Friday, May 1, 2020


Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the covers of pulp magazines and comic books featured incredible paintings. Many of those illustrators have been forgotten, and their original canvases long ago consigned to garbage bins. The beautiful artwork would ultimately be discarded for cheaper options such as comic illustrations or photographs of the television celebrities in costume. The artwork has since become relished by numerous fans of The Lone Ranger, and of recent years reproduced for the Radio Spirits bookshelf albums containing licensed old-time radio shows.

One of the artists responsible for those oil paintings is Don Spaulding. In the summer of 1950, Norman Rockwell used an empty schoolhouse to create a studio for young promising art students. Among the six students was Spaulding, who was a member of the Art Students League when he had the opportunity to study with the great Norman Rockwell. 

“The entire thing was all gratis,” Spaulding later recalled for Charlie Roberts, “which was typical of the type of person Rockwell was. We had a place to live, but we provided our own food… But there was the feeling that I was imposing on Rockwell because I was living rent free and so forth, so I thought I should go home and get some more of the League under my belt.” After a few months of assignments and studies, Spaulding went back home. We went around to pocketbook (paperback) houses and magazines in the hopes of securing steady income from his talent. “They all smiled, said nice things, and I never heard from them again,” Spaudling concluded. “But then I took my samples to Dell Publishing. They were general illustration sampled. Mostly adventure type stuff. The art director I saw there was Ed Marine. He was art director for the comic books. He liked my work and took a chance on me. That was probably a year or so after art school.”

Spaulding’s first cover was of a cowboy standing in a stream and a Yaqui Indian sneaking up behind him. Marine liked it and Dell assigned him a Lone Ranger comic cover to do. That was the one where he was swinging on a rope, kicking the outlaw in the face.

This would ultimately lead to 16 Lone Ranger comic books, 15 Buck Jones, 18 Tonto, and a few Tarzan comic books. The oil paintings confirmed are listed below for reference:

Buck Jones (6 covers)
Full Color #500, Full Color #546, Full Color #589, Full Color #652, Full Color #773 and Full Color #850

Tonto (18 covers)
Issues #13 through 27, 29, 30 and 31

The Lone Ranger (16 covers)
Issues #62, 63, 64, 71, 74, 76, 79, 83, 86, 88, 89, 91, 97, 98, 110 and 111

For the role of The Lone Ranger, he consulted one of the models frequently used by Norman Rockwell, whom he knew from the schoolhouse summer. Don Spaulding asked Norman Rockwell to get in touch with James “Buddy” Edgerton, to see if he would like to model for the covers. “Being paid to model was easy money and I was a college student, so I jumped at the chance,” Buddy recalled. “I modeled for fifteen Lone Ranger comic book covers for Don. His process was very much like Norman’s – first, he took a photograph, then he worked from the photo to the final piece. It was easy to see Norman’s influence on Don’s work. It was a great experience to be able to model for The Lone Ranger. Though I had handled guns all my life, there sure is something different about holding two pearl-handled revolvers while you’re dressed up like a cowboy – no matter how old you are.”

“I usually wore a uniform of sorts when posing for the oil paintings, sometimes for photographs to be used if I was unable to pose for a few hours. I never wore a mask, tho. Don would add the mask later,” Buddy told me. “I recall being paid $5 per session. He would usually do two or three images each time and pick the best for use as an oil painting.”

The model to pose for Tonto was Don Spaulding himself. A friend would take photographs of Spaulding in pose, which the artist would then consult to produce the oil painting. But Buddy recalls another art student, Don Winslow, posing as Tonto for a number of the sessions.

“I only modeled for The Lone Ranger for twelve of the sixteen paintings,” Buddy explained. But James “Buddy” Edgerton has another claim to fame. In the Spring of 1943, Norman Rockwell, his wife Mary, and their three young sons moved into the farmhouse next door to thirteen-year old Buddy in West Arlington, Vermont. As a result, he found himself as the model for many of Rockwell’s paintings, some of which are featured below for reference. Who would have thought that the proverbial Boy Scout of magazine fame was also The Lone Ranger in the comics?

Buddy since co-wrote a book about Norman Rockwell, providing insight to the artist from a perspective few could ever provide. The Unknown Rockwell: A Portrait of Two American Families is available for sale on Amazon.