Saturday, May 18, 2019

THE LONE RANGER: The Early Years Preserved

Big Jim Kendrick operated a gang of hard-faced men who schemed to rob a wagon train along the Santa Fe trail. Gang members, with stealth and cat-like prowl, slipped into camp at night and made off with the two guides. Unbeknownst to them, the guides were none other than The Lone Ranger and Tonto, who momentarily put up a fight. Roped and thrown unconscious on horses, our heroes were outnumbered and subjected to a horror of the elements; the outlaws raced across the plains to drop them in the middle of nowhere to die of thirst and hunger. 

Shortly after the sun rose in the East, the pioneers discovered they were without human compass. Panic arose until Kendrick, passing through and claiming to be a miner, asked to join up with them. As he knew the land well, he was quickly tasked as a guide. The pioneers, praising Divine intervention, had no suspicion that they were being led to their destruction by the newly employed guide. Through the afternoon, meanwhile, The Lone Ranger and Tonto struggled against the ropes that bound them hand and foot but found themselves unable to get free. By evening they were weak with thirst, suffering exhaustion from the hot sun. Silver showed up, having broken free from his captors, and the masked man quickly retrieved a knife from his saddle bag. With knowledge of the outlaw’s plan to lead the wagon train off track so his men, masquerading as Indians, would attack the group with murder in their eyes and plunder in heart, The Lone Ranger relinquished his dehydrated condition in favor of riding to the rescue. 

Unbeknownst to the pioneers, the wagon train crossed the border of the badlands by afternoon. Tonto rode to the rescue to warn old Eben Henry, to whom the pioneers looked up to more than any other, even shooting the gun out of Kendrick’s hand in the same manner as his masked friend. Fearful of all Indians, through the warnings of Kendrick, the pioneers persecute and branded the redskin a traitor, who was forced to flee for his life.

Sunset found the wagon train deep in the badlands, drawing to a circle to make camp for the night. The riotous Indian attack quickly proved to the gallant pioneers they had been double crossed by the leader they trusted. Outnumbered, they gave all their attention to the battle, firing carefully at their attackers, making sure every one of their precious shots counted. But the outlaw band was seasoned to battle and the end was sure to result in victory for them. When the ammunition ran out, the pioneers prepared to club the attackers with their guns. But as hope seemed lost, the sound of a cavalry bugle emanated from a distance... well-trained men from the army garrison raced to the rescue, led by a masked man on a great white stallion, shouting the cry “Hi Yo, Silver!” The Kendrick gang had no chance; every survivor of the battle was captured. 

Captain Luther comforted the band of intrepid explorers, now embracing the lesson they learned, as the captain reassured them of the gospel they would spread throughout the land... that “no man ever made a mistake trusting The Lone Ranger.”

Such was the thrilling adventure broadcast on the radio on the evening of November 8, 1937. A recording of this particular Lone Ranger radio broadcast is not known to exist in recorded form but the exciting adventure survives courtesy of the radio script attained on microfilm at the Library of Congress. The only thing more discerning than knowing this is a “lost” adventure is knowing that almost every broadcast before February 1938 does not exist in recorded form. (There are less than a dozen exceptions and most of them are half-shows.) The Lone Ranger radio program premiered in January of 1933, but it was not until February of 1938 that the radio broadcasts were recorded on a regular basis. Consequently, very little has been documented on the first five years of The Lone Ranger, herein referred to as “The Early Years.” 

In those early years Tonto was a short, shriveled old Indian who preferred to kill than seek justice by the white man's law. Tonto knifed Mexicans and Gypsies while The Lone Ranger sought justice through the law of a silver bullet -- even shooting an escaping villain in the back in one instance before riding off into the sunset.

It was not until 1938 that the radio program became a national sensation through a silver screen cliffhanger serial produced and released theatrically by Republic Pictures, and producer of the radio program, George W. Trendle, was convinced by business associate H. Allan Campbell to record each and every radio broadcast for the purpose of syndication. In short, The Lone Ranger never truly became a franchise until 1938, with Trendle underestimating the value of premiums and collectibles until the royalty checks started to pour in that year. It truly was a business decision that led to the program’s unintended preservation on 16-inch electrical transcription discs. Over 3,400 radio broadcasts aired from 1933-1954, and though only 75 percent of them were recorded, less than 300 are still elusive among collectors. 

It is difficult to claim the recordings from 1933-1954 are “lost” since they were not authorized to be recorded and to be “lost” indicates they would have been recorded and therefore misplaced but since they were never recorded, the term "lost" should not be used interchangeably with "never recorded." As such, the only information regarding the plot summaries of the pre-1938 radio broadcasts exists in script form.

The good news is that script writer Fran Striker started recycling some of his earlier scripts in late 1937 and we have started to connect the dots. Existing recordings contain recycled plots (and dialogue) from those early years, giving us an opportunity to enjoy what was among the early adventures. For example:

Episode #414, Broadcast September 25, 1935  
This radio script was recycled with very slight differences such as the inclusion of a savvy old woman for the broadcast of June 24, 1940, and again as “Black Arab” for April 2, 1947.

Episode #466, Broadcast January 24, 1936  
This radio script was recycled for broadcast on June 22, 1938.

Episode #541, Broadcast July 17, 1936
This radio script was recycled for broadcast on October 19, 1938.

Episode #589, Broadcast November 6, 1936
This same episode was recycled for use as “Black Sheep,” broadcast December 31, 1945.

It puts a smile on my face to announce that as of today, out of the 769 radio broadcasts from 1933 to 1937, there are only 23 episodes that remain elusive. Crossing fingers, we will have access to those radio scripts and fill in the gaps. Thus, no missing plot summaries in the 21-year history of the program. As someone once told me how positive news like this provides hope for collectors and fans of The Lone Ranger, this should put a smile on your face.

Examples of such plots being composed:

Episode #769, Broadcast December 31, 1937
Copyright Registration #54,273, script received at Registration Office January 4, 1938.
Plot: Old Dan Calloway lives alone in a humble cabin in the mountains with young Buck Simmons. Buck’s parents were robbed and killed up in the Snake River section, after being forced at gunpoint to sign over their gold claim to a couple crooks named Ned Slaven and Vince Norton. After watering and resting their horses at Calloway’s cabin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto extract the details behind the Golconda Mine. The direct, frank manner of The Lone Ranger won Dan Calloway over and he was eager as the masked man to see young Simmons ride a trail toward retribution for the murderer of his parents. Late the next day, Buck is found by the crooks with a fake gunshot wound and in possession of a letter from Sheriff Kirkland, ordering him to get a job working for the mine so he can nose around and locate the deed. For several days the boy worked steadily, as Ned and Vince needed the labor, all the while Ned and Vince purposed a planned cave-in. A few days later the sheriff arrives and Ned and Vince take the law officer to the mouth of the mine, hoping the sheriff will witness the “accident” and avoid suspicion. When they call for Buck to exit, confirming he was inside, dead silence from within motivates the sheriff to suggest they go inside. Each man, believing the other might rub the other off and flee with the gold, start to panic, and hesitate entering the mine. It does not take long for a fallout among thieves as a result of this scene, where each blames the other of killing Buck’s parents. 

Episode #770, Broadcast January 3, 1938
Copyright Registration #54,274, script received at Registration Office January 4, 1938.
Plot: Deputy Bob Forsyth enjoys spending time with Sally Granger, against stiff competition from young Bert Allen, who worked hard at the Box Kay ranch and was saving up enough to buy himself a home. When Sally’s father vents over losing cattle, he starts to suspect someone is stealing from his stock, with all eyes looking down against Bert. Windy Darwin, wanted for robbery and murder back in Abilene, is blackmailed by the crooked Sheriff Burley to rebrand the Box Kay stock and make it appear Bert was stealing cattle. Bob catches Bert with evidence in hand, not Windy, and the perfect frame-up puts Bob under arrest on charges of cattle stealing. Late the next evening, Sheriff Burley displays heart by letting Bert out of jail to spend a few hours with Sally, if the prisoner promises to be back in the morning, and “suggesting” that while out on temporary freedom he put a gun to Bob’s ribs and force a confession while Bob himself is making a play for Sally. Bert is unaware that the generosity is a trap in disguise – Windy is off the trail waiting to ambush Bert. The Lone Ranger keeps close tabs on the proceedings and intervenes, saving Bert’s life. The sheriff rides out to order Windy to leave town quick, before the ruse is discovered, only to be apprehended by a U.S. Marshall who was witness to the entire discussion. Bob Forsyth, angry at the sheriff for trying to pin the crime on him, incriminates the lawman with proof of his guilt and all three guilty parties are taken in.

Episode #771, Broadcast January 5, 1938
Copyright Registration #54,434, script received at Registration Office January 7, 1938.
Plot: El Paso is in an uproar as a herd of longhorns stampede through Main Street. The distraction provided ample time for three outlaws, Lefty Riggs, Smokey Brown and Mush Barton to rob the bank. The Lone Ranger and Tonto, riding east towards El Paso, come across the body of Jack Lovejoy – shot in the back. Lovejoy’s father, emotionally distraught for his son turning into a stage coach outlaw, shoots and kills Lefty, but not before the old man took a bullet himself. Smokey and Mush, in town to avoid suspicion since the posse rode out of town in search of the bank robbers, allow The Lone Ranger to take Lefty’s place, after the masked man used a letter of credentials found on Lovejoy’s body. The bank robbers mistakenly assume The Lone Ranger is Jack Lovejoy. Aware that convincing the robbers to grab the cash and flee to the boarder would not prove guilt of murder, just possession of stolen cash, and with the possibility of throwing blame on Lefty as a result, The Lone Ranger devises a scheme to create a falling out among thieves. Mush ultimately exchanges gunfire with Smokey, killing his partner in crime. The Lone Ranger shoots the gun out of Mush’s hand and wounds Mush's shooting arm, giving the masked man the advantage of turning him over to Sheriff Wilson… especially since the sheriff was their next intended victim.