A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty “Hi-Yo, Silver!” . . . .
. . . the Lone Ranger!
The famous Masked Rider of the Plains owed his existence to a risky business decision. George W. Trendle was president and co-owner of Detroit-based radio station WXYZ, a Columbia Broadcasting System affiliate. In the summer of 1932, Trendle decided to sever the relationship with CBS and operate WXYZ as an independent station. With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, this was a gamble; it meant that WXYZ no longer had access to CBS’s roster of popular, established programmes. The station would have to rely on local music and produce its own line-up of shows.
For that, Trendle turned to free-lance writer Fran Striker. Striker cranked out several series for WXYZ in an amazingly short time. The dramas were only modestly popular, but it was enough for Striker to be named head of the station’s script department. Trendle wanted a big hit, though. Something that would propel WXYZ to the top of the ratings charts.
Like many others of his day, George Trendle held a romanticism for the Old West, where justice wasn’t so much a process as it was a moral imperative. Trendle and his staff came up with the idea of a masked vigilante on horseback. He would be a former lawman, to maintain a link to the structure of justice, as well as the ethics of it. Then the concept was turned over to Fran Striker to hammer out the details and provide the scripts.
That was the real-life birth of the character that Striker named the Lone Ranger. It would be quite some time, though, before the masked man’s fictional origin would be told.
The Lone Ranger radio programme debuted on 30 January 1933. The Ranger sprang full-blown, with no origin. Nothing was given of his background, except for occasional vague hints that he might be an actual historical figure of the Old West. Essentially, Striker and his writers were vamping until they could come up with a suitable origin for their champion of justice.
The Lone Ranger was an instant hit. As the profits rolled in from radio syndication, movie rights, and merchandising, George Trendle wasn’t idle. The mid-1930’s had seen a proliferation of crooked politicians and corrupt government officials. An outraged Trendle, perhaps as wish-fulfilment, realised that his notion of a masked man operating outside of official sanction and fighting injustice could be updated to modern times. Once again, it was up to Fran Striker who, along with Bill Freyse, put meat on the skeleton proposed by Trendle. The result was a hero who destroyed political corruption and organised crime from within, by posing as an outlaw himself. They named him the Green Hornet!
The Green Hornet radio programme was launched on 31 January 1936. In establishing the show's premise, the listeners were informed:
With his faithful valet Kato, Britt Reid, daring young publisher, matches wits with the underworld, risking his life so that criminals and racketeers within the law may feel its weight by the sting of the Green Hornet!
Wealthy, old Dan Reid---Britt’s father, from whom he had taken over the reins of The Daily Sentinel---was completely in the dark about his son’s dual identity.
For years, no connexion between the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger was suggested. But a huge hint was dropped in the 07 December 1938 broadcast of the Lone Ranger radio show. This was the episode which finally provided the long untold origin of the Lone Ranger---the one with which we are all familiar.
Early in this tale of tales it was revealed that the name of the captain of the ill-fated squad of Texas Rangers was Dan Reid. His younger brother, also a Texas Ranger and the sole survivor of Butch Cavendish's ambush, would become the Lone Ranger. Throughout this radio episode, the flashback portions referred to the soon-to-be masked man as "Reid", and "Reid" only. (The source of the first name of "John" attributed to the Lone Ranger has never been confirmed and is denied by the Wrather Corporation [long-time owners of the Lone Ranger character]; he was never named "John Reid" in either the radio programme or the television show.)
In giving the Lone Ranger the surname of "Reid", Trendle and company, in retrospect, appeared to be setting up the relationship between the masked man and the Green Hornet. Another clue was dropped when the character of Dan Reid, Jr., the son of Captain Dan Reid and the Lone Ranger's nephew, was introduced on the radio show in a 1942 Christmas arc of episodes.
Beginning with the episode “Starting North”, aired on 14 December 1942, the story emerges of how, many years before the current adventures of the Lone Ranger, his brother Dan’s wife, Linda, and their infant son were travelling on a wagon train to join Captain Reid out west. The wagon train was attacked by a band of renegade Apaches, and Reid’s wife and son were killed. Or so it seemed.
While on the trail of a criminal trying to escape to Canada, the Lone Ranger and Tonto encounter elderly Grandma Frisby and her grandson, Dan, on their spread just below the Canadian border. The outlaw makes his last stand on the Frisby ranch but he finds the feisty old lady harder to handle than he bargained for.
The Ranger and Tonto rescue Grandma Frisby and Dan, but the excitement causes the old woman’s weak heart to fail. On her deathbed, she tells the Ranger of how, years before, she was on the same wagon train as Linda Reid and her baby. During the Apache attack, Linda saved her infant son by hiding him in a small trunk. Grandma Frisby also survived the massacre and took the baby to raise as her own. She validates her tale by showing the masked man a locket the boy had around his neck. Inside is a daguerreotype of the Ranger’s brother and Linda.
On the lady’s deathbed, the Lone Ranger promises to take care of Dan---Dan Reid, Junior---and honours her last request by removing his mask.
“It’s a good face,” whispers the old woman, “Yes, a good face,” and she passes away.
To the grief-stricken Dan, the masked man explains, “Your father and I were brothers. I want to be a father to you.”
For the rest of the programme’s run, Dan Reid, Jr. was usually “back east” attending school, but sporadically, he would return to share an occasional adventure with his uncle and Tonto.
So now you had characters named “Dan Reid” on the Lone Ranger radio show and on the Green Hornet programme, both of which were created by George Trendle. Savvier fans were already putting two and two together, if for no other reason than it was a Neat Idea.
It would be another five years before the fans' suspicions were confirmed---in the 11 November 1947 Green Hornet radio show episode "Too Hot to Handle". According to the running sub-plot, Dan Reid had become suspicious of his son Britt’s activities. In a previous episode, the elder Reid had secretly hired a female reporter, Linda Travis, to investigate his son. Proving to be a superior investigator to the thick-headed Mike Axford, Linda uncovers the truth, that Britt Reid is the Green Hornet, and reveals her discovery to Dan Reid.
In "Too Hot to Handle", Dan Reid confronts his son with this information, and Britt confesses the truth and defends his actions:
“I saw political grafters and confidence men bend the law nearly double without actually breaking it. I had inside information on political bribes. I knew of crooks in our government and there wasn’t a thing that could be done about them. We couldn’t even publish their activities because the law couldn’t get proof that would hold up in court. A lot of criminals went free because of tricky laws and red tape.
“I could see only one way to get those rats. Someone had to meet them and play their game their way, with no holds barred. Putting them in jail was the most important thing in the world to me. It came ahead of the newspaper. Ahead of my reputation. Ahead of everything. If you’ll look at the records, you’ll see that I was successful . . . .”
The intensely honest and upright Dan Reid is stunned to silence. The future of the Green Hornet and Britt Reid are at stake. Linda Travis declares that she agrees with Britt and swears to keep the secret of his double life. Now, it’s all up to Dan.
After several seconds, the disbelief and anger on the elder Reid’s face is replaced by confidence and a faint smile. He points to a painting on the wall of the study---a portrait of a man on horseback.
A masked man on a white horse.
“Look at that picture on the wall,” says Dan. “The man on that horse is one of your ancestors. And those hills are in Texas. When I was a boy, I rode with that man. I saw him six-gun his way through red tape and ride roughshod over crooks who thought they were too smart for the law. He rode for justice.”
“Britt,” the old man continues, “I gave you The Daily Sentinel because I knew you’d learn a lot about smart crooks that the law couldn’t get. I’d hoped you’d do something about those crooks, just as your pioneer ancestor did. I wanted to see you use the paper as a crusading weapon. I wanted to see sparks fly. But . . . nothing came!
“I was disappointed, son. I wondered what was the matter with you. Wondered why the American heritage didn’t assert itself. That’s why I sent Linda here. I sent her to find out what was wrong with you. And . . . now I learn . . . . Why, confound it, Britt . . . you’re more like the man in the picture than I dreamt you could be!”
All across the country, youthful listeners, and some not so youthful, who had already connected the dots smiled knowingly, hearing their suspicions finally confirmed.
The relationship established between the two masked men worked well and good for the rest of the run of the Green Hornet radio series, which lasted until 05 December 1952. However, a new wrinkle developed when the Green Hornet was revived as a television show in 1966.
In the fourteen years since the Green Hornet radio programme folded, the generational timeline from the Lone Ranger to Dan Reid, Jr. to Britt Reid was no longer plausible. It would have meant that the 1966 Britt Reid was pushing fifty and not likely to be indulging in derring-do as the Hornet.
So the television show made no mention of any relation between the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger. Instead, it established that Britt Reid's father was Henry Reid, the previous owner/publisher of the Reid newspaper, The Daily Sentinel. Further, the show stated that, in retribution for the elder Reid's publishorial crusade against organised crime, a consortium of mobsters had framed him for murder. Convicted and imprisoned, Henry Reid died behind bars.
Curiously, little dramatic hay was made of this, even when, in one episode, the Hornet went after racketeer Glen Connors, one of the men who framed his father. The only recurring reference to Henry Reid was his portrait, which could be seen hanging on the wall of the publisher’s office.
In fact, the television show could not even be bothered with giving Henry Reid’s name on air. That was left to author Brandon Keith, who used the series’ bible to write the book tie-in The Green Hornet: the Case of the Disappearing Doctor (Whitman Publishing Company, 1968).
To Lone Ranger/Green Hornet fans of the day---and I well remember this---the change was not fatal to Britt Reid being related to the original masked man. They simply modified the timeline to accommodate Henry Reid. Instead of Dan Reid, Jr. having a son named Britt Reid, now Dan's son was Henry Reid, and Britt was Dan's grandson. Thus, the Green Hornet was now the Lone Ranger's great-grand-nephew.
Such adjustments will always prove to be necessary. For while the Lone Ranger is frozen in the time of the Old West, the Green Hornet, as a hero of the modern day, will eternally progress to whatever era the “modern day” is. Comic-book adventures of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s have forced generational rewrites for both the Hornet and his sidekick, Kato, and the current film will no doubt stir the mix once again.
Nevertheless, Dan Reid, Junior will always occupy a unique place in Americana---as the link between the champions of justice of two centuries.