With the summer blockbuster movie season now in full swing, a film with a refreshing twist on the oft-crowded super hero genre debuted this week – The Lone Ranger – a white-hatted, white-horsed, masked and avenging former Texas ranger whose actual origins harken back not to the Old West but rather to Metro Detroit.
In 1933, the Ranger appeared for the very first time on WXYZ-AM radio in Detroit; a show reportedly conceived by station owner George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The nightly program (one of radio’s very early serials) was so popular, it would be picked up by NBC’s Blue Network (later ABC radio), with new episodes running through 1954. Over the years, such catch phrases as “Hi-Yo, Silver, Away!” and “Kemosabe” would become iconic, as would Gioachino Rossinis’s 1829 overture to the opera William Tell, best known to modern day audiences as the Ranger’s theme.
Interestingly enough, The Lone Ranger (with his trusty sidekick Tonto) would spin off another Detroit-based radio series, The Green Hornet, which also originated on WXYZ-AM radio and would be syndicated nationally. The crime-fighting Hornet, the legend went, was the son of the Ranger’s nephew. His sidekick, of course, was Kato, later immortalized on TV by a young karate champion Bruce Lee.
It is also TV where the Lone Ranger is perhaps best know, with actor Clayton Moore’s stoic portrayal of the hero in blue running between 1949 and 1957. In recent days, though, it has been reported that the grandson of Brace Beemer, the voice of the Ranger on radio is looking to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive with a documentary, due out later this year.
And what of the Lone Ranger’s latest incarnation? When I first heard Johnny Depp would be involved (as Tonto) and saw his Jack Sparrow-like costume, the word “campy” immediately sprung to mind. Indeed, there is plenty of that (although thankfully not to the degree of Seth Rogan’s Green Hornet). Yet, by the end of the film, Armie Hammer’s rendition of the Ranger has moved beyond milquetoast to an ‘into the sunset’ hero to be proud in a movie worthy of a look.