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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

How to Create a Hero ... The Lone Ranger!

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi-Yo, Silver! The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear... The Lone Ranger rides again!"

It was on the 30 January 1933 that the Lone Ranger first rode across our imaginations on his white horse, Silver, inviting listeners to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

What is it about these serial heroes, the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, Superman, Spiderman, the Phantom?

Why do we remember them?

Because they're larger than life and they provide an escape from the routine of everyday life.
Because they do and say things we'd all like to do and say - if only ...
Because they remind us of times when we had fewer worries and responsibilities in our lives.

The sound of the theme music can take you back to days when you'd rush inside from playing out the back with all your friends and huddle around the radio with your family to find out how your hero was going to extricate himself from the predicament of the previous episode.

It's ironic that the Lone Ranger, the hero who's still so fondly remembered by millions around the world as an idealist - fighting to rid the West of outlaws - was created as a carefully calculated way to save an ailing radio station and make money.

A Hero is Created

According to 'Who Was That Masked Man? The Story of the Lone Ranger' by David Rothel (1981), George W. Trendle had acquired radio station WXYZ in Detroit in 1929. This was at the start of the Great Depression, when the economy was nose-diving, so Trendle had to think of a way of keeping his station afloat.

The following information is taken from an article by J.Brian III that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on October 14, 1939:

"Trendle came up with the basic idea for a Western with a hero who embodied the qualities of Zorro and Robin Hood. He settled on a drama as the format, but what kind of drama --for adults or kids? He opted for kids, because they're less critical, and therefore the program need not be so expensive or elaborate. Besides, Trendle believed that most parents buy advertised products because their kids coax them into it.What kind of kid drama? Trendle knew that kids' favourites were crime stories and Westerns. He decided against crime because he wanted his program to be completely wholesome and he also wanted a program that had the potential to create advertising revenue from future sponsors. A crime program was limited to masks, badges and weapons, but a Western opened the field of costume and saddlery as well.The next question was the time frame for the series. It couldn't be a contemporary drama, because the script writer would be cramped by having to stay within the realms of probability, so he decided to set the Ranger's adventures somewhere between 1865 and 1890. "

The Lone Ranger Emerges

Drama requires a hero. What kind would this one be? Young or mature? Trendle wanted a mature hero, because he believed it was better to respect than to envy.Finally, how to distinguish him from a thousand other Western heroes?

He had a vague idea of what he wanted in his hero, picturing him as a composite of Robin Hood and Zorro, but the picture was little more than an outline, when he discussed it with his studio staff, in December, 1932.

Their first objection was that the hero had no mystery and little romance. Why not make him a sort of benevolent outlaw and give him a mask?

Fine!

Then it was suggested that he needed something distinctive as an identification. How bout a super-horse, possibly a white Arabian?

The Arabian was rejected on the grounds that it was too small, but the idea of the white horse became part of the Lone Ranger's image. Trendle also liked the idea of the white horse because he knew it would remind children of the kids' superstition of licking your thumb and stamping the palm of your hand whenever you saw a white horse.

Staff at the radio station then sat down and made up the Lore of the Lone Ranger:

the mask
the white horse
the signature line "Hi-yo, Silver, away!"
the silver bullets
the Lone Ranger's faithful companion, Tonto
the expression "Kemo Sabe"

Fran Striker

Fran Striker was the writer responsible for developing the story lines and he thought he remembered that Robin Hood had silver tipped arrows, so he introduced the idea of the silver bullet and then built the mystique around the colour silver.

It was also Striker who wrote the Lone Ranger's Creed - the words that formed the basis of the Masked man's appeal. Who doesn't want to be like the Lone Ranger - having the power to make the world a better place; believing in the value of friendship and that "truth alone, lives on forever"?

Striker had to guard against anachronisms for instance, when blasting came into the plot of one of his earlier stories he had to refer to blasting powder, not dynamite.

Read more about Fran Striker here.

First Episode

The first episode went to air on 30 January 1933 and quickly became popular, being taken up by stations around the country.

Initially the show was heard over WXYZ, and later, on the Michigan Regional Network. By the mid-1930s, the show was also running on Chicago's WGN and New York's WOR. That trio of stations (WOR-WGN-WXYZ) became the Mutual Broadcasting Network. Soon after, the Lone Ranger series was picked up by the Don Lee Network in California.

Sound Effects

One of the best features of the show was the sound effects. To represent galloping horses, the men stamped ordinary bathroom plungers into a trough of sand or gravel, according to the terrain. Every studio has had trouble imitating a gunshot; even a cap pistol would almost break the microphone. WXYZ's solution was so good that NBC sent an expert out to investigate it: They smacked a leather cushion with a cane.

Publicity Machine

The Lone Ranger Safety Club was not only an ingenious piece of promotion but also a handy index to the popularity of the program. One evening in October, 1935, the Ranger told the children to go to their neighborhood grocer to get an application card for the club. The card read:
I solemnly promise:

(1) Not to cross any street except at regular crossings and to first look both ways.
(2) Not to play in the streets.
(3) To always tell the truth.

There were ten such promises in all. When the child and one of its parents had signed the card, the Ranger sent a notification of membership and a private code. Almost as an afterthought, he added this bait:

"P.S.: Of course you will want a Lone Ranger Badge. To earn this beautiful badge, all you have to do is have three of your neighbors who do not now use (.....) regularly promise to buy (.....) on their next trip to the food store. I am enclosing a card which I want you to return to me when it is filled out."

By December seventh, six weeks after the campaign had started, 475,574 badges had been distributed; by early January, 535,495. The total in 1939 was more than 2,000,000. In addition, half a million masks were given away and 2,000,000 "photographs" of the Ranger (these were photographs of an idealised oil painting).

Much of the Ranger's mail was from children angrily declaring that a certain member was not eating the sponsor's bread or had revealed the code (read A for B, B for C, and so on). One frantic father had to wire WFIL for the code. His son had sent him an important letter--so important that he did not dare trust it to the mails uncoded.

Spin-Offs

A series of short films were then made (starting production in 1937) and were shown at the Saturday matinees throughout the US and overseas.

A television series and then spin-off cartoons and comic books followed, meaning that the Lone Ranger became accessible to generations of people around the world. Children tuned in to the Lone Ranger with their parents and then with their own grandchildren - such was the popularity of the character.

Just think about the marketing research that must go into modern products when there's so much more money at stake these days!

3 Comments:

Anonymous Shirley Cole said...

I was 12 when I first started listening to the Lone Ranger. I never missed a show. At that time I always thought that Brace Beemer was the heart and soul of the Lone Ranger. But I am now listening to all of these shows again, at 80, and I find that the real hero is Fran Striker. His morals, character, honesty, fairness, and all round perfect man comes from him. I don't think that Fran Striker was given half enough credit for the beautiful stories that he wrote. The more I listen to them now the more wonderful they are. He is the genuine hero I think. Of course Brace Beemer has to have credit too because if it wasn't for his wonderful rendition then there would be no Lone Ranger. These are wonderful stories for children even now. All they have to do is listen to the shows now and they have been brought up with integrity and moral character. And it is all thank you to Fran Striker.

Mon. Feb. 12, 07:47:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Susan said...

When i was child i used to dream of one super hero the superman he was my hero

Tue. Aug. 03, 07:18:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Peter said...

For me there is always Batman the superhero

Mon. Sep. 06, 03:16:00 pm AEST  

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