For, July 5, 2013

"Hi-yo, Silver! Away!"

That, of course, is the cry of "The Lone Ranger," best known — before the Johnny Depp-Armie Hammer film — as a 1950s television show aimed at youngsters. But fans know that "The Lone Ranger" actually began as a radio drama in 1933, which led to a series of comic books and a pair of 12-chapter movie serials throughout the 1930s. The radio show played into the 1950s, but was eclipsed by the tremendously popular TV version that began in 1949 with Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his "faithful companion" Tonto.

It was TV that entrenched into pop culture such iconic tropes as the Lone Ranger's horse, Silver, and Tonto's horse, Scout; the Ranger's mask and silver bullets; the musical cues of Rossini's "William Tell Overture"; and, of course, Tonto's affectionate nickname for the Ranger, "Kemo Sabay," which we're told in the first episode means "trusty scout" (which has always made me wonder, is that Tonto's little joke, referring to the Ranger as his horse?).

Of all the "Lone Ranger" incarnations, Moore is most famous for playing the role, but he is not in Season 3 of the series, replaced for 52 episodes by character actor John Hart. Moore returned for Seasons 4 and 5.

To coincide with the opening of the new movie in theaters, Classic Media has released for the first time the entire "Lone Ranger" TV series (1949-1957) on DVD in a huge collectible box set that opens like a coffee-table book with colorful photos and illustrations, a timeline of the character, and two DVD discs within the sleeve of each page.

The set contains 30 discs with all five seasons (221 episodes, the first four seasons in black and white, and the last season in color), along with bonus features galore. It's pricey, retailing at $199.95, but you can get it for $99.99 at Costco or for $129.96 at Walmart and

The set also features a large wall-hanging illustration of the Lone Ranger, a 16-page replica of the origin-story comic book "The Legend of the Lone Ranger," copies of fan-club memorabilia and an autographed photo of Moore as the Lone Ranger, a large 12-page episode guide, and on two bonus discs are an episode of "Lassie" (1959) meeting the Lone Ranger, the debut episode of the "Lone Ranger" animated series (1966), and an audio episode from the radio show (1950) with a read-along script.

In addition, the two theatrical color movies are here, spinoffs of the series that also star Moore and Silverheels: "The Lone Ranger" (1956) and "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold" (1958). Unfortunately, the films are a bit faded and not in the widescreen format; for that you'll have to track down the excellent but out-of-print DVDs on the VCI label that were released in 2001.