At first a serial star, then the Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore was born Jack Carlton Moore in Chicago in 1914 where he grew up wanting to be a cowboy but first embarked on a trapeze act in 1934, performing at the Century of Progress Expo, then moved to Hollywood to try his luck in 1937.
After roles in various films he got his first chance in 1942 as a leading man in “Perils of Nyoka” opposite Kay Aldridge and Adrian Booth, who recalled for SR, “He was just such a gentleman…and so kind, with a great sense of humor. We had one thing in common. We really loved our work. We loved being out on location at Iverson’s and Vasquez Rocks. I just have great memories of him.”
In his autobiography, I WAS THAT MASKED MAN, Moore had high praise for director Bill Witney and stuntmen Dave Sharpe and Tom Steele.
It wasn’t until after Army Air Force duty in WWII that Clayton played a heavy, Ashe, in “Crimson Ghost” (‘46). Clayton recalled, “My scenes with that evil character were some of the most difficult to perform, we kept breaking up. It was pretty hard to keep a straight face when looking the Crimson Ghost in the eye.”
A year later Clayton was the lead in “Jesse James Rides Again” where an incident with a hay wagon nearly cost him his life. Clayton writes he was “supposed to drive a hay wagon that had been set on fire. Just before the wagon was to hit a rock and overturn, I was to leap off and roll away. The leap went fine. Then the wagon hit a rock and overturned. The bad part was, it overturned toward me, missing me only a few inches. After that, I turned the big stunts back to Tom Steele.”
Moore was quickly becoming a serial fixture and was, as he writes in his autobiography, having the time of his life. “I would have worked for free—in fact, considering what Republic paid me, I almost did. I got paid around $200 a week for appearing in those serials. I believe the biggest money I ever got at Republic was $450 a week.”
“G-Men Never Forget” followed in 1948. Clayton laughingly recalls Republic requested he provide his own wardrobe. “If you watch ‘G-Men Never Forget’ you’ll see exactly what the well-dressed man of 1947 was wearing.” Moore lauds Yakima Canutt for the action in this cliffhanger, “Nobody did it better,” then morbidly recalls, “Eddie Parker had been a mortician before he started doubling. He told me once, if he was burying someone in a tuxedo and he had a date that night, he would wear the tuxedo. ‘My client wouldn’t miss it for one night. After all, He’s gonna be wearing it for a loooong time!’ Eddie was a little odd, but a great stunt double.”
Also in ‘48 was “Adventures of Frank and Jesse James” with Noel Neill whom Clay calls, “A lovely young actress with a great deal of talent.” When we spoke to Noel after Clayton’s death, she recalled no details of the serial. House Peters Jr. (a sheriff in the serial) told SR, “When I first met Clayton, we were working on ‘Adventures of Frank and Jesse James’. I had an agent, Antrim Short, who was also a well-known casting man. It was Short who told George Trendle and Fran Striker, ‘There’s only one man who should play the Lone Ranger and that’s Clayton Moore. This guy’s got the voice for this series.’ He told them he had no money interest whatsoever in Moore, but he was the man.”
Clayton believes his next serial changed the course of his life. As the grandson of the original Zorro in “Ghost of Zorro”, filmed 1/11/49-2/2/49, he played a masked robin hood, much akin to the Lone Ranger character already established on radio. In mid 1949, as George W. Trendle was searching for a TV Lone Ranger, it was agent Antrim Short, as House Peters Jr. recalled, who brought Clayton to Trendle’s attention, then ran a print of “Ghost of Zorro” and contacted Moore’s agent. The rest is western TV history.
Pamela Blake, Clayton’s leading lady in “Ghost of Zorro” has long respected Clay. Upon his death she tearfully called us. “He was wonderful, so caring and helpful. In a scene if you weren’t ready, he wasn’t ready…thoughtful that way.”
According to Carmen Sacchetti, Moore appears in stock footage (from “Crimson Ghost”) in Walter Reed’s “Flying Disc Man From Mars” (‘51). But Reed knew Moore better as the Lone Ranger. “About 12 of us tried out for the Lone Ranger role. I said, after my audition, I’m not right for it, but Clay has the voice for it. When he went in, he said, ‘I am the Lone Ranger.’ And you know something, he lived and played the part until the day he died.”
Moore rode the small screen as the Lone Ranger from ‘49-‘52 until a salary dispute caused him to leave the popular series. Very quickly, his first role away from the masked man was right back at Republic as a heavy (Graber) in “Radar Men From the Moon” (filmed 10/17/51-11/6/51).
He segued almost directly into the lead for Columbia’s “Son of Geronimo”—“One of the few pictures in which I used no stunt doubles at all,” Moore relates in his book. In retrospect, probably due to the fact it was produced by penny pinching Sam Katzman. Tommy Farrell played his young pal in this one and told SR, “I first met Clayton when we did ‘Son of Geronimo’. He had a great sense of humor. We were in Pioneertown, which was rattlesnake gulch at that time of year…they were all over the place. He didn’t like ‘em any better than I did. (Laughs) The prop man used to go around banging on the ground with a shovel so we could sit down in the shade. (Laughs) Clayton was one hell of a horseman. He had a great deal of style on horseback, the way he carried himself. It was kind of stylized, but, by golly, he looked great. He knew what he was doing on horseback.”
Moore feels his next, “Jungle Drums of Africa”, was, “without a doubt, the worst production I ever appeared in. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst serials ever made…a real loser.” Steve Mitchell was a heavy (Gauss) in that one and also knew Clayton from the LR series. “When you did the show, Jay Silverheels was a wild man, he was a ball. But Clayton actually lived the part, he was the Lone Ranger.”
Moore calls his next, and last, serial, “Gunfighters of the Northwest” (Columbia ‘54), more “enjoyable to make and more satisfying to watch.” He and lead Jock Mahoney had been friends for several years. Clay describes Jocko as a “great athlete with legs of rubber…always clowning…a great sense of humor.”
John Hart, who replaced Clay as the Lone Ranger, was, at the time, dating Phyllis Coates, the leading lady in this cliffhanger. John told SR, “I first met Clayton on ‘Gunfighters of the Northwest’. I doubled Jocko on that serial. The best stuntman in the business, and I doubled him. They couldn’t take a chance on injuring the star. I also did several rides in long shots for Clay on that. Then I did a heavy when he was the Lone Ranger. It was a warm friendship and he had, through the years, recommended me for a lot of jobs, which meant a lot to me. There was never any animosity between us. Makes good publicity though.”
Gregg Barton was also in “Gunfighters…” as well as seven LR episodes and told SR, “It was my good fortune to work with Clayton many times and to know him as a complete professional. A good actor, very out-giving and friendly. He believed and lived the image of good he portrayed. We’ll all miss him greatly.”
A few months later, Clayton settled his salary dispute and was back—forevermore—as The Lone Ranger. Although his serial days were over, with 10 to his credit, he will always remain one of the true kings of sound serials.
Moore, 85, died December 28, 1999, of a massive heart attack at his home in Calabasas, CA. Clayton’s burial at Forest Lawn Cemetery next to his wife of 46 years, Sally, was private and attended by only about 30 relatives and close friends including his daughter Dawn, wife Clarita, Clayton’s close friend of 62 years, Rand Brooks, Joanne and Monte Hale and the late Chuck Courtney. Held on a rainy day, services were delayed from 11am til noon while a tent was erected. Then, very dramatically, as a friend began to read the LR Creed, the sun came out for a brief moment. Due to Clayton’s Air Corps service, the casket was draped with the American flag, presented to Dawn. Everyone attending placed a long stemmed rose on the casket in a final farewell. The LR mask was not buried with him, but was donated to a museum.
A public memorial was held at the Autry Museum. About 600 crowded into the small theatre and spilled onto the courtyard where large TV screens simulcast services inside. With a large picture of Clayton on screen, speakers heralded the fallen Ranger. “He always rose to the occasion,” said Rand Brooks. “I never, in all my years, ever heard Clayton say…” Brooks fell silent, wiping away tears, “…He never said one bad word about anyone.” Outside, the L.A. Mounted Police stood by, overlooking a riderless “Silver” adorned with a Lone Ranger saddle. Among those in attendance were Mary Silverheels (Jay’s widow), Jay’s daughter, Adrian Booth, Morgan Woodward, Dick Jones, Chuck Courtney and Ann Rutherford. Dawn Moore said, “My father chose a path most of us would not have taken, to take on these standards and ethics as his own.”
The man who became Republic’s Commando Cody, George Dewey Wallace, was born June 8, 1917, in New York City. At the age of 13 his family moved to McMechen, West Virginia where he later worked in a coal mine. Joining the Navy in ‘36 he did a four year hitch prior to WWII and re-enlisted once the war began, serving in both the Pacific and European Theaters as a boson’s mate.
After the war ended Wallace held various jobs and at one point was hired as a bartender, but was no ordinary bartender…George would sing during his shifts. Hollywood columnist Jimmie Fiddler heard George one night and helped him get into show business.
George took up acting lessons and was working as a greensman at MGM in Culver City when he began to get roles in features and television.
Wallace recalled, “When I was still going to dramatic school I got a call one day to go out to Republic at 10 o’clock in the morning to audition for a new serial about Commando Cody in ‘Radar Men from the Moon’. I auditioned for the part of a heavy. The producer and director asked me if I had any film on myself. Well, I had done a couple of shows on ‘Fireside Theater’, and they said they’d call my agent because they wanted to see it. They said to hang around, so I hung around for lunch. Then about three o’clock I was getting damn upset because just to go out and play a part of a heavy in the thing wasn’t worth this. Anyway, they called me in about four and said they saw the film and asked, ‘How’d you like to do the lead as Commando Cody?’ So I did the 12 chapter serial, really the first thing I did for the movie theater.”
As the brilliant scientist Cody, Wallace donned a leather jacket, a bullet-shaped silver helmet and an atomic-powered rocket pack with an amazingly simple control panel on his chest: One dial said Up and Down; a second dial said Fast and Slow; and a third dial said On and Off. The plot of the 12-part Republic serial had Cody and his two associates flying to the moon to investigate why strategic targets on Earth were being destroyed by an unknown weapon. The dialogue included this exchange in Chapter 1 between Cody and his assistant, Joan Gilbert (played by Aline Towne), as they are about to board their rocketship to the moon. Cody: “I still think this is no trip for a woman.” Gilbert: “Now don’t start that again. You’ll be very glad to have someone along who can cook your meals.”
Wallace and the rest of the “Radar Men” company began production on the serial October 17, 1951, with Wallace as Cody (no first name, not even among his on-screen friends). Aline Towne as his loyal Girl Friday Joan Gilbert, and William Bakewell as lab assistant Ted Richards. Furnishing the film’s requisite villainy, Roy Barcroft climbed back into his old Purple Monster tights as Retik, ruler of the Moon, bent on waging war with the Earth and beginning a mass migration of Moonmen to Earth.
“Aline Towne and Billy Bakewell were such nice people,” Wallace recalled. “We did a lot of stuff that actors today just wouldn’t do; in those days, you just did it, it was part of the job. We became a unit, a group, and we got along just wonderfully. Roy Barcroft had been well known as a western heavy for so many years, and he was a big, lovable bear, a sweetheart of a guy. And Clayton was just fine, except in one of the fight scenes, he broke my nose accidentally! Because it was one of the fights in the restaurant, I didn’t have the Commando Cody flying helmet on. It was about five minutes to 12 as we were doing the fight scene, and all of a sudden Clayton whacked me, and I heard a crack. We kept right on going, finished the scene. They called lunch, put me in a car and took me to St. Joseph’s Hospital out in the Valley where a doctor set my nose and gave me a shot so it wouldn’t swell. Then we came back to the set, they had coffee and a sandwich for me, and at five minutes to one, they said, ‘Places!’ I had a towel that I’d hold up to my nose, because it was dripping blood a little bit. They’d say, ‘Action!’ and I’d take the towel down and start the dialogue, until it started to bleed again. But, so that we wouldn’t lose five minutes on the show, we kept right on going, me with a broken nose! (Laughs)”
Red Rock Canyon doubled for the surface of the Moon, Wallace said. “It was 112 degrees in the day, and running around in that hot weather with the heavy leather jacket and all this other stuff on, you sweated quite a bit. We had to stay out there all week to shoot. We’d start first thing in the morning, as soon as the sun came up, and work until the sun went down that night. Of course, I didn’t know anything about the business then, because it was like the second thing I ever did. Up at Red Rock Canyon, we stayed in some little dinky motel right alongside of a freight yard. Every night we’d hear the boxcars being changed around for different destinations—clanging and banging all night long. We didn’t get much sleep! (Laughs)”
“For the scenes of Cody flying through the clouds, they sent a plane up and took shots of clouds going by. Then they rear-projected this footage onto a screen, and I’d work in front of the screen. They built a platform just off-camera and attached a two-by-four to it, extending it out into camera range maybe three feet. Very easily, I would crawl out onto this two-by-four on my belly then they’d close my jacket around the two-by-four. And there I’d be, ‘flying’ in front of these clouds. But sometimes—quite a few times!—I’d lose my balance and I’d flip, and I’d be hanging upside-down by my jacket, off this two-by-four!” Wallace laughed.
“Then there were my takeoff scenes. They had a trampoline just in front of the camera and I would jump and hit the trampoline and go sailing past the camera—and land in a big heap on a couple of mattresses. Then the director (Fred Brannon) said, ‘George, you’re not flying straight up, you’re flying level. We want you to get more straight up.’ So they put up a sort of high bar, like eight feet off the ground. Now I would be bouncing off the trampoline and jumping up past the camera for the high bar—which was a good shot. But being so hot and sweaty, I’d grab the high bar and my feet would swing free, ‘cause I was clear off the ground, and every so often I’d lose my grip and fall from it down onto my back!”
“The first time you see the rocketship is in Chapter 1, where Aline, Billy and I drive up to it with a couple of cops who are seeing us off. The thing was probably 20 feet long and maybe eight feet high. It was just a front, a façade, not circular all around. Then they had a smaller rocketship, like maybe 10 feet long, that they put on a wire which they had strung up between a couple of cliff rocks. They’d stick a sparkler in the rear end of it, give it a shove and down it would go. For the scenes on the Moon where Retik’s henchmen were chasing after us in their tank, they took an old Chevy or something and built a plywood silhouette of a tank around it.”
For his fight scenes Wallace was generally doubled by stunt ace Tom Steele while Dale Van Sickel replaced William Bakewell. “The thing that helped me was the fact that in the Navy, before the war, I was a boxer—I fought light heavyweight in the Pacific Fleet, ‘39-‘40. For the movies, I had to learn how not to hit somebody when I threw the punch, and also how to telegraph the punch. In a real fight, you throw the punch maybe six or eight inches, but in films or on television, you have to reach back and throw the punch, like maybe three feet, so it really shows.”
Another serial George worked in was for Sam Katzman at Columbia, “The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd” with John Crawford. Crawford played Captain Kidd and George played his sidekick. The pirates were played by oldtime wrestlers like Mr. Moto and Killer Kart Davis. “They put wigs and earrings on them and made them look like pirates,” George laughed.
Sadly, in June of 2005, George and his wife Jane took a vacation to Europe. On their third day George stepped wrong while approaching a tour bus to visit Pisa, Italy and fell breaking his leg. It took five weeks to recover from surgery so he would be stable enough to travel. George did not do well from the surgery and upon arrival in L.A. was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital. George’s condition continued to worsen and he was transferred to ICU on July 9. Finally, on Friday July 22 at 9pm, his body gave out and George passed away at 88. (With thanks for interview quotes to Tom Weaver and Tom and Jim Goldrup.)
(Reprinted from POPULAR MECHANIX.)