John Hart: Actor who played television's 'other' Lone Ranger
Saturday 10 October 2009
Destined to go down in history as television's "other" Lone Ranger, playing the masked man riding his trusty white horse Silver for 52 episodes, John Hart stepped into the role in 1952 when Clayton Moore was replaced amid reports that the original star had walked out in a pay dispute.
Hart had not only movie-star good looks and athleticism but also the riding skills needed to act the patriotic dispenser of justice in the Old West, having worked as a cowboy during summers in his youth – and he decided to play the character his own way. "I got a lot of bad advice about playing the part," he recalled. "I tried the bad advice for about one or two shows and then I said, 'The hell with that. I'll do it my own way.' They wanted me to be like a stiff Army major – and it was all wrong. So I just forgot that and slipped into the part."
However, television viewers were not so accepting of the "new" Lone Ranger, who brought them rushing to the small screen with his shout of "Hi-yo, Silver!" and his native American companion Tonto (Jay Silverheels) on horseback by his side. Eventually, in 1954, American television executives brought back Moore, who continued in the role until The Lone Ranger ended in 1957 after an eight-year run, denying that his departure had been caused by disagreements over money.
Despite this disappointment, Hart went on to other starring roles on screen. First, he played the hero of the title in the 15-part cinema serial Adventures of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger! (1955). Then, he was seen on television, also as the title character – an 18th-century fur trader in New York's Hudson Valley during the French and Indian War – in 39 episodes of Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (1957). Again, he had a native American companion, this time Chingachgook, played by the horror film star Lon Chaney, Jr.
Born in Los Angeles in 1917, Hart grew up in San Morino, attended South Pasadena High School, then acted at the Pasadena Playhouse. He made his film début as a sailor in the crime drama Daughter of Shanghai (1937), shortly before joining dozens of bit-part players in the director Cecil B. DeMille's romantic swashbuckler The Buccaneer (1938), which earned him a contract with Paramount Pictures – and enabled him to give up an eight- dollars-a-week job as a truck driver. Hart later worked with the celebrated film-maker on North West Mounted Police (1940) and the biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1956).
The actor took a string of small, uncredited screen parts before serving in the US Army during the Second World War, rising to the rank of first sergeant in the Coast Artillery. After time in the Philippines and Okinawa, he was transferred to the US Air Force in Texas to organise entertainment shows. He also went to Hollywood to make training films at the Hal Roach Studios.
Returning to acting after the war, Hart landed work as a stunt double. His break appeared to come with the title role in the cinema serial Jack Armstrong (1947), based on the radio version, Jack Armstrong: The All American Boy, featuring the comicbook-style, globe-trotting adventures of a high-school student during travels with his Uncle Jim.
However, Hart continued to find himself consigned to bit-parts – appearing in up to a dozen films a year – and started to act on television. In 1950, he played two different characters in episodes of The Lone Ranger – two years before being offered the title role.
In 1957, while filming Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans in Canada, Hart met the actress Beryl Braithwaite. They married 10 days later and remained together until his death.
Although he never became an A-list star, Hart found plenty of roles on the big and small screens over the years, including that of a minister in the Alfred Hitchcock film thriller Marnie (1964). He voiced Billings, the Stage Manager and the Milkman in Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962), American television's first animated Christmas special, and even reprised his performance as the Lone Ranger for episodes of The Greatest American Hero (1981) and the sitcom Happy Days (1982), in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) meets his childhood hero.
Hart also appeared occasionally as Senator Carson in Dallas (1979-81). His final film role was as a newspaper editor in The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981).
The actor was also a post-production supervisor for the television series Quincy, M.E. (starring Jack Klugman as a medical examiner at the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office) from 1979 to 1981 and produced educational and travel films. His cookbook, Cowboys in the Kitchen, featuring favourite recipes of his own and of other actors such as Jay Silverheels, was published in 2000.
John Hart, actor: born Los Angeles 13 December 1917; married 1957 Beryl Braithwaite (one daughter); died Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico 20 September 2009.
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