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Phillips: The mysterious masked man

Posted: April 9, 2015 10:24 a.m.
Updated: April 10, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Those of you who are regular readers of my weekly offering here know I am a big fan of older TV shows. To me, the phrase “they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore” truly applies in so many cases.

Fairly recently, I found a couple of TV channels showing reruns of the 1950s classic program “The Lone Ranger.” One of those stations even seemed to show the adventures of the mysterious masked man and his faithful Indian sidekick practically 24 hours a day. I was hooked.

When you get right down to it, The Lone Ranger was kind of a superhero of his day. It’s easy for me to watch the show and also think of Superman, Batman and a host of others. The similarities are many. They all are very careful to keep their true identities hidden. In the case of The Lone Ranger, he goes so far as to not even let the viewers know his real name and back story, although -- as told in more modern movies  -- The Lone Ranger was the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers who were ambushed by an outlaw. Badly wounded, he was found by Tonto, the Indian, who helped him back to health and the two became best friends.

The reason The Lone Ranger kept his identity secret is he wanted his attacker to think all six Rangers had died. Because of the mask he wore, nearly every episode of the TV show has people taken aback when they first meet him, because only outlaws wear masks. He was always able to quickly win their trust and convince them his mask stood “for law and order.” Also in most episodes, outlaws tried to unmask The Lone Ranger, which had to be about the worst thing they could try. The Lone Ranger could fight and he knocked out many a bad guy with no more than a punch or two, especially if they reached for his mask! Singer/songwriter Jim Croce had it right in his hit song “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” You don’t pull the mask of the ol’ Lone Ranger.

But, tough as he could be when it was called for, he also detested violence. As I’ve said, I have been watching the show a lot and he never shoots anyone. He was quick to shoot a gun or knife right out of an outlaw’s hand, crack shot that he was, but that just left them complaining and rubbing their sore wrist they were foolish enough to hold a weapon with against The Lone Ranger.

Another thing I’ve noticed is being a rope maker or salesman must have been a pretty good career in the untamed west. I mean, people, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto, got tied up a lot. “Get some rope, tie them up” was an often heard phrase, sometimes about the crime-fighting duo and often about the crooks they were subduing.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto were also detectives of sorts. They were expert trackers, of course, but they had an uncanny way of figuring out lawbreakers’ thought processes and what their next move might be. You could say they were really the first “buddy cop” duo, long before that genre became popular decades later.

But, with all that, there’s one thing in particular that really stands out to me and it is The Lone Ranger’s strong, unfailing sense of morals. In every episode he righted some kind of wrong and always did it with no thought of collecting a reward or garnering any glory. In fact, at the end of every episode he and Tonto quickly exited before the folks they had helped even had a chance to thank them. That led to the iconic line “who was that masked man?” or similar variations, to which someone else in the scene would reply with something along the lines of “I didn’t figure it out myself until just now, but I’ve heard of a masked man with an Indian friend who helps people in trouble. He’s The Lone Ranger!”

Every episode ends with The Lone Ranger and Tonto riding quickly away to the classic exclamation “Hi ho, Silver, away!”

No, they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore, and that’s too bad.

On a somewhat related side note, I was saddened this week, as many of us were, to hear of the passing of actor James Best, mostly remembered as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazard.” Just a couple of weeks ago I saw Best on The Lone Ranger, playing the part of a man who was targeted for death by bad guys who intended to frame The Lone Ranger for the killing. Of course, it didn’t work. I had the privilege of interviewing Best last year when he brought his one-man show to the Fine Arts Center. He was a gracious and accommodating gentleman and it was a true thrill to sit and visit with him for a few minutes.

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