his public fight to retain the right to wear the mask, ultimately elevated him in the public's eyes to an American folk icon. In this regard, he was much like another cowboy star, William Boyd, who nurtured the Hopalong Cassidy character. Moore was so identified with the masked man that he is the only person on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to have his character's name along with his on the star, which reads, "Clayton Moore — The Lone Ranger." He was inducted into the Stuntman's Hall of Fame in 1982 and in 1990 was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In keeping with the nature of the Ranger character, Moore chose to protect the Ranger's identity at all times and is perhaps the only actor whose full face is largely unknown to the public. It was never shown in the TV series, although occasionally he would don a disguise and affect an accent, his disguise usually involving a beard, revealing only the upper half of his face in the process. However, there is no shortage of photos of Moore unmasked, including many in his autobiography. His many fans, however, could easily recognize him by his distinctive voice.
Other Appearances Edit
Apart from his public appearances, Moore made many cameos in character as the Lone Ranger in many television commercials:
- One notable appearance was in a 1968 commercial for Jeno's (now Totino's) Pizza Rolls. Created by Stan Freberg, the commercial was a parody of a Lark Cigarettes commercial which used the William Tell Overture with lyrics written especially for the product. The commercial takes place at a fancy party in which numerous party goers show off their Pizza Roll packs to the camera (similar to the Lark commercial). Near the end of the Pizza Rolls commercial, an annoyed man pulls out a pack of cigarettes and says to one of the guests, "I want to talk to you about that music you're using." Before he can say anything else, Moore in his Lone Ranger costume (with Jay Silverheels as Tonto by his side) says to the cigarette man, "That's funny. I've been meaning to speak to you people about the same thing."
- In the early 70s, Moore and Silverheels appeared in a commercial for Aqua Velva after shave.
- In 1981, Moore, poking fun at the Jack Wrather lawsuit, appeared in a commercial for Corning SunSensor eyeglass lenses.
- In 1986, Moore and Silverheels (through old Lone Ranger TV footage) appeared with pitchman Fernando Escandon in a commercial for Tostitos tortilla chips.
The Jay Thomas StoryEdit
Beginning in 1998, actor and radio personality Jay Thomas made annual Christmas visits to David Letterman's late night TV show. In each appearance Thomas related a story from his days as a disc jockey in the 70s for a radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina, during which time he and a colleague did a promotional broadcast at a car dealership where Clayton Moore, dressed as the Lone Ranger, also appeared.
According to the story, after the broadcast ended Thomas and his colleague, both clad in the hip fashion of the day (including their hair which Thomas' friend wore long while Thomas himself sported what he called a "White Man's Afro"), go off and secretly smoke a marijuana joint behind a dumpster. When they return to pack up their equipment, they discover that Moore is still there, as the car that was supposed to pick him up never arrived, so Thomas offers Moore a ride in his own car, which Moore accepts.
While in traffic, with Moore sitting quietly in the back seat, an impatient middle-aged man backs his full-sized Buick into the front end of Thomas' compact Volvo breaking one of his headlights, and then drives off. An angry Thomas chases the Buick through heavy traffic, forgetting all about Moore still sitting in his back seat. When he finally catches up to the man and confronts him about the damage the indignant driver denies all. When Thomas threatens to call the police, the man claims no one will believe "two hippie freaks"; at that moment, Moore, still in costume, gets out of the car and says to the man, "They'll believe me, citizen!" The man, now in a panic, exclaims "I didn't know it was you!"
Thomas appeared every Christmas (except for 2013) on Letterman's show to re-tell the story; his final appearance was in 2014 before Letterman retired the following May. Jay Thomas died of throat cancer in August 2017.
Clayton Moore died on December 28, 1999, in a West Hills, California, hospital after suffering a heart attack at his home in nearby Calabasas, California. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
I Was That Masked Man, by Clayton Moore with Frank Thompson, Taylor Publishing Company, 1996 - ISBN 0-87833-939-6