Friday, September 4, 2020


Through the month of February 1953, someone named C.C. Cook of the Indian Theatre, at the Mission Village in Los Angeles, a four-acre resort with an American Indian theme, mailed two letters to George W. Trendle. Cook was supposedly representing Robert E. Callahan, author and showman. Having read an article in a magazine providing a brief background to the origin of The Lone Ranger radio program, Cook took it upon himself to accuse Trendle of plagiarism; promptly denied and dismissed by Trendle.

The first letter indicated no intention of a lawsuit, just a suggestion that Callahan himself should receive some financial due for injecting the germ of an idea into Trendle’s mind for a radio Western. The details behind the accusation, repeated in each of the two letters, were similarities between The Lone Indian and The Lone Ranger, varied enough to give historians today cause to suspect Callahan was writing the letters using the alias of C.C. Cook, with faded memory of the details from 1933, exercising professional jealousy for the financial success of The Lone Ranger.

July 1934

In 1926, advertising man Robert Callahan, an actor who appeared in numerous silent and early talkie pictures, was such a fanatic of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona (1884), that he wrote a sequel in 1930, Daughter of Ramona. Considered by many as a fanatic of the times, he built a theme park in Culver City called Ramona Village, where he was accused by one critic of creating a “jazz commercial version” of California’s past. The park was built in 1927 and was open for some time in the summer of 1929, but the idea did not go over, with the buildings and equipment only half finished. As a result of a court case questioning the sale and ownership of stock used to raise capital for construction, the four-acre parcel suffered economic setbacks before construction could be completed. It was supposedly reopened for a short time in 1930 to help promote the sale of his novel. The theme park was influenced by the popularity of Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 novel, Ramona, which spurred his fascination with Spanish mission and Native American life. Callahan, a self-proclaimed authority of authentic American Indian history, decided to construct a new park on the same site, rechristened Mission Village.

The story took a turn in 1930 when Callahan wrote and created The Lone Indian, a radio program broadcast six-times-a-week over the Warner Bros. radio station in Hollywood, for nearly four years (1930 to 1933). It was sponsored by Walker’s Department Store in Los Angeles, where an Indian Lodge was built on the fifth floor, and from which various prizes were given to children who listened to The Lone Indian broadcasts. It is estimated that half a million of the Lone Indian buttons were made and distributed throughout Los Angeles circa 1931, given to children who faithfully followed the radio broadcasts. During the Warner Bros. run, the program was serialized with Callahan ostensibly at a ranch telling an eastern visitor stories of Indian lore, backed by singing Indians. In 1937, Callahan recorded The Lone Indian for syndication, an Electro-Vox transcription, each with a self-contained story narrated by “The Old Trapper,” played by Callahan, possibly inspired by “The Old Ranger” from radio’s Death Valley Days.

Indian Village (KTM in Santa Monica, 1930 to circa 1931); Indian Stories (KFWB, owned by Warner Brothers, three times a week, 1932 to November 1933); The Lone Indian (1932 to 1934); Lone Indian Theater, a.k.a. Indian Theater – Santa Fe Trail, a.k.a. Santa Fe Trail (KFAC, March to June 1935); and Indian Trails, retitled Indian Village most likely to promote his theme park (KMTR, circa December 31, 1936 to 1937, sponsored by The Forman Loan Company, and another run in 1939). 

KFAC Radio Premium from The Lone Indian program.

At the Mission Village, during The Lone Indian’s radio tenure through syndication, a staff member would dress up like the title character and attend evening campfire circles for children, telling stories and providing good morals for them to live by.

In late 1932, literature was composed to make The Lone Indian a nation-wide broadcast through syndication. Reportedly among the literature were selections from The Lone Indian book of short stories (published in 1933), all adapted from radio scripts. As producer, writer and director of the program, Callahan prepared three wax recordings for nationwide transcription release, made by Radio Recorders. According to Callahan, one of these audition records was mailed to George W. Trendle in 1932, answering an advertisement in a trade paper, asking for audition platters and details. Trendle kept them for several weeks; finally writing back saying the price was too high to consider purchase. No agreement was made at the time both men exchanged communication. 


A few months (or a few years) later, a lawsuit was prepared against George W. Trendle for stealing the basic concept of The Lone Indian, but Callahan’s wife suddenly passed away (and Callahan himself went to South America for two months both for health and relaxation) causing him to think twice before filing the lawsuit, which he never did.

Callahan insisted the black horse was changed to a white horse, Callahan’s second lead – a Texas Ranger – was made into the hero instead of an Indian. “They carried out the entire program as sent in the literature and as contained in my book, a definite steal,” Callahan claimed. Actor Victor Daniels – whose Indian name was Chief Thundercloud – played the role of “Lone Indian” for two years on the air. Callahan claimed another common denominator between the two radio programs was Daniels playing the role of Tonto on The Lone Ranger for a short time, but Callahan was incorrect in his statement – Daniels played Tonto in the second of the two Republic Pictures cliffhanger serials, not the radio program.

Another of Callahan’s claims was that The Lone Indian also exemplified high morals by the title character. Callahan’s version introduced Indian philosophy and prayers, including a policy not to drink or smoke. Always appearing in time of need, The Lone Indian provided assistance for the meek through cunning and action.

Theme park post card from 1929.

As a lawyer who was with The Lone Ranger since the beginning and handled many Lone Ranger cases, particularly in the Federal Courts, this claim of plagiarism was not uncommon in the eyes of Raymond Meurer, who instructed Trendle to “just forget about this crackpot and not be drawn into a contest. I’d suggest we just drop the thing right here and, if anything happens, we’ll take care of it at that time.” Cook ceased sending letters after Meurer stopped responding. (There is nothing found to suggest Callahan sent more than two letters. Mission Village was destroyed in 1962 to make way for the Santa Monica Freeway.) *

* Besides The Lone Indian, Callahan produced a number of radio programs for syndication, all of the Western genre, including Wife WantedThe Santa Fe Trail, Tommy Gale of the Box-T Ranch, and The Singing Bandit – the latter of which aired on selected stations across the country and was certainly closer to The Lone Ranger than The Lone Indian, even though the hero was not masked and whose trademark was singing.