It’s been a long time since John Hart galloped a horse into the sunset after the cry of “Hi-yo Silver! Away!,” but the pistol he carried during his stint as the Lone Ranger on television recently cantered in to Cody, Wyo.
“It’s a beautiful gun,” said Warren Newman, curator of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Cody Firearms Museum, where the pistol is now on display. “And the (Ben) Shostle engraving adds to the beauty.”
The Colt .45 single-action army revolver features deep leaf and vine engraving. On its ivory grip, master engraver Shostle carved a buffalo skull in relief on the left-hand side.
The story behind the man who owned the Colt .45 revolver has likely faded from much of the public’s consciousness, but Hart has an interesting tale.
Born in California and actually working on cattle ranches as a youngster, Hart’s first acting job was in 1937 in the movie “Daughter of Shanghai.”
All told, he had mostly minor roles in almost 30 Hollywood films and television shows between 1932 and 1987. He died in 2009 at the age of 91.
Hart’s stint as one of the most famous western heroes was a short one, replacing the more well-known Clayton Moore for only one season in 1952. The television series ran eight seasons, from 1949 to 1957, and also featured Jay Silverheels as the Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian sidekick, Tonto.
One year was enough to seal Hart in the Lone Ranger lexicon and to drive up the perceived value of the firearms he owned. The Cody Firearms Museum acquired Hart’s pistol at auction in October for $18,150, according to a website posting. Although Newman wouldn’t confirm the price, he said the museum hopes the pistol will prove popular with visitors.
“People notice it, and that’s good for us,” he said.
One of Hart’s most unusual real-life stories may be that Lon Chaney Jr., known for his portrayal of “The Wolf Man” in 1941, was the drunken best man at Hart’s wedding to actress Beryl Braithwaite.
The three actors all worked together on the Canadian-produced television series “Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans.” Hart played the lead role of Hawkeye and Chaney was his Indian sidekick, Chingachgook. Braithwaite was only 20 when she earned a role in the 1957 television program, met Hart and married the 39-year-old actor 10 days later.
“Lon really wanted to do everything a best man’s supposed to do, so he had called Patsy, his wife, to find out what a best man did,” Braithwaite told an interviewer. “And, boy, he did it, and turned into a pain in the neck, really, because he’d had so much to drink.”
The Lone Ranger was an impressive Western brand.
The television show was spawned by a radio series that began in 1933. Nearly 3,000 Lone Ranger radio shows were produced. The radio series reportedly was plucked from a character in writer Zane Grey’s 1915 book, “The Lone Star Ranger.” The heroic and moral lawman also extended to comic books, novels, action figures, a video game and a comic strip.
Although only appearing in the television show for one year, Hart appeared in the television series “Happy Days” as the Lone Ranger in 1982 when the character Fonzie met his childhood hero.
Along with the revolver, the museum also acquired autographed photos of Hart in costume and an unconventional cookbook, “Cowboys in the Kitchen,” that Hart wrote in the 1990s. The book contains Hollywood tales, hunting advice and even a section on “women and liquor.”
The items are on display in the museum’s “Hollywood guns” exhibit case. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through April 30 when summer hours kick in and the doors remain open until 6 p.m. through Sept. 15.