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THE LONE RANGER

A Legacy Reborn
Eighty years after they first rode into the public's imagination, the classic characters of the Lone Ranger and Tonto remain enduring fixtures of the American cultural landscape. "There's something about these characters that have appealed to every generation since they were invented," notes producer Jerry Bruckheimer. "I grew up in Detroit, and 'The Lone Ranger' radio and TV shows were part of my youth, and millions of others as well." On radio, television, theater screens, TV animation, comic strips, books, graphic novels, and video games, the perpetual popularity of these iconic American characters represents a continuum that confirms the continuity of the public's fascination with them.

The program first made its way onto the airwaves courtesy of WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan, on January 30, 1933. The station owner, George W. Trendle, wanted a Western that would appeal to a children's audience. The character he created was wholesome, honest and an authority figure kids could admire. The concept of the Lone Ranger was thus born and handed off to Fran Striker, a script writer from Buffalo, and the station's staff director, James Jewell.

Jewell went on to direct "The Lone Ranger" radio series through 1938, by which time it was a national phenomenon. Jewell's father-in-law owned Kamp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee in Mullet Lake, Michigan, which became the obvious linguistic inspiration behind Tonto's name for his friend, the Lone Ranger (Tonto was introduced 11 episodes into the series). It's believed that the camp was named after an Ojibwe word, "giimoozaabi," which has been varyingly translated as "trusty scout" or even "someone who does not follow the normal path." The name Tonto might also derive from another Ojibwe word, "N'da'aanh-too" (pronounced "Nduh-on-toe") meaning "wild one" or "to change." Jewell also suggested Gioachino Rossini's "William Tell Overture" as the program's theme music.

There were 2,956 radio episodes of "The Lone Ranger" (the last new one was broadcast on September 3, 1954), a 21-year history that actually overlapped the hugely successful television series, starring stalwart Clayton Moore as the titular character and dignified Jay Silverheels as Tonto. This program, which became an international phenomenon, began airing on ABC in 1949 and continued until 1957.

The huge popularity of the show also spun off into two theatrical feature films, "The Lone Ranger" (1956) and "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold" (1958). But now it's time for Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer to put their own indelible stamps on Tonto and the Lone Ranger. As they respect some traditions established over the past eight decades, they also fearlessly interpret the characters for an entirely new generation.

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