Lone Ranger: The Road From Radio To Hollywood Blockbuster

Bringing The Lone Ranger to the big screen for its anticipated Independence Day 2013 weekend release has been a story of Hollywood politics and egos. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood A-List Royalty will do with this simple concept and characters which were created just over eighty years ago.

Michigan radio pioneer George W. Trendle had been a tough lawyer who helped to negotiate the breaking of Paramount’s movie theater monopoly in Detroit. Part of the deal was that Trendle leave the theater business. With his partners he went into broadcasting, first with WXYZ Detroit, and soon expanding with two more stations in Grand Rapids.

Trendle was a notorious penny pincher. Allegedly, his partners kept a second set of books to show employees to convince them that the stations were losing money and could not afford higher wages. WXYZ was affiliated with CBS when Trendle first purchased the station, but went independent within a year, creating its own music and drama productions. Several shows were written by freelancer Fran Striker.

There is ongoing debate whether to credit Striker or Trendle with creating the Lone Ranger. Several elements of the character had appeared in previous Striker scripts, but when it became obvious to Trendle that The Lone Ranger was destined to become a hit, he bought all rights to the show and characters from his alleged co-creators. Trendle did call for a western hero in the vein of Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro and Robin Hood, both highly action based but highly moral heroes.

Neither Trendle or Striker had any background it Western lore beyond what they had read in pulp fiction or seen in the movies. The Lone Ranger is very much a swash-buckler, albeit with his mighty six-guns rather than a sword. Because the target audience was kids, the violence was kept to a minimum.

An important part of The Lone Ranger‘s success was based on its high moral tone. Bad guys were never shown as successful or glamorous, and the Ranger never shot to kill, depending more on his wits than violence. This moral tone allowed Mom’s to feel good about tuning in, but there was still enough action to appeal to the kids.

The Lone Ranger was first aired on Jan 30, 1933 and became an immediate hit. In fact,  it became a major factor in the early success of what would become the Mutual Network. When ABC bought out Trendle’s stations in 1946, they took over the Lone Ranger concept and used it for the network’s first big TV success.

The ABC TV show starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels seems to be a closer inspiration for the 2013 film than the radio characters. The indications from Disney are that the film will use the a version of the Ranger’s origin story as told on the radio.

The character of Tonto is expected to have a more important role in the film. A-Lister Johnny Depp, star of Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise will play the “spirit warrior”. On the radio and TV Tonto was the Lone Ranger‘s sidekick, but Depp is expected to have a stronger role in the story.

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