When Barbara Crolley says that in the 1960s one of her Golden Valley neighbors “was the Lone Ranger,” she’s not putting on airs. Yes, his name was Clayton Moore, the actor who starred in the iconic 1950s TV series, but nobody thought of him that way.
Including his relatives.
“He was the Lone Ranger first and Clayton Moore second,” said Joel Bachul, a nephew from Bloomington. “That was the image he projected, but not in an overbearing way. That image was always present.”
The masked man with the silver bullets is back in the public consciousness because of this week’s release of the big-budget Johnny Depp movie “The Lone Ranger.” He’s also back in the local news after Golden Valley inducted him — Moore, not the Old West lawman — into its Hall of Fame.
When the TV show went off the air in 1957, Moore’s wife, Sally, talked him into moving to the Twin Cities for the sake of their daughter, Dawn.
“My mother’s family was there, and she wanted me to get to know them,” said Dawn Moore, who lives in California.
Moore, who died in 1999 at the age of 85, became a circus acrobat when he was 8 and went to Hollywood in 1937 as a stunt man. He was a B actor — 15 of his first 16 film appearances were uncredited — and was considered an unknown when he landed the “Lone Ranger” role. In fact, the show’s first credits listed Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, as the star.
When he moved to Minnesota, Moore started a real estate company. The name? Ranger Realty.
“It wasn’t that big of a stretch because his father was a real estate developer,” said Blair Tremere, a founder of the Golden Valley Hall of Fame and the point person on Moore’s nomination. Moore focused primarily on developing the area just north of what is now the Menard’s store on Interstate 394.
But he never fully got show business out of his system. He did a lot of promotional work in his Lone Ranger persona, Tremere said. And sometimes he’d do it even if he didn’t have a gig.
“He’d put on his costume and stand out in his driveway doing rope tricks for the neighborhood kids,” Crolley said. “If the kids were good, he’d give them a replica silver bullet.”
That doesn’t surprise Moore’s nephew. “When he’d come to town to visit in the ’50s, when the show was still on, he’d get in costume and stand in our living room,” he said. “The kids would line up and come in the front door, he’d twirl his guns and sign autographs, and then the kids would go out the back door. He’d do that all Saturday afternoon. Then a church would call asking if he could go there, and he’d go do it again the next day.”
A man on a mission
Dawn Moore said her father took his status as a role model for youngsters very seriously.
“He fully understood the influence he had as that character,” she said. “He embraced the message” that was expressed in the Lone Ranger’s Creed, which included such admonitions as “to have a friend, a man must be one” and we should “live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.”
Other showbiz cowboys — including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry — had creeds, but they were created by their publicists and were aimed at promoting the shows among their young fans, she said. The Lone Ranger’s Creed was different.
“It was created by the show’s producer as a template for the writers,” she said. “It was to help them answer the question: What would the Lone Ranger do in such-and-such a situation?”
A living legend
Moore believed in his mission so much that he went to court to protect it. In 1979, the owner of the Lone Ranger copyright, who was in the process of putting together a movie and felt that Moore was stealing the show’s thunder, got a court order prohibiting him from making appearances in costume. The movie, “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” bombed. Plus, Moore sued and got the court order thrown out.
Dawn Moore hasn’t seen the new movie, but she’s hopes it’s a success. “My dad spent 50 years maintaining the integrity of that character,” she said. “He never wanted it to die with him.”
It never was going to die while he was still alive, Bachul said. When Moore was in his 70s and had moved to a Los Angeles suburb, Bachul and his wife went to visit him.
“We sat and talked for a few hours, and I realized that he was still just the same,” Bachul said. “He was still the Lone Ranger.”