The Lone Ranger rides again – in 1938
Francis Hamilton Striker (1903 – 1962), known to one and all as Fran, deserves glory, laud and honor as the principal creative force behind the Lone Ranger.
We LoneRangeristas, who have grown up alongside the masked man (The Lone Ranger on TV was the first Western I consciously recall) have come to know the backstory of the solitary (well, quite solitary) Ranger. Fran was born and bred in Buffalo, NY, went to school there and became an announcer and sometime writer on WEBR (now WDZC), eventually becoming station manager. There, he wrote all sorts of mysteries and Westerns for radio.
Fran began a long association with station owner George W Trendle and radio station WXYZ in Detroit, which was trying to make a name for itself as a producer of radio drama.
In 1932, Fran began work on The Lone Ranger. His first scripts were largely adapted from his earlier series Covered Wagon Days. A letter from Trendle in January, 1933 clearly gives him credit for creating the character but in 1934 Striker was pressured by Trendle to sign over his rights to the Lone Ranger, and Trendle claimed credit as the creator. It was a controversy that was to rumble on for decades and dog the whole franchise.
In fact the first episodes of The Lone Ranger were broadcast on WEBR in Buffalo prior to the official premiere on WXYZ. These first broadcasts starred Buffalo actor John L Barrett, weeks before George Stenius (who later changed his name to George Seaton and became a movie director) played the role. When the series began to gain popularity, Trendle convinced Fran to move to WXYZ, where he eventually became head of WXYZ’s script department.
Fran must have got through typewriter ribbons (and cigarettes) at quite a rate because in addition to over 150 radio episodes of The Lone Ranger a year, Lone Ranger novels, two movie serials and The Lone Ranger comic strip, not to mention Ned Jordan Secret Agent and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, he also bashed out scripts for The Green Hornet.
Now we have discoursed earnestly before on this blog about that vital subject of the crossover between the gangster-crime and Western genres. Doubtless you will recall. If not, click here. While at first sight Westerns may seem to be set in the context of wide open plains, with pioneer settlers fulfilling their entirely optimistic manifest destiny to take and plow virgin land and make a bold new future, whereas gangster stories tell of dislocated people in claustrophobic, noir urban settings who come to a bloody end in the mean streets, we in fact know that it isn’t as simple as that. For every Western featuring wagon trains on the prairies there was one set in town with a city-slicker crook, usually based in a saloon, who has treed the place using henchmen and hired guns. There were just as many similarities between the Western and crime genres as differences. The gangster noirs had Tommy guns and automobiles rather than six-guns and horses, but these were only superficial adornments.
Take Dashiell Hammett’s gangster story Red Harvest, which became Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, then Sergio Leone’s Western For a Fistful of Dollars, then, full-circle, Walter Hill’s gangster picture Last Man Standing, which was to all intents and purposes a Western (and Hill has said that all his films are Westerns in a way). Or all those Dillinger/Bonnie & Clyde-style movies with bank robberies and Model A Fords, which occupied the middle ground between Western and crime noir. The crossover is self-evident.
Nowhere is this similarity more evident than in The Green Hornet.
Now we know of course that the Green Hornet is the alter ego of the wealthy young publisher of the Daily Sentinel newspaper. By night, dressed in a long green overcoat, gloves, green fedora and green mask, he fights crime as the mysterious vigilante and is accompanied by his loyal and similarly masked partner and confidant, Kato, who drives their technologically advanced car, Black Beauty. Starting on WXYZ in January 1936, the Green Hornet thrilled radio listeners, then later movie goers (Trendle disliked the treatment Republic gave to ‘his’ Lone Ranger and he went to Universal instead), TV watchers and comic readers, and since the big 2011 movie, he is still doing so.
The thing is, the Hornet’s real name is Britt Reid. Now we know, ardent Westernistas that we are, that John Reid was the Lone Ranger’s name, and indeed, Britt Reid is the son of Dan Reid Jr, the nephew of John. Yes, the Green Hornet is the Lone Ranger’s great-nephew!
On one of the radio episodes, Dan Reid visited his son to quiz him on the masked vigilante. On learning the truth behind his son’s dual identity, Dan recalls his days riding in Texas with his Uncle John, as the William Tell Overture plays softly in the background.
Fran Striker was only 59 when he died in an auto accident in 1962. Trendle died of a heart attack aged 87 ten years later.
Dynamite Entertainment, founded in 2004, is probably best known these days as the owners of The Boys franchise across various media. Dynamite chiefly publishes adaptations of franchises from other media, including licensed versions of films such as Terminator and Robocop, and licensed or public-domain literary properties such as Zorro, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and more. It also acquired to rights to the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet.
I reviewed Dynamite’s Lone Ranger works back in 2015 (click here for that) and now I have perused the company’s crossover comics The Lone Ranger Green Hornet, # 1 thru 5. They make good reading for those interested in the shadowland that lies between genres, dividing yet uniting the world of the Western and the sphere of the superhero.
In the first issue we are in 1936 Chicago and we meet Dan Reid, looking for his aimless son Britt, and his elderly uncle, the former Lone Ranger, entertaining kids with yarns. He must be rather elderly, I guess, because we will flashback to 1877 and he looks at least in his twenties, so he’s got to be in his eighties now. John says these Nazis make the Cavendish gang look like small potatoes, and they’re gaining a foothold in the US. Dan exhumes the famous vest, the one Tonto cut the mask from, and urges John to resume his masked crusading. Unfortunately, though, just at that moment Dan suffers a heart attack. Eighteen months later, Britt is in charge of the Sentinel and John meets him and Kato there. John urges Britt to assume the mantle, or anyway the vest.
Flashbacks to the old West. But the story mostly concerns the present day, i.e. 1936. Eliot Ness comes to visit Britt, who outlines to Britt and John the danger of the Bund, American Nazis stoking hatred and anger. They must be stopped. Britt says he’s mad as a hornet. “I’m not going to take this anymore!”
The strip is quite well drawn, I guess (art by Giovanni Timpano), though the old Lone Ranger looks a bit odd. The text is peppered with even more BOLD ITALICS and EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! than usual. But it’s a comic.
#2 opens with Teddy Roosevelt regaling some old pards – including the Lone Retired Ranger – with reminiscences about all the heroes of the Old West he knew back in the day. Then we are in 1938. Ness is doing a deal with Murder Inc to together fight the even eviler revived Cavendish gang! Back to 1877, and Black Bart holds up a stage. The Lone Ranger and Tonto intervene. In ’38 Chicago, Ness tells how the wicked Nazis and the Cavendish gang are planning to get hold of atomic secrets for Hitler. The Bund/Cavendish gang throw acid in the faces of some key scientists led by Enrico Fermi. Britt tells the Ranger how he has decided he will carry on the mission, but with modern methods. He has a gas gun that wounds but does not kill, and he shows his amazing car. Hi-Yo, Black Beauty!
The Green Hornet is born.
On the last page, someone gives $10,000 to Olympic hero Jesse Owens…
And it’s 1936 Berlin which opens #3. Hitler refuses to shake Jesse Owens’s hand and the Old Ranger mocks the Fuhrer, saying that Hitler’s hand is the only thing that is shaking. In 1938 John meets up with his old friend Jesse again. He tells Jesse that he must now be the new Lone Ranger. Unfortunately, even with the mask on, everyone recognizes Jesse, so that doesn’t pan out too well. Meanwhile, the mob is going to whack the Cavendish gang while the Hornet protects the scientists.
Now we go to 1896 Washington DC and the Lone Ranger, now retired, meets President Roosevelt (and a nine-year-old cousin, Franklin D) at the White House. There he receives the Medal of Honor – and learns that he and a RCMP sergeant are cousins. We aren’t given the name of the sergeant – but we know, right? Back in the 1930s, the Reids visit Tim McCoy’s Wild West show and who should be in it but … Tonto!
Poor Tonto suffers the indignity of being on display as a curiosity as the story of #4 opens but there’s a fond reunion with the Old Ranger, and Tonto is introduced also to Britt and Kato.
Another flashback: this time, we go to Sweetwater, Texas in 1875, to aid an outnumbered Bat Masterson. The Ranger explains to Bat that Tonto is not his sidekick but in fact his teacher, and now, in the Hornet’s nest in 1938, Kato wants Tonto to become his sensei too. Soon Kato absorbs Tonto’s wisdom and also becomes a master of the arts of tracking, bow & arrow and tomahawk-throwing. Handy.
The Hornet is on the track of the Nazi kingpin! and there’s a scene in the local waxwork museum. Tonto suggests that he and the Ranger have one last adventure together. The waxwork of Black Bart is a very good likeness, so good, in fact, that …
(Back to 1917 and Bat Masterson offers the Ranger a lift in his new Hupmobile, which Bat calls the Mastersonmobile. The Ranger suggests he call it the Batmobile instead, but that is rejected as just plain silly.)
At the end of #4 a tragic event appears to have taken place…
#5 is the last number of the series, or the last one I was gifted, anyway, by a kind nephew.
Dastardly Bart now orders the murder of Fermi and the scientists, the blowing up of the Sentinel and the killing of all Reid family members. Such wickedness! Will his orders be carried out? Or will the combined Ranger/Hornet force foil this villainy?
Well, I can reveal that the Lone Ranger rides again – in Black Beauty – while the Hornet rides Silver. There’s a pretty tragic ending, though, I’m sorry to tell you, which involves two tombstones.
Well, I don’t know if you read comics – Western, superhero or a mixture – but you might find some enjoyment in these.