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Who was that masked man? The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury.

Resurrecting the Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp must’ve sounded like one of the all-time Hollywood no-brainers when it was pitched to Disney in 2011. After all, the mysterious masked man used to be the all-American icon with the greatest chase-music (“The William Tell Overture”), the greatest sidekick (Tonto), and the greatest catchphrase (“Hi-yo, Silver, away!”). Plus, though Depp is playing a boldly reimagined Tonto opposite Armie Hammer’s Ranger, he was reuniting with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, the creative triumvirate that made Disney billions with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But getting The Lone Ranger into theaters has been a bumpy ride, with an enormous budget that nearly nixed the project before it even hit the trail, subsequent reports of cost-cutting rewrites, and a dangerous horseback accident that nearly mangled Depp himself.

Still, Disney’s saddle pains are nothing compared to the last time Hollywood tried to get the Lone Ranger back on the horse. Older generations will fondly recall actor Clayton Moore dishing out virtuous frontier justice on television in the 1950s, but few remember The Legend of the Lone Ranger, an expensive 1981 misfire that nearly buried the Ranger for good. It was a disaster from beginning to end — the movie’s abrasive producer was so determined to reinvent the franchise that he alienated its core fan base before the first scene was even filmed, the action sequences were so dangerous that a stunt man was nearly killed, and the filmmakers cast a complete unknown whose lack of experience and ultimate inability to sound like the Lone Ranger gave new, ironic meaning to the Hollywood casting concept of “the strong silent type.”

Producers Jack Wrather, Walter Coblenz, and Martin Starger recruited an all-star unit to bring the Lone Ranger back to life more than 30 years ago, including their director, Oscar-nominated cinematographer William Fraker (Rosemary’s Baby), who told his crew he wanted his epic to evoke the look of Lawrence of Arabia. Jason Robards signed up to play President Ulysses Grant, and Christopher Lloyd was the dastardly Butch Cavendish, the disgraced Civil War officer who kidnaps Grant. John Barry (Born Free) composed the rambling score, and a posse of great horsemen provided the old-school Western stunts. All that was left was the selection of their leading man. After witnessing how a little-known actor named Christopher Reeve made Superman fly at the box-office, the producers copied that blue-print and tapped a 30-year-old no-name actor to save the president, kiss the girl (the late Juanin Clay), and ride off on a white horse before the townspeople could thank him. Who was their masked man? His name was Klinton Spilsbury. READ FULL STORY

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