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By Tom Ward

John Hart The Lone Ranger

John Hart during his stint playing The Lone Ranger on television.

The late musician Jim Croce had a hit song back in the early 1970’s called You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.

One of the best-known verses of the song goes:

Well they say you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind.

You don’t pull off the mask of that old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.

This week I want to peel back the mask to expose one of the actors who played the classic western hero many decades ago. With all the hype surrounding the upcoming Lone Ranger movie starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp (as Tonto) I wanted to tell you about the mostly forgotten actor I met years ago who portrayed the man in the mask.

If you asked most baby boomers like myself who was the actor that played the Lone Ranger on the popular television series {which aired on ABC starting in 1949 and ending in 1957) they would probably say Clayton Moore.

They would only be half correct.

Moore was, of course, highly identified with the character on the white stallion with his faithful Indian companion named Tonto (played by Jay Silverheels). However, during the run of the Lone Ranger TV series another actor named John Hart stepped into the role to replace Clayton Moore from 1952 to 1953 for 52 episodes.

The rumor was that Moore (who returned to the series in 1954) left the show over a pay dispute. Ironically, Prior to donning the mask, Hart appeared in a few of the episodes of The Lone Ranger as a guest star

I was introduced to John Hart more than 20 years ago through some friends of mine when I was visiting out in California. Just before meeting him my friends mentioned to me that Mr. Hart was an actor and they started reeling off old movie titles that he acted in, most of which I wasn’t familiar with at that time.

When they said he used to be the Lone Ranger that perked up my attention because I always liked that show growing up. However, I was confused as in my memory I only remembered Clayton Moore as the masked man. They assured me that he had played the character as well for a short period of time and I believed them because the Internet wasn’t around then.

Bet you didn’t know this about Silver

With the new movie about to come out, which I’m sure is going to be a big hit, I flashed back to my visit with John Hart and I recall asking him what was Jay Silverheels was like who played Tonto. He said, “He was a sweetheart of a guy and I visited with him shortly before he died following a series of strokes.”

I remember him laughing when he told me that his horse Silver and Tonto’s horse Scout were always nipping at each other and didn’t get along at all. Next, I asked him how he got the role of the Lone Ranger. He said, “I think Clayton Moore left the show because he wanted to get paid. Nowadays if you’re a TV personality on a hit show you’re making lots of money, but back in those days it was nothing.

“I know that from my experience when I did the TV series the producers were notorious cheapskates and they were paying me peanuts,” Mr. Hart said. “I think it was the cheapest job I ever did. It was a fun job that I never took to seriously, yet having done the Lone Ranger I’ve been able to dine out on that (he joked) over the years. People would say to me, ‘Oh, you’re the Lone Ranger. What would you like to eat or drink.?’

“That part of it has been fun over the years because of all the wonderful fans of the show.”

After John left The Lone Ranger show he did a series called Hawkeye shot in Canada with veteran actor Lon Chaney as his Indian sidekick. John chuckled as he said, “I can’t do anything without a faithful Indian companion. It was an excellent show and we had good ratings so when I returned to California I bought a big house on the golf course and the whole thing went down the tubes.”

He’s making how much?

Before his stint as the Lone Ranger he acted in a number of westerns and got the lead part in a big 1947 movie serial called Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy. During the movie he was talking to his stunt guy that doubled for him, but didn’t do much because John was very athletic and did most of his own stunts.

He found out that the stunt guy was making more money than him and John had the lead role in the picture. So after that when John started doing more acting parts he made sure he would do stunt work as well. He told me he ended up doing a lot of pirate-type films because he was a good swimmer.

Hart continued getting steady work as a perennial guest star on many of the popular TV shows during the late 1950s and 60s.”I ended up working on Rawhide for a few years, which was a good gig, “ he said. “Then I realized I was getting older and acting was getting a bit unreliable. I was waiting for the phone to ring and I had a family to take care of so I learned film editing and went to work for an industrial film company where I directed and shot a lot of stuff for them. “

Onward and upward

John became an associate producer on the TV show Quincy and also worked on eight episodes on the Dallas television show from 1979 to 1981. Also, he put on the mask two more times playing the Lone Ranger in episodes of the Greatest American Hero and Happy Days TV shows. Then in the 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger he had a small cameo as a newspaper editor.

I enjoyed my visit with him and we kept in touch periodically through letters. One day, a few weeks after we met, I received a package with a number of great signed photos of him from the different movie serials he did.

I especially liked the photo I’ve attached to this article with him as the Lone Ranger along with his mighty steed Silver. My memories of John are still vivid and I really liked him because he was genuine, kind and had a great sense of humor.

Back in 2009 I saw in the newspaper that he died at the age of 91 from complications of dementia. In the obituary they quoted him as saying about his career that he had “big parts in lousy movies and lousy parts in big movies. I never made a lot of money, but it sure was fun.” I got the impression from my time spent with him that it never bothered him that he was known as the “other” Lone Ranger.

So next time you hear that famous line from the old TV series or in the new movie “Who was that masked man?” You’ll have to include John Hart’s name to the roster of actors who wore a white hat, a mask and shot silver bullets as he rode away into the sunset shouting “Hi, ho Silver, away!”

Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com.

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