Friday, April 7, 2017

Who That Masked Man Really Was

When I think of my late father, I often imagine him huddled with some of his 11 brothers and sisters, listening with rapt attention to exciting exploits that wafted to him in his parents’ lonely farmhouse on the prairie.
The wind moans outside but inside, through the static-y crackle, he can hear the distant call.
“In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
The first of 2,956 radio episodes of The Lone Ranger premiered on the Detroit radio station WXYZ on Jan. 30, 1933, the creation of station owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker.
The immensely popular character eventually branched out to movie serials, feature films, television, novels, a pulp magazine, a comic strip and, of course, comic books.
Dell Comics published 145 issues of a Lone Ranger comic book beginning in 1948. At first, the comic book was just newspaper strip reprints, but original material began in issue 38 (Aug. 1951). It’s testimony to the character’s popularity that his partner Tonto got his own comic book title in 1951, and even his horse Silver landed his own title in 1952. More than 30 issues of each spinoff title were published.
The action in the comic books was muted, too restrained to generate much excitement. But the painted covers were beautiful. Sometimes photo covers featured Clayton Moore from the 1949-57 TV show, which was the highest-rated television program on ABC in the early 1950s.
Thirty years later, my father could recall details of radio episodes he’d heard, remembering how his champion would shoot the guns out of outlaws’ hands, then snap, “You’re not hurt!” when they moaned in protest.
We all have our childhood dream selves. My father’s was the Lone Ranger and mine was Superman. And my mother’s was, of course, Wonder Woman.
That very point got a clever nod in the underrated 2013 Lone Ranger film, which opens in 1933 with a scene of a small boy wearing a cowboy suit and a black domino mask at a carnival sideshow, approaching the now-ancient form of Tonto (Johnny Depp).
“Kemosabe?” Tonto asks hesitantly.
Who was that masked man? That’s who he was, that boy. That’s who he’s always been.

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