A significant advantage radio actors have over their movie or TV counterparts is that they only need to sound like the characters being portrayed. No program brought this illusion home better than The Lone Ranger. Neither Earle Graser nor Brace Beemer who stood before microphones as the Lone Ranger possessed the handsome physique of Clayton Moore, who played the hero on television, but their commanding voices carried listeners back to those thrilling days of yesteryear for over 20 years. This disparity between actor and role is even more apparent in the case of John Todd who played Tonto, the Ranger’s faithful Indian companion.
Todd, a pudgy gentleman who looked like a school principal, convincingly portrayed the stalwart friend throughout the entire series. Newcomers to The Lone Ranger may be surprised to learn that Todd, restricted to speaking a form of Pidgin English using few verbs that might be termed Indian semi-English, was an accomplished Shakespearean actor. Tonto’s responses consisted primarily of clipped expressions such as “Me not know,” “Git ‘em up, Scout,” “Me bring it here,” “Tonto watch all time,” “That plenty better,” “Trail say men walk, we do same,” “It come from west,” “Tonto glad,” “That not night bird,” and “Where me go?”
What might have happened if, sometime around 1953 when the listening audience had dwindled considerably and Todd’s boredom caused by speaking childish phrases had reached the breaking point, the actor decided to replace the scripts with speeches of his own creation in which the words he spoke came from the Bard instead of the boys in the back room pounding out dialogue on typewriters?
FRIGHTENED COWBOY: I tell you, that ghost I saw in the mine has me scared plumb loco.
TONTO: Fie upon it! ‘Tis but your fantasy. If it harrows thee with fear and wonder, be wary lest you say the graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead did speak and gibber.
ANGRY LEADER OF MOB: We caught this varmint with branded cattle and we’re gonna string him up right now.
TONTO: He is only a fellow of plain and uncoined constancy. Even if he is a remorseless, treacherous villain and his offense is rank and smells to heaven, yield not his neck to fortune’s yoke. Sheathe your swords for lack of argument.
LONE RANGER: Do you think you can follow their tracks in this rain?
TONTO: Sweet are the uses of adversity. The air bites shrewdly. Many can brook the weather that love not the wind. Thus far into the bowels of the land have we marched on without impediment. The path is smooth that leadeth on to danger.
LONE RANGER: We’ll make camp by that grove of trees. Do you have adequate supplies?
TONTO: Verily. It is good when men sit down under the shade of melancholy boughs to that nourishment that is called supper. Mickle is the powerful grace that lies in herbs and plants but not the insane root that takes reason prisoner.
BANKER: Why are you hanging around here? Why aren’t you out chasing down those bandits who robbed the stage and put them in jail?
TONTO: You tread upon my patience. I have no superfluous leisure. My conscience hath a thousand several tongues. Celerity is never more admired than by the negligent.
OUTLAW: Listen to me, Injun! You can’t keep me tied up like this. My friends will be here soon and then you’ll be sorry.
TONTO: Thou shall not escape calumny. What makes robbers bold but too much lenity? You are arrant knaves all.
LONE RANGER: After them, Silver!
TONTO: Gallop apace, Scout, you fiery-footed steed! Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood!
GRATEFUL STOREKEEPER: I wish we could pay you for making our town safe again. How can we ever thank that masked man?
TONTO: He is well paid that is well satisfied. Store his deeds in the ventricle of memory.
Alas, if Todd had committed such a rewrite, ratings of The Lone Ranger would almost certainly have taken a palpable hit and the show no longer would have been advertised by its loving sponsors. Perhaps one reason for the lasting appeal of Tonto is that the scriptwriters for that famous western series followed this maxim from King Henry V: “Men of few words are the best men.”