9 Things You May Not Know About Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger
Dozens of actors have played and voiced the Lone Ranger since 1933, but none embodied the aura of the “Masked Rider of the Plains” quite like Clayton Moore.
In a high-cliffed box canyon in Western Texas, six Rangers lay on the desert floor, victims of an ambush concocted by the Cavendish clan, a family of cattle rustlers and outlaws living on a nearby ranch.
“The Rangers all had fallen, but in one a tiny spark of life still glowed,” wrote Fran Striker in The Lone Ranger Rides.
That “tiny spark,” rescued by a passing Native American acquaintance, Tonto, would come to be the Lone Ranger, a masked Robin Hood of the frontier who fought against injustice and oppression on the plains of Texas and beyond.
The Ranger — thought to be named John Reid — was the brainchild of George W. Trendle, a businessman and president of WXYZ, a radio station based in Detroit. In the early 1930s, Trendle, looking for his next big venture, teamed up with Fran Striker and other writers to develop The Lone Ranger, a vigilante reminiscent of Zorro, but who would embrace the challenges and moral code of the Wild West.
Striker, a prolific writer who also wrote comics and created the Green Hornet character, brought the Lone Ranger to life, and when the first radio episode aired on January 30, 1933, it was an instant hit with young listeners.
Over the next 20 years, the show would air three times a week, becoming one of the most popular programs in radio history. But by the late ’40s, with television rapidly changing the radio market, it was time for Trendle to cast the next star of The Lone Ranger: Clayton Moore.
Moore had been in a number of Westerns and adventure B-movies by 1949, but nothing quite like The Lone Ranger. The series would change the trajectory of his career, and Moore would soon be synonymous with the “Masked Rider,” one of television’s earliest Western heroes.
Here are 9 interesting facts about Clayton Moore and his journey to becoming the Lone Ranger — on-screen and off.
1. Moore performed in a trapeze group at the Chicago World’s Fair.
Jack Carlton Moore was born in Chicago on September 14, 1914, the youngest of three brothers born to Theresa Fisher and Sprague Moore. His father and brothers spent time camping, fishing and shooting when they were young, and Jack was naturally athletic.
In high school, he spent time swimming, and one day ran into the athletic director of the Illinois Athletic Club, Johnny Behr, who persuaded Moore to try the trapeze. Moore was a natural fit, and soon joined the director in his troupe: the Flying Behrs.
The Flying Behrs performed at the Chicago World’s Fair (or Century of Progress International Exposition) in the summer of 1934, putting on two shows a day for thousands of spectators.
“I loved the athletic challenge of what we were doing,” Moore wrote in his autobiography, I Was That Masked Man, “but even more, I loved performing in front of appreciative audiences.”
A knee injury eventually forced Moore to move on from the trapeze, but his love of performing remained, and in 1935 he left Chicago for New York City to purse modeling. He had success there, but also realized his true goal was to act in Westerns, as his idols had, so he switched coasts and headed to Los Angeles in 1937.
Related read: The 10 Best Spaghetti Westerns Ever Made
2. He acted in serials with some of the most popular Western actors of the time.
Once in L.A., Moore took acting classes for six months and eventually landed a gig with Warner Brothers, where he had “only bits and one liners,” but he was one step closer to his dream of being a Western actor.
He took any role he could get, and worked hard to build a reputation as a consistent, reliable actor in serials, which were short films, usually released as 12 or 15 chapters adding up to one longer story — not unlike how many of today’s Netflix programs are released as limited miniseries.
Theaters around the country would run the serials, attracting a loyal following who’d come back every weekend to see the next chapter of their favorite B-movie adventures.
It was during this time in his career that Jack Moore became Clayton: a producer named Eddie Small suggested the name change to evoke more personality. By 1940, Moore had a number of small roles under his belt and landed a part in Kit Carson, shot in Tuba City, Arizona. In 1942, he joined Republic Pictures, a young, ambitious studio producing Westerns and other adventures.
With Republic, Moore honed his craft and eventually worked with some of the premier B-Western actors and actresses of the day, including Gene Autry and Roy Rogers — both of whom would later have their own television shows. For Moore, it was one step closer to a lifelong pursuit.
“Only a few years earlier I had been sitting in the Granada Theater, dreaming of riding the range, having shoot-outs, and doing all the other exciting things that I saw Tom Mix and William S. Hart doing,” Moore wrote. “Nothing is as thrilling as having a dream come true — and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
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3. He was drafted during World War II.
Moore’s journey to stardom was not without interruption: in 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces, but because of the knee injury he suffered as a trapeze artist, he wasn’t qualified to serve overseas.
Instead, he spent basic training in Texas, then headed to Kingman, Arizona, where he worked in the air base’s entertainment division. He coordinated shows for the soldiers, some of whom were familiar with his serial work — and teased him for it.
During his tenure in the Air Force, he married Sally Allen, who he’d spend 43 years with before she died in 1986. Moore spent some service time in Culver City, and was honorably discharged in July 1945.
His military career was largely uneventful, and when he rejoined the civilian world, Moore went back to pursuing his acting career with Republic Pictures.
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4. Moore landed the role of the Lone Ranger thanks to his work in Ghost of Zorro.
In 1949, Moore starred in Ghost of Zorro, Republic’s 12-chapter serial about Zorro’s grandson, Ken Mason, an engineer who heads west to deal with frontier ne’er-do-wells.
During production, Moore became more experienced with horses, mounts and other stunts that would serve him well in the future, and others took notice: when George Trendle saw Moore in the role, he had found his Lone Ranger.
The original Zorro, created in 1919, was a masked vigilante of California based loosely on the life of Joaquin Murrieta, known as “the Robin Hood of El Dorado.” The masked protector of the downtrodden was also an original inspiration for the Lone Ranger, so seeing Moore portray Zorro made it easy to also picture him as John Reid.
The same year Ghost of Zorro was released, Moore signed on as the Lone Ranger, and he would be the first to play the masked rider on televisions across the United States.
5. Moore’s The Lone Ranger is considered the first made-for-television Western series.
When The Lone Ranger made its television debut on September 15, 1949 — one day after Moore’s 35th birthday — it became the first Western series specifically made for TV.
Hopalong Cassidy debuted on NBC earlier that summer, but that series was adapted from already released films starring William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy. Boyd sold the presentation rights to NBC for $250,000, and NBC repackaged the films into television episodes to broadcast nationwide.
Moore and Boyd led the wave of Western TV series to follow in the 1950s, highlighted by shows like The Cisco Kid, The Gene Autry Show, The Ranger Rider and The Roy Rogers Show. Like Moore, many of the first Western television actors and actresses came from successful serials and B-westerns like those produced by Republic Pictures.
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6. He was fired — and later rehired — as the Lone Ranger without explanation.
In 1952, Moore was fired from his role as the Lone Ranger, and according to his autobiography, didn’t receive a reason why. There were rumors of a contract dispute, or that Moore and Trendle butted heads, but Moore maintained throughout his life that these simply weren’t true.
It was also suggested that Moore wanted in on merchandising and licensing revenue, but Moore also denied this claim. If that had been the case, you couldn’t blame him: during its peak years, the Lone Ranger brought in millions of dollars in merchandise revenue from toys, games, kids home décor and more.
Moore didn’t cash in on the popularity of the Lone Ranger, but that wasn’t the case with William Boyd, who owned the character and film rights to Hopalong Cassidy. When that series became popular in the 1950s, Boyd made a small fortune, earning some $800,000 in 1950 from merchandising, licensing and endorsements.
For 52 episodes in 1952 and 1953, John Hart replaced Moore as the Lone Ranger, but the newcomer didn’t quite fit the role, so in 1953, Trendle asked Moore to rejoin the show — again, without much of an explanation.
“Fans over the years have told me that John did a creditable job, but that they could just never accept him as the real Lone Ranger,” Moore wrote in his book. “I know that Trendle received a flood of mail on the subject, but I can’t say that this was the reason they wanted to bring me back.”
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7. Moore embraced the role of the Lone Ranger on screen and in real life.
In his first run as the Lone Ranger, Moore enjoyed playing the masked rider, but was open to returning to serials when he was dismissed by Trendle. After reprising the role, however, Moore connected with the character in a way that went deeper than simply playing a role on screen.
“The serials and features I had done at Republic in the meantime had been amusing and educational,” Moore wrote in I Was That Masked Man. “But there was a clear difference between just playing a part and actually inhabiting a role. The Lone Ranger offered so much to me that I couldn’t find anywhere else.”
It didn’t take long for Moore to make the decision to live life as the Lone Ranger would off-screen as well: he embraced the tenets of (and carried with him) The Lone Ranger Creed, a Western manifesto of sorts focused on truth, justice, integrity and equality. Looking back, the creed is perhaps a relic of its times, but it guided Moore nonetheless — even after his days playing the stoic John Reid.
From the ’50s on, Moore was known for his upright standing: he never drank, smoked, cussed or fought in public, and when making public appearances, he always dressed the part, mask and all. He became a symbol of Western ideals — even down to the white hat and horse — and managed to maintain a clean reputation through his prime years in the spotlight.
Some years, Moore did upwards of 200 appearances per year, showing up at children’s hospitals, parades, fairs, schools and businesses to inspire kids and adults around the country.
The final television episode of The Lone Ranger aired on June 6, 1957, but Moore would tour the country for decades as the masked lawman, shifting his career from acting to public appearances. He never again played another Western role outside of the Lone Ranger, and turned down multiple cameo opportunities because they weren’t about Reid himself.
He had a strict code of conduct that the public appreciated, but as time went on, his squeaky clean ideals and image faded into the turbulence of the 1970s and 1980s.
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8. In 1979, a court order prevented Moore from appearing as the Lone Ranger in public.
In August 1954, Trendle sold all rights to The Lone Ranger show and character to Jack Wrather for $3 million, at that time the largest asset sale in television history. Wrather was an astute and creative businessman, and was open to making small changes to keep The Lone Ranger relevant.
Moore and Wrather got along well, but in 1979, more than 20 years after the last Lone Ranger episode aired, Wrather’s legal team obtained a court order that prevented Moore from appearing in public as the masked rider.
The move was preemptive: Wrather was producing a new movie that would revisit the Lone Ranger’s origin story, but because Moore was now in his mid-sixties, it didn’t make sense for him to continue being known as the spry, athletic John Reid.
In their legal case, the Wrather Corporation claimed that having two Lone Rangers would “confuse” the public, so they wanted Moore to halt the appearances he’d been doing for some 25 years.
A lengthy legal battle ensued, and in August of 1979, a judge sided with the Wrather Corporation, agreeing that Moore could no longer publicly appear as the Lone Ranger.
Moore, to his credit — and perhaps as the real John Reid would do — put up a good fight, and found ways to work around the legal decision. For a time he would sport thick, black wraparound sunglasses that resembled the mask, and even acted as a spokesperson for Corning sunglasses.
When the new Lone Ranger movie opened in 1981, it did so to lackluster reviews and audiences. By then, the original Lone Ranger fans were decidedly in Moore’s camp, and millions of fans had signed petitions for Wrather to drop the case.
In a setting that resembled something out of The Lone Ranger itself, where range bosses took on small town pioneers for their land, Moore and Wrather battled for several years as David and Goliath. But in 1984, the Wrather Corporation finally dropped the court order against Moore: he could once again appear in public as the Lone Ranger.
Several months after the decision, Jack Wrather passed away, leading Moore and others to believe he dropped the suit out of a change of heart. In any case, Moore picked things up again, making his official public “return” as the Lone Ranger in January 1985.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Moore made many public appearances and earned several awards for his body of work: he was inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame, and received the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1990.
His star joined the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1987, and today, Moore is one of only two actors to have their character name mentioned alongside their real name on the famous sidewalk. Moore died on December 28, 1999, in West Hills, California.
Related read: 10 Famous Guns of the Old West, from Revolvers to Rifles
9. The Smithsonian owns a Lone Ranger mask and signature silver bullet.
In 2002, Dawn Moore donated one of her father’s trademark masks and silver bullets to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History entertainment exhibition.
Another mask — a 1951 purple felt model, autographed by Clayton — was appraised on Antiques Roadshow in 2018 for $50,000. The mask belonged to a child who knew the Moores growing up in California.
Clayton Moore’s days in the media spotlight may be long gone, but with his legacy and mementos, he’ll continue to be remembered as an inspirational pioneer of Western television, a symbol of justice on the wild plains of the West — and an all-around good guy with a white hat and black mask.
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References & Further Reading
OldWest.org strives to use accurate sources and references in its research, and to include materials from multiple viewpoints and angles when possible.
- Andreychuk, E. (2018). The Lone Ranger on Radio, Film and Television. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
- Dobbs, G. M. (2014). 15 Minutes With…Forty Years of Interviews. Bear Manor Media.
- Freese, G. S. (2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s–1970s. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
- Freese, G. S. (2017). Classic Movie Fight Scenes: 75 Years of Bare Knuckle Brawls, 1914-1989. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
- Moore, C., & Thompson, F. T. (1996). I Was That Masked Man. Taylor Publishing.
- Pilato, H. J. (2016). Dashing, Daring, and Debonair: TV’s Top Male Icons from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Taylor Trade Publishing.
- Rothel, D. (2013). Who Was That Masked Man? The Story of the Lone Ranger. Riverwood Press.
- Santo, A. (2015). Selling the Silver Bullet: The Lone Ranger and Transmedia Brand Licensing. University of Texas Press.
- Sieffert, C. (2013). The Lone Ranger (The Classic TV Series). CreateSpace.
- Striker, F. (2013). The Lone Ranger Rides. CreateSpace.
- West, B., Stephens, E. J., & Stephens, K. (2021). Newhall’s Walk of Western Stars. Arcadia Publishing.
D.T. Christensen is the founder and editor of OldWest.org, a history website committed to sharing and preserving stories of the American West. He was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, studied journalism at Northern Arizona University, and lives in Massachusetts with his wife and kids.