Hand color tinted photo of Clayton Moore from the 1950s television series, The Lone Ranger
Clayton Moore (September 14, 1914 – December 28, 1999) was an American actor best known for playing the fictional western character The Lone Ranger.
Born Jack Carlton Moore in Chicago, Illinois, Moore became a circus acrobat by age 8 and appeared at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago in 1934 with a trapeze act. As a young man, Moore worked successfully as a John Robert Powers model. Moving to Hollywood in the late 1930s, he worked as a stunt man and bit player between modeling jobs. According to his autobiography, around 1940 Hollywood producer Edward Small persuaded him to adopt the stage name “Clayton” Moore. He was an occasional player in B westerns and Republic Studio cliffhangers. Moore served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II and made training films (Target–Invisible, etc.) with the First Motion Picture Unit.
As The Lone Ranger
Moore’s career advanced in 1949, when George Trendle spotted him in Ghost of Zorro. As creator/producer of the “The Lone Ranger” radio show (with writer Fran Striker), Trendle was about to launch the television version. Moore landed the role.
Moore trained his voice to sound like the radio version of The Lone Ranger, which had then been on the air since 1933, and succeeded in lowering his already distinctive baritone even further. With the first notes of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” and actor Gerald Mohr’s “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear … ,” Moore and co-star Jay Silverheels, in the role of Tonto, made television history as the stars of the first Western written specifically for that medium. The Lone Ranger soon became the highest-rated program to that point on the fledgling ABC network and its first true hit, earning an Emmy nomination in 1950. Moore starred in 169 episodes of the television show.
After two successful years presenting a new episode every week, 52 weeks a year, Moore had a pay dispute and left the series. As “Clay Moore,” he made a few more westerns and serials, sometimes playing the villain. Moore was replaced for a time by actor John Hart. Eventually the show’s producers came to terms and rehired Moore. He stayed with the program until it ended first-run production in 1957. He and Jay Silverheels also starred in two feature-length “Lone Ranger” motion pictures. Moore appeared in other series too, including a role in the 1952 episode “Snake River Trapper” of Bill Williams’s syndicated western, The Adventures of Kit Carson.
After completion of the second feature, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold in 1958, Moore embarked on what would be 40 years of personal appearances, TV guest spots, and classic commercials as the legendary masked man. Silverheels joined him for occasional appearances during the early 1960s. Throughout his career, Moore expressed respect and love for Silverheels.
Lawsuit over public appearances
In 1979, the owner of the Ranger character, Jack Wrather, obtained a court order prohibiting Moore from making future appearances as The Lone Ranger. Wrather anticipated making a new film version of the story, and did not want the value of the character being undercut by Moore’s appearances. Also, Wrather did not want to encourage the belief that the 65-year-old Moore would be playing the role in the new picture. This move proved to be a public relations disaster. Moore responded by changing his costume slightly and replacing the mask with similar-looking wraparound sunglasses, and by counter-suing Wrather. He eventually won the suit, and was able to resume his appearances in costume, which he continued to do until shortly before his death. For a time he worked in publicity tie-ins with the Texas Rangers baseball team. (Wrather’s planned motion picture remake, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was released in 1981 and was a critical and commercial failure.)
Moore often was quoted as saying he had “fallen in love with the Lone Ranger character” and strove in his personal life to take The Lone Ranger Creed to heart. This, coupled with his public fight to retain the right to wear the mask, linked him inextricably with the character. In this regard, he was much like another cowboy star, William Boyd, who portrayed the Hopalong Cassidy character. Moore was so identified with the masked man that he is the only person on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as of 2006, to have his character’s name along with his on the star, which reads, “Clayton Moore — The Lone Ranger.” He was inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame in 1982 and in 1990 was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Death Clayton Moore died on December 28, 1999, in a West Hills, California, hospital after suffering a heart attack at his home in nearby Calabasas. He was survived by his fourth wife, Clarita Moore, and an adopted daughter, Dawn Angela Moore. Moore was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.