Celebrating Tonto …

5 Aug

Jay Silverheels - Tonto Portrait

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 <tony.fontana@spacebbs.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 <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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.

 

4 Responses to “Celebrating Tonto …”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong August 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    He also bred horses. I always thought he was the brains behind the Lone Ranger 🙂

  2. jcalberta August 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    A unique individual.
    A lot more to Tonto than what we see on the surface.

    • Marilyn Armstrong August 6, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      But to be fair, the Lone Ranger really did treat Tonto as much like an equal as any hero of a TV series ever treated his partner. And they WERE partners. It was (as I’ve said often), a very influential show in my young world.

      • jcalberta August 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

        We loved Tonto – an integral part of the whole saga.

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