By: Beverly Washburn/ Hollywood Memories
I previously written about Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger. I thought this month I'd write about Jay Silverheels who was his faithful sidekick, Tonto.
The year was 1956 and I was cast in the Warner Bros. feature film "The Lone Ranger." I was quite fortunate back in the 50s, because for the most part, scripts would just be sent to me without an audition.
However, I had never worked at Warner Bros. so they didn't know me and I was asked to go out and read for the role of Lila, the little girl who gets kidnapped by the Indians and yep, you guessed it - gets saved by the Lone Ranger. I was a huge fan of The Lone Ranger and wanted so badly to get this part.
When I got there, there were about 20 other little girls also reading for the role. I really didn't think I had a chance, so when I got the call the next day, I was very happy and grateful.
The experience was a wonderful one and I was delighted to work with both of them. They were as nice as they could be.
When you think of Tonto, you automatically think of the words Kemo Sabe. In fact, it became such a known phrase, it was added into the Webster's Dictionary in 2002.
Over the years there have been many definitions of Kemo Sabe, but the most common ones are "faithful friend " or "trusty scout."
Although Jay was a full blooded Indian and a member of the Mohawk Tribe, his real name was Harold J. Smith! It has been said that he came up with the name "Jay Silverheels" because he thought it sounded more authentic as an Indian name. Gee, ya' think?
Jay was quite the athlete, a middleweight boxer and also played lacrosse. He was the highest paid and highest scoring lacrosse player in Canada.
At a game he was playing in Los Angeles, the famous screen comedian, Joe E. Brown spotted him and thought he had potential. Brown helped Jay get his start in Hollywood; first working as a stuntman and then into small roles.
For those movie buffs, you'll recall he had a role in the 1948 famous film "Key Largo" with Bogey and Bacall. Eventually he was cast as Tonto, and the rest is history.
It's been said that he never liked the role of Tonto as he felt it made him look stupid, but he always played Tonto gracefully and with good spirit. If it's true that he didn't like playing Tonto, I never saw that on the set.
I looked up to him and loved every minute of my time with The Lone Ranger and Tonto.
Jay Silverheels died at the age of 67 from complications of a stroke. He, along with the Lone Ranger, and their famous horses, Silver and Scout, will long be remembered.
Until next time, remember to sing when the shadows fall, for in time, the sun will shine again.
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