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Reply #29: Well at least they had a Native American in the role of Tonto [View All]

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RamboLiberal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-18-09 06:06 PM
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29. Well at least they had a Native American in the role of Tonto
Jay Silverheels played Tonto through the entire series with 2 different Lone Rangers. The most famous of course being Clayton Moore. But John Hart played the part for 2 seasons while there was either a pay dispute or the dummy in charge had fired Moore.

As to the name Tonto.

Isn't it true that Tonto means "fool" in Spanish?

This *is* true, but it was not that meaning that was intended by the producers of the show.

There are two versions of the story.

Fran Striker told the Saturday Evening Post that he invented Tonto's name and that it was picked by merely alterring the consanants in the name Bobo. (This was a caveman character Striker had created in another radio program.)

Jim Jewell says that Striker was remembering wrong. Tonto, he said, is another Potowatomie word.

There were a few Indians who would come to the camp to tell stories to the children.

One of the Indians apparently had a penchant for drinking after the children had gone to sleep. Sometimes he would get rowdy and the other Indians would call him "tonto." This meant "wild one."

Jewell remembered the word, liked it, and gave the name to the Lone Ranger's Indian companion.

Getting back to casting, as I said at least they cast a Native American. In Hollywood at the time Indian parts (as well as Oriental characters) were usually played by whites.

Jay Silverheels (May 26, 1912 March 5, 1980) was a Canadian Mohawk actor. He was best known as Tonto, the faithful Native American companion of The Lone Ranger in a long-running American television series.

Silverheels achieved his greatest fame as the Lone Ranger's friend Tonto. In addition to starring in the Lone Ranger television series from 1949 to 1957, Silverheels appeared in the films The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958).

Following the end of the Lone Ranger television series, Silverheels found himself typecast as Tonto and had trouble finding further acting work. Silverheels was also hindered by a changing attitude, as some felt that the Tonto character was equivalent to a Native American Uncle Tom. Subsequently, Silverheels was forced to work as a salesman to supplement his acting income. He also began to concentrate on writing poetry influenced by his youth on the Six Nations Indian Reserve and appeared on television reciting his poetry. In 1966, he guest-starred as John Tallgrass in the short-lived ABC comedy/western series The Rounders, with Ron Hayes, Patrick Wayne, and Chill Wills.

Despite the typecasting, Silverheels often poked fun at his character in later years. In 1969, he appeared as Tonto in a comedy sketch on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, seeking new employment away from the Lone Ranger. The sketch was featured on the 1973 record album Here's Johnny: Magic Moments From The Tonight Show.

Among his later appearances were an episode of The Brady Bunch, as a Native chief who befriends the Bradys in the Grand Canyon, and an episode of the short-lived Dusty's Trail, starring Bob Denver of Gilligan's Island fame. During the "Brady Bunch" Grand Canyon episodes, the character Alice makes a tongue-in-cheek remark about meeting "Tonto" in the episode before the character meets Silverheels' character.

In the early 1960s, Silverheels helped to establish the Indian Actors Workshop in Echo Park, California as a place where Native American actors could develop their acting skills. The workshop is still active.

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