Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The Lone Ranger has been thrilling fans with his heroic exploits for nearly 80 years.
One of the most beloved of fictional western characters, the Lone Ranger has been thrilling fans with his heroic exploits for nearly 80 years. Created by radio station owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker, the character made his debut via a radio program broadcast from Trendle’s Detroit, Mich., station WXYZ on Jan. 30, 1933. Conceived as a cowboy variation on vigilante characters like Zorro, the Lone Ranger is actually John Reid, the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers (of whom the captain was older brother Dan) ambushed by the outlaw Butch Cavendish gang. Shot and critically wounded, Reid is fortuitously found by a Native American man, Tonto, who realizing he is the same person who saved his own life years prior, tends to John’s injuries.
Upon regaining his health, Reid makes a vow to bring both the Cavendish band and any other lawbreakers he comes across to justice and dons a domino-like mask cut from the vest of his slain brother to prevent anyone from learning his true identity. After Tonto offers to aid him in his quest, the pair comes across a gored white stallion which they nurse back to health. Naming the steed Silver, the masked rider and his companion ride off to tackle Cavendish and help restore law and order to the Old West.
An immediate hit, “The Lone Ranger” captured the public’s imagination like few radio programs before it and managed to draw in listeners of all ages who anxiously awaited the next installment to hear the rousing strains of its theme music—the William Tell Overture—and the Ranger’s shout of “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!” On the airwaves for more than 20 years, the stalwart program ended its run in September of 1954 after more than 2,950 episodes. But the success of the character went much further than the radio show; it lead to the release of two late-1930s movie serials—the eponymously titled “The Lone Ranger” (1938) and “The Lone Ranger Rides Again” (1939), the fondly remembered 1949-57 television series starring Clayton Moore as the masked hero and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, two late-1950s spinoff feature films, “The Lone Ranger” (1956) and “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” (1958) also starring Moore and Silverheels, as well as various animated series, a 1981 big-budget film and even a 2003 WB TV movie.
With the success of these projects, a flurry of Lone Ranger-inspired collectibles would wind up flooding the market, helping to add to the character’s already immense popularity. From the 1930s to the present, hundreds of different items based upon (or adorned with images of) the Ranger, Tonto and their trusty steeds—Silver and Scout—have been released. These include rings, cap guns, badges, tin lunchboxes, wallets, clothing, statues, toy playsets, dolls, comic books, trading cards, children’s novels, action figures, colouring books, plastic model kits, puzzles, Halloween costumes, collector’s plates, Christmas tree ornaments and much more.
Gold Key Comics’ The Lone Ranger, No. 9 (January, 1968) and The Lone Ranger, No. 7 (2007), Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite is currently running a new series of Lone Ranger comics.
Among some of the earliest items was a 1938 board game manufactured by Parker Brothers called, simply enough, The Lone Ranger Game. Featuring colorful box artwork of the Ranger wearing his very early outfit of red shirt and black pants, the game came with two spinners (one for number of spaces to move; the other for what direction to head in) and several mini Ranger-on-horse pieces that were needed to try and capture a bandit “hiding out in the mountains”—depicted by colorful illustrations on the board. Also available that year was the Hi-Yo Silver The Lone Ranger Target Game by Louis Marx & Company. Featuring a gun with suction-cup darts, it also included a 16-by-27-inch tin target board with beautifully lithographed images of the Lone Ranger and Silver and various targets framed within his lasso.
Other items, like a pair of Lone Ranger and Tonto stuffed dolls by the Dollcraft Novelty Company, were marketed in 1938. With their beautifully-made composition heads, hands and feet, and highly-detailed cloth costumes and weapons, these dolls remain highly sought-after collectables. The late-1930s and early ’40s would also see the release of several children’s novels in Whitman Publishing’s beloved Big Little Books line; and in 1947, the Esquire Novelty Company would put out a Lone Ranger Cap Gun and Holster Set.
Tonto and Lone Ranger action figures, made by Gabriel following the release of “Legend of the Lone Ranger” (1980).
Promotional items or “premiums” were also big throughout this period, with rings, “pocket-sized” comic books and small toys given away or offered as mail-away items in boxes of cereal and other products. Cheerios offered especially nice premiums like a Lone Ranger Movie Film Ring (shaped to somewhat resemble one of the masked man’s silver bullets) which came with a tiny strip of 8-millimeter film that was viewable by looking through a small lens on the end of the ring. Another great Cheerios item (or, in this case, items) was a set of nine different “Frontier Town” cardboard buildings, issued in 1947. The buildings were printed separately on the backs of the cereal boxes and could be cut out and constructed to make an elaborate playset. Kids could also mail away 10 cents to get four different maps for use with the set.
During the 1950s, Lone Ranger dress-up costumes, cap guns and toy rifles were very popular items for boys, with numerous versions made available for sale. Meanwhile, Whitman continued to release various items, such as coloring books and frame-tray puzzles, while Dell Comics would put out comic books featuring colorful photo covers of Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. In the ’60s, Gold Key released its own line of Lone Ranger comics (though many were merely reprints of stories from the Dell series). Among the most desirable items from this era, however, were the Ideal Toy Company’s two Captain Action Lone Ranger Uniform costume sets: one featured the red shirt and black pants; the other, his more familiar blue outfit, as well as a costume set of Tonto. For those unfamiliar with the line, Captain Action was a 12-inch action figure whose identity could be altered by re-dressing it with other costume sets (consisting of a mask, highly detailed outfit, weapons and other accessories) that were sold separately. Extremely rare, the Lone Ranger sets, along with the uniforms produced for TV and comic book characters like Batman, Spider-Man, the Green Hornet, Captain America and The Phantom, can command hundreds of dollars apiece nowadays when found in complete, mint condition.
The Lone Ranger Reissue Uniform and Equipment Set for a Captain Action doll, produced by Playing Mantis (2000).
A 3-inch Tonto PVC figurine, made by Palladium, 1990.
Throughout the 1970s, numerous products would continue to make their way to store shelves—most of it courtesy of Gabriel Toys. The company, which began putting out Lone Ranger toys in 1973, would become closely identified with the property by producing a plethora of high-quality 10-inch figures, plus scale horses and playsets for use with them. Along with figures of the Ranger, Tonto and Butch Cavendish, kids were also offered such characters as Sheriff Tex Dawson and the villainous El Lobo, as well as “disguise” sets for them. Other memorable ’70s items included two plush dolls (one being a 24-inch talking version; the other a 19-inch non-talking one) released by the famed Mego Corporation in 1974; a set of Lone Ranger and Tonto water guns also put out that same year by Durham Industries; and a 45 RPM Book-and-Record set released by Peter Pan Records in 1977.
With the release of the 1981 film, “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” starring Klinton Spilsbury as the Lone Ranger and Michael Horse as Tonto, Gabriel once again put out a slew of figures (but this time in the 3 ¾-inch scale and made popular by Kenner’s phenomenally successful “Star Wars” toy line) as well as several horses. As a nod perhaps to old-time cereal promotions, Gabriel offered their own premium—a free cardboard “Western Town” playset—when kids mailed away the proof-of-purchase for any four figures or horses. Other collectables from the film included a board game from Milton Bradley, a set of Viewmaster reels from GAFF, a soundtrack album of composer John Barry’s score from MCA Records, a storybook from Random House and a tie-in novelization by Ballantine Books. Cheerios was even back with another free mail-away promotion obtainable with three proofs-of-purchase: the “Deputy Kit” which included a mask, badge, poster, booklet and “Deputy Certificate.”
The Lone Ranger Keepsake Christmas Ornament, produced by Hallmark Cards, Inc., 2000.
Since the early 1980s, Lone Ranger items have appeared with much less frequency; but every so often, a new toy, comic book series or collectible is produced. Some of the more recent examples include a reissue of the Captain Action costume by Playing Mantis in 2000, Christmas ornaments from Hallmark in 2000 and Carlton Cards in 2003, a Lone Ranger and Silver Bobber figure and cookie jar by Vandor in 2003, both a 2006 and 2008 comic book line from Dynamite Entertainment and just released this year: a 14-inch high 75th Anniversary Statue from Dynamic Forces.
Through eight decades of radio, television, film and a mountain of merchandise, the Lone Ranger and Tonto have gained millions of fans worldwide and the characters have become revered icons of popular culture. There is currently another Long Ranger comic being published by Dynamite and, if the planned big-budget, Disney-backed film starring Johnny Depp indeed comes to pass, there’s sure to be renewed interest in both the characters and collectables inspired by them for many more years to come.
James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.
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