People of a certain age are not hearing the William Tell Overture, they’re hearing the Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto were actually the brainchild of George Trendle, a Detroit radio station owner, who in the early 1930s introduced them on his station.
Avi Santos, professor at Old Dominion University and the author of the soon to be published book about the Lone Ranger called "Selling the Silver Bullet," says that Trendle had the foresight to copyright all aspects of the masked man.
"George Trendle has built into his contracts with various clients these very rigid rules about what can and cannot be done," says Santos. "Any actor portraying the character could never appear in public without their mask on or they would be in violation of their contract: to explicit depictions of how the Lone Ranger must look, everything from his height, his weight, the color of his eyes, the type of nose he had."
Trendle was shrewd and no friend to actors.
"The star wears a mask, so he’s mysterious, but you have no idea who the actual person portraying the Lone Ranger is, so therefore he does not have to pay this person anything beyond the going rate," says Santos.
He was also a pioneer when it came to controlling his brand.
“Trendle trademarks, not just the name the Lone Ranger but also the names Tonto, Silver, Silver Bullets, and the catchphrase Hi –Ho Silver Away,” he says.
And he was one of the first to make a fortune on merchandizing his product.
"Anything you could imagine was available," he says. "In the 1930’s you could get everything from ice cream to Lone Ranger matchbooks, but also Lone Ranger-branded clothing like pajamas or shirts that would simply have a crest on it. You know, of course, things like toys guns and masks and things like that were all over the place."
In the film, Santos says the story is being told from Tantos’ perspective. He says Johnny Depp came on board to play Tanto, not the Lone Ranger.
"When Trendle owned the property, he worked so hard to keep the identities of the performers of the Lone Ranger and Tanto a secret, now of course, it’s the opposite. The key to revitalizing this property is heavily promoting the fact that Depp is associated with it."