|By Eric C. Rodenberg
WACO, Texas — “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.”
From 1949 to 1957, that was the cue to adjust the rabbit ears, huddle in front of the family TV – all while slurping copious spoonfuls of high-sugar cereal – and anxiously wait for the masked man and his trusty Indian companion to thwart the bad guys.
Back in those thrilling days of yesteryear, ABC – one of three TV networks – had its first big hit of the early 1950s with the Lone Ranger. A total of 221 episodes were made, starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. All the filming was done in black and white, with the exception of the final season in 1957.
After the series ended, Moore continued to make public appearances at countless state fairs, parades and even mall openings as the Lone Ranger.
He was a striking figure in his powder-blue shirt and pants, red kerchief and Stetson hat. The outfit – designed by the famed Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors of North Hollywood, Calif. – came to life with the addition of black Nudie’s cowboy boots and a hand-tooled and studded buscardero rig made by Hollywood’s “silversmith to the stars” Edward H. Bohlin.
Such a fancy rig mandated holstering real guns.
The .45-caliber pistols Moore wore were custom-made Colt pistols factory-engraved with the series numbers “LR-1” and “LR-2,” and “Clayton Moore – The Lone Ranger” emblazoned on the revolvers’ back straps.
On July 12, A & S Auction Co. in Waco, Texas, will be returning to those thrilling days of yesteryear and selling the head-turning outfit that meant so much to Moore and the Lone Ranger.
“Clayton Moore and the Lone Ranger are one and the same,” Moore reportedly said, according to the IMDb.com website. “I’m proud that I decided to wear the white hat for the rest of my life … I will continue wearing the white hat and black mask until I ride up into the big ranch in the sky.”
Moore died in 1999 of a heart attack at the age of 85.
Before he died, though, Moore had to fight to wear the full costume. In 1979, television producer Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to the character, won a lawsuit against Moore. The actor began wearing oversized wraparound sunglasses as a substitute for the mask. However, later Moore won the rights to wear the full costume after a successful countersuit.
The outfit has been in the private collection of the late Bob Davis, a Texas businessman and major collector of Texas cultural and historical artifacts.
“This is the very same outfit that Moore wore the rest of his life, after the TV show,” says his son, Earl Davis. The costume – the very outfit that Moore fought to wear in the 1980s – has been in the Davis home since he purchased it at Butterfield’s auction in San Francisco. The pistols will be sold with the original Colt factory letter certifying they were a special order made specifically for Moore.
Davis said he believes his dad paid more than $125,000 for the outfit at auction.
On July 12, the outfit will be sold on “the whole bid”: Each of the four lots will be hammered individually and in consecutive order. Then, the auctioneer will reopen bidding for the entire outfit with a starting bid that equals the total of the four previous “winning” bids plus 10 percent.
“If there are no bids at that point, then each of the four individual lots will be considered sold to the four bidders for whatever the hammer prices were,” said Scott Franks, owner and auctioneer at A & S Auction. “Otherwise, the bidding will continue in normal auction fashion for the whole kit and caboodle. It’s a way of enabling the outfit to remain intact, if possible.”
Davis said he remembers his father buying the outfit under the same bidding procedure. Both Davis and Franks said they believe the greatest value is keeping the collection intact – a “sum is greater than the parts” dynamic.
Franks said interest already is overwhelming.
“We’ve had people from all parts of Texas come in and look at it,” he said. “The great thing about this set is the provenance … there’s no question that this is the real deal.”
“My dad had a real connection with this collection,” Earl Davis said. “It was a big part of his childhood.”
Davis, who died in 2003 at the age of 69, lead his family business, Davis Brothers Publishing Co, a fixture in Waco for 75 years and the leading publisher of church choral music.
Davis was one of the founding members of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum and helped develop the organization’s research center into a leading historical and genealogical resource on the Texas Rangers.
He also served on the Texas Library and Historical Commission, a Vietnam veterans’ memorial commission, the Sons of the Republic of Texas, the Confederate Research Center at Hill College, the Waco-McLennan County Library Commission and the Heritage Society of Waco.
With such a background, it’s apparent why Davis – or any other Texan – would be interested in the Lone Ranger’s gear.
The backstory, developed in the early 1930s for radio, began when a fictitious posse of six members of the Texas Rangers were scouring the mountains and canyons for bad-buy Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish.
The Rangers are betrayed by a civilian guide named Collins (mentioned in several episodes, suggesting that LR still carried an implacable resentment) and were ambushed in Bryant’s Gap. Later, an Indian named Tonto stumbles onto the scene, discovering one Ranger is barely alive.
In the TV show, Tonto recognizes the lone survivor as the grown-up boy who saved his life when they were children. Tonto nurses the man, Texas Ranger John Reid, back to health. Among those who died were John’s older brother, Daniel Reid, a captain in the Texas Rangers and the leader of the ambushed group.
To conceal his identity and honor his fallen brother, John Reid fashions a black mask from his brother’s vest (the very vest upon which the star of justice was pinned).
To aid in the deception, Tonto digs a sixth grave and places at its head a cross bearing John’s name, to throw off Cavendish and his gang.
From that point, John Reid is symbolically dead and The Lone Ranger is born. Even after the Cavendish gang is brought to justice, The Lone Ranger and Tonto continued fighting for justice … and leaving townspeople scratching their heads and asking, “who was that masked man?”