The Lone Ranger

From a cramped Detroit radio studio, the Lone Ranger galloped into the imaginations and hearts of millions of listeners


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(page 3 of 4)

With a schedule of live broadcasts looming, the tragedy had station officials scrambling to rewrite scripts while searching for a replacement. Several candidates were considered, including a staff announcer recently graduated from the University of Michigan — Myron “Mike” Wallace of future 60 Minutes fame.

In the end, Beemer — who by now was the station manager and the longtime public face of the Ranger at parades, rodeos, and school functions — was the logical choice. Looking to soften the transition to a different voice, Striker’s revised storyline had the Ranger seriously wounded and unable to speak in anything other than an occasional moan or whisper. Tonto carried much of the action for several episodes until finally, a couple of weeks after Graser’s death, a healed Lone Ranger was able to speak with bold, renewed vigor.

With Beemer at the reins, The Lone Ranger continued to ride righteously through the ether, picking up sponsors, listeners, and merchandisers along the way. By 1947, it was being heard on nearly 250 radio stations. One giveaway that year resulted in a record 3 million letters and postcards, bearing postmarks from as far away as Mexico, New Zealand, and Singapore.

The virile, strong-willed Beemer, who liked to wind down after shows with a few martinis and beer chasers at the Van Dyke Club, could be a handful when mask-less. But he was the perfect role model while in character, making unpublicized visits to hospitals and nursing homes and always putting on spirited public performances. He had been wounded while serving as an underage soldier in World War I and absolutely believed in every syrupy syllable of the Lone Ranger’s code, especially those homilies concerning duty, honor, and patriotism. He was the ideal pitchman for the show’s major sponsor, General Mills, which offered such premiums as the Lone Ranger Atomic Bomb Ring. Kids ate it all up — the cereal along with the myth.

Announcer Bob Hite once remembered a 1951 appearance at Madison Square Garden. Beemer, now nearly 50, “rode around the whole runway, and then he dismounted and walked to the microphone, and he was all alone in this huge arena, with a white light down on him, with his white hat on, the white horse, the silver guns — very impressive. The kids just went wild.”

Over the years the show featured its share of “before they were famous” names, including future screen star John Hodiak of Hamtramck (“one of the best villains on the station,” recalled Osgood) and a hook-nosed entertainer born Muzyad Yakhoob, destined to find fame as actor-philanthropist Danny Thomas. Detroit native Dick Beals played the role of the Ranger’s nephew, beginning in the late 1940s; he later lent his distinctive high-pitched voice to the famous “Speedy” Alka-Seltzer commercials, as well as to numerous cartoon characters. Another now-familiar voice belonged to a local college student named Kemal “Casey” Kasem, who years later would make his pop-culture mark as host of the long-running American Top 40 countdown show.

Paul Carnegie, known as “Paul Cannon” during his years as a disc jockey and program director at WKNR (“Keener 13”) radio in the ’60s, is another alum. Today he lives and works in Peoria, Ill.

“I remember sitting on the floor, playing with my toy cars, and listening to the show,” says Carnegie, who was born in Detroit six months before The Lone Ranger first went on the air. In early 1951 — by which time the show’s production had shifted to studios inside the converted Mendelssohn mansion in Indian Village — the Southeastern High School grad was hired to work in the sound-effects department, considered one of the best in the business. That was “pretty heady stuff” for the teenager, who got paid $1 an hour.

“Whenever some character was socked on the jaw, I’d smack the palm of my hand with this little pad of rubber,” he says. “It hurt like hell.” Galloping hoofbeats were created by pounding small toilet plungers into a box of dirt.

Carnegie’s most important duty was making sure Tonto was awake. “John Todd was in his 70s by then, and he’d sit in this chair in the corner. So on my script I’d always write ‘John’ in big letters a couple of pages before one of his scenes. That reminded me it was time to go over and nudge John. He’d say, ‘Sheriff ride to town, kemo-sabe’ or something like that and then doze off again.”

Trendle also was getting on in years, and growing concerned with certain estate implications of owning The Lone Ranger franchise. On Aug. 3, 1954, all rights to the property were sold to Wrather Corp., the Texas-based production company that had already brought the radio show to television. Out of that $3-million windfall, Trendle wrote Striker — the man who at one time mass-produced 60,000 words of copy a week for the various Lone Ranger commercial properties — a “bonus” check for $4,000.

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