Jay Silverheels / Tonto
Born: 26 May 1912 , Six Nations Reservation, Brantford, Ontario, Canada Was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian, one of 11 children of A.G.E. Smith, who had served as a decorated officer in the Canadian forces in WWI.
Birth name: Harold J. Smith
Adopted the nickname ‘Silverheels” during a very brief boxing career, which saw him compete as a middleweight in a Golden Gloves bout in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Alternate story: Jay took his stage name of Silverheels from his track days as a youth, when, wearing white shoes, he ran so fast his feet appeared to be streaks of white. Since he thought it would be awkward for a Native American to have the name of Whiteheels, he chose Silver instead.
Wikipedia: “While playing in Los Angeles on a touring box lacrosse team in 1937, he impressed Joe E. Brown with his athleticism. Brown encouraged Silverheels to do a screen test, which led to his acting career. Silverheels began working in motion pictures as an extra and stunt man.”
Internet Movie Datebase (IMDB): “He was a star lacrosse player and a boxer before he entered films as a stuntman in 1938. He worked in a number of films through the 1940s before gaining notice as the Osceola brother in a Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo (1948) (John Huston cast him). Most of Silverheels’ roles consisted of bit parts as an Indian character. In 1949, he worked in the movie The Cowboy and the Indians (1949) with another “B movie” actor Clayton Moore. Later that year, Silverheels was hired to play the faithful Indian companion, Tonto, in the TV series The Lone Ranger (1949) series, which brought him the fame that his motion picture career never did.
“Silverheels could not escape the typecasting of Tonto. He would continue to appear in an occasional film and television show but became a spokesperson to improve the portrayal of Indians in the media.”
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
Reportedly beat out 35 other actors to win the Tonto role in the initial radio version of “The Lone Ranger“, which he had been invited to audition for based on his appearance in Key Largo (1948).
“Silverheels became an outspoken activist for Indian rights and a respected teacher within the Indian acting community. He appeared on talk and variety shows performing his own poetry. In later years, he began a second career as a harness racer. His health failed in the 1970s, and he died of a stroke in 1980, a beloved figure to the Baby Boom generation America. His son, Jay Silverheels Jr. has acted in television as well.”
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jay played Apache chief Geronimo in two films, Broken Arrow (1950) and Walk The Proud Land (1956).
First Americans in the Arts honored Jay Silverheels with their Life Achievement Award.
Jay founded the Indian Actors’ Workshop in Echo, California in 1963.
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1993.
Jay was inducted into the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1997.
Was an avid horse-racer when not acting.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto / Silver and Scout
I’m sure most people think that The Lone Ranger came out of the 50’s. Wrong! The Lone Ranger started on radio back before 1933 and ran over 900 shows up until 1956. 23 years! It translated to TV from 1949 to 1957.
So … my “Thrilling days of yesterday” go back to the early 50’s when I used to listen to The Lone Ranger on the radio. We didn’t always have a TV because Dad feared (rightly) that we wouldn’t read much. But I loved the radio shows and listened to Hopalong Cassidy, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, The Shadow, Superman – and a few other radio programs as well. Grand stuff.
The Lone Ranger Theme / William Tell Overture by Rossini
In scouting between the lines of the trailer for the new The Lone Ranger movie (starring Johnny Depp as Tonto), we glean that Depp’s portrayal of Tonto appears to be – in part – that of a Native Shaman. (Tread softly Johnny. Critics – and many natives – await in ambush.)
The image below is stated as that which Depp bases his portrayal of Tonto upon:
Kirby Sattler / Artist / Website: http://kirbysattler.sattlerartprint.com/
Johnny Depp Reveals The Inspiration Behind His Tonto Look In ‘The Lone Ranger
In the best interests of tabloid journalism … questions – like smoke signals – do arise. And where there’s smoke ….
Yet Depp’s answers give us hope:
“One of the more curious aspects of the Tonto make-up is the series of black lines that run down his face. According to Depp, those lines are meant to symbolize the character’s emotional life. “There’s this very wise quarter, a very tortured and hurt section, an angry and rageful section, and a very understanding and unique side. I saw these parts, almost like dissecting a brain, these slivers of the individual,” Depp explained. “That makeup inspired me.”
The revitalized Tonto has been met with more than its fair share of criticism, much like Jack Sparrow was in the very beginning. No part of the character’s new look has been mocked as much as the crow that sits on top of his head, another inspiration from the Sattler painting. “It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior’s head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top,” Depp said. “I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive.”
So far … so good.
The Lone Ranger Opening Theme
The Lone Ranger Theme Music / William Tell Overture
Normally I’m pretty excited when I hear there’s a new Western being made …
But when I heard that the movie was a remake of The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp playing Tonto … I had my reservations (if you’ll excuse the expression).
But then I heard that the project had been axed … due to a lack of wampum (if you’ll excuse the expressions).
But then I herd it wuz back on again – them having raised the loot and lowered the costs.
Anyway … the project is now in the can and below is the recent info.
My fears that the movie might insult the legacy, legend and traditional of original Lone Ranger and Tonto are still not thwarted, but we still don’t have enough info to know whether this project will fly or not.
I hope I’m wrong.