Clayton Moore -- AKA The Lone Ranger -- And His Fan Base
Welcome back to The Jade Sphinx – we took a short hiatus at the end of the summer and have returned for what is, I hope, the start of an interesting Fall Season.
First up, a special treat for Jade Sphinx readers – an interview with Clayton Moore (1914-1999), who played The Lone Ranger on television from 1949 to 1957; I originally conducted this interview more than 15 years ago, when Moore released his autobiography, I Was That Masked Man (1996). Since its initial magazine publication, the interview has been buried in my files. Here is the first of three parts.
Actor Clayton Moore was forever changed by a part he played.
When offered the part of the Lone Ranger in 1949, television's first western program, to Moore it was just another heroic role, much like the heroes he had played in the classic Republic serials.
But it changed him.
After a brief hiatus from the part, he returned to it with a renewed appreciation. He had remembered listening to The Lone Ranger with his father in his native Chicago, and as he began to explore who the Lone Ranger was and what he represented, he realized that the Lone Ranger was more than a character for an actor to play. To Moore, the Ranger came to embody a way of living and thinking, of realizing the heroism inherent in every man. And as he grew more and more into the role, the Lone Ranger became a larger part of his life.
Clayton Moore has succeeded in a life well-lived. The line between this modest actor and the cowboy hero is a thin one: Clayton Moore is the Lone Ranger.
Moore has compiled his many adventures in his new autobiography, I Was That Masked Man, which he wrote with Frank Thompson. Still energetic, unfailingly courteous and stalwart as ever, Mr. Moore has been making appearances at book signings throughout California. Fans young and old meet him with hushed awe, only to be relaxed by Moore's easy-going charm.
We honored to have caught up with him at a recent book signing.
I understand that during your boyhood you wanted to be either a cowboy or a policeman?
Yes. When I was a kid I was just in awe of men like Tom Mix and William S. Hart. When my friends and I would go to the movies, it was Westerns that we wanted to see. There was just something about it, riding the range and living in the West, that excited me. After the movies we kids would play cowboys and Indians and I always wanted to play the hero.
I thought being a policeman would be the closest I would come to being a Western lawman... so I'm glad I grew up to become the Lone Ranger, because I really got to be both a cowboy and a policeman!
Tell us a little bit about your boyhood?
I had a real nice childhood with my family and my brothers. My father was quite a hunter, liked duck hunting and geese hunting and pheasant hunting, so we were well brought up in all the stages of duck hunting and all the fun things like that when we were kids. We lived in Chicago, but we went away every summer and that's where I got my love of the outdoors.
Were you a very athletic child?
Yes, yes. I had a good athletic training in the old Illinois Athletic Club in Chicago. One day I was doing some acrobatic work and Johnny Behr saw me. He asked me if I wanted to try the trapeze and I found I had a real knack for it. He thought we had the making of an act and we started working on that.
Was being an acrobat your first brush with show business?
Yes, that's correct. We asked some friends to join us and we were called the Flying Behrs. We played a lot in the Chicago area, and we even performed in the 1934 World's Fair.
When did you realize that acrobatics might not have been for you?
We started doing stunts an the trampoline as well. I landed wrong during a workout and bounced off the side of the trampoline, hurting my knee. Then I starting to think that acting might be safer.
What did you do next?
I did some modeling work with the Robert John Powers Agency in New York. My older brother Sprague had been modeling for local newspapers and catalogues. I modeled for a time in Chicago and then went to New York to get acting experience. It was a fine way to make a living, but not what I wanted. I didn't think I was doing what I wanted in New York so opted for California to fulfill my life's dream, to be a movie cowboy. That's what I wanted to be!
I headed for Los Angeles in 1937 and soon got into some pictures.
Once you got to Hollywood you worked with people like Rowland V. Lee?
Rowland V. Lee directed the Son of Monte Cristo. He was a very nice man to work with and an excellent director. He stood up for his actors and helped them get a handle on their roles. It was a very relaxed set and that was a fun picture to work on.
You also worked with Bela Lugosi?
He and I worked together in Black Dragons. I tell you, I had a good education at Monogram and Republic Studios working with people like that. Lugosi seemed a little shy, he would stay in his dressing room most of the time. I don't think he was stand-offish, just shy. When the camera was on, though, he was letter perfect. He had a way with dialogue that was special. I never worked with anyone like him.
All those serials and programmers were real work, they put you through the ropes and made an actor out of you. I'm happy to say that some people considered me to be the King of the Serials, so I like to think that I made good!
More Clayton Moore Tomorrow!