Things got tough for Clayton Moore when the Wrather Corporation told him to turn in the Mask of the Lone Ranger. He had been making public appearances and wearing it for thirty years! It was 1979, the year I moved from Florida to California.
Like everyone of my generation, I too had grown up learning right from wrong by watching, sometimes over and over again, my cowboy heroes on TV. And when I moved here, I guess the main reason was to be closer to those men who had meant so much to me growing up. I had a production background, got lucky and ended up working with Jocko Mahoney and some other western buffs rounding up former TV cowboy stars for the Brad Marks Production, "When the West Was Fun" for ABC.
We got everybody! Suddenly, I'm hanging with Pat Buttram, Lee Van Cleef, Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford, John Russell and Peter Brown, Milburn Stone and Ken Curtis and on…and on. But, the biggest thrill was seeing Clayton Moore. He was resplendent in his white Stetson, fitted blue outfit and a silver bullet filled black double rig carrying his matching Colt .45s. Gee, I thought I'd died and gone to cowboy heaven!
There is always that fear of celebrities being so disappointing in person that they spoil an image we viewers have created. Well, I don't have to tell anyone that Clayton was anything but a disappointment! He was friendly. Cordial. Exciting to be near. He was the same good guy who saved the day and disappeared at the end of each episode. And what a voice! Unmistakable.
The taping was fantastic for most of us, but it seemed to go on forever. In fact, it was 3 o'clock in the morning when we finally finished and headed out to the giant, very dark parking lot behind ABC studios. I waited until the very end and left with a group that included Buttram and George Montgomery. Well, we're walking toward our cars and a guy in one of those Beatle caps keeps wondering around back and forth in the blackness.
"I can't find my damn car," we hear a familiar voice mutter.
Buttram stopped. Paused. "That man," he said slowly, "was…the Lone Ranger."
We all howled. Clayton, too. We didn't know it then, but that was the last time Clayton was going to be allowed to wear the mask and costume of the Lone Ranger…at least for awhile.
The special did so well in the ratings that Buttram got some of us together for a tribute at the Masquer's Club to "Battling" Bob Steele. That success lead us to our first Golden Boot Awards created in 1983 to honor western heroes. Among our honorees that first year was, of course, Clayton Moore who still was not allowed to wear the mask!
He had worn it for years. Ever since taking the role and bringing radio's famous character to television in 1949. The mask had become part of him and he had become part of it. One was the other. As the Lone Ranger Clayton had embodied all that was honest and brave. He had been, and still was, a hero to several generations. His noble deeds had made him an international icon.
So, when it was time for him to give up the mask, he didn't consider changing his way of life. Not for a moment. He couldn't do that. He said that the mask had given him meaning…to everything. And, he had given everything to live up to the meaning of the mask. Both on screen and off, he was a true American hero. After a five year court battle, and support from thousands of fans, Clayton won and was finally allowed to wear the mask again. He claimed that portraying the masked hero had made him a better person. He certainly helped to insure that his legion of fans understood the principals of right and wrong.
I was lucky again. I got to know Clay, spending time with him both preparing for the Golden Boot each year and on other occasions. He liked playing the good guy and he left all of us, family, friends and fans alike, with unforgettable memories. His favorite song was Willie Nelson's "My Friends Have Always Been Cowboys" and we played it at his Memorial Service in January at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage.
"I always wanted to be a policeman or a cowboy, and I get to do both," he wrote in his highly prized autobiography, "I Was That Masked Man."
He gave us the best of both worlds---past and present. For him, let's make a better future.
The Lone Ranger's Creed said "All things change but the truth, and that truth alone lives on forever."
So do you, Kemo Sabe. So do you! Hi-yo, Clayton. Awaaay!
Rob Word also created a beautiful piece of artwork in honor of Clayton Moore. Rob
has two of these prints left and is offering them for sale. Details and pictures of this
print can be seen at this web page: "Masked Man"