In over 80 cities across the country youngsters as well as nostalgia buffs are still listening for the sound of thundering hoof beats and the hearty cry of “Hi-yo, Silver, away!” as The Lone Ranger rides again—and again—in TV syndication. The original series began in 1949 and ran for eight years, and since then reruns have been on the air continuously except for a brief period in 1957.
Actor Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, the masked man’s faithful Indian companion, is pleased by the show’s continued popularity, even though he no longer receives royalties. “The moral of the stories was always good. There wasn’t so much violence,” says Silverheels, the father of three daughters and a son whom he calls “Indialians” because his wife Mary is of Italian descent. (As Tonto he always called the Lone Ranger “Kemo Sabay,” which means “faithful friend.”
These days, instead of shouting “Get ’em up, Scout!” Silverheels, 55, is putting another horse through its paces. It’s Tribal Dance, his 3-year-old pacer, which he is readying for its first race.
Horses have always been a passion of the full-blooded Mohawk Indian, born Harold J. Smith on the Six Nations reservation near Brantford, Ont. His grandfather, a Mohawk chief, called little Harry “Silverheels” because he was such a fast runner, and Smith changed his name legally in 1971. “As a child, I used to help a neighbor train and jog his horses. Later, Milan Smith, my manager, had horses, and I used to come to Hollywood Park to exercise them,” says Silverheels.
In spring 1974, Silverheels, who had been a boxer and lacrosse player before he turned actor, decided to try his hand at harness racing while not involved in movies, TV commercials and appearances at state fairs and shopping centers. By last September he had competed in 25 races and won four. One time, as he was driving a horse named Silver King to victory, an enthusiastic—if confused—race caller cheered, “Hi-yo, Silver!”
Silverheels suffered a stroke shortly thereafter. The illness has curtailed his racing temporarily, but he expects to be back in the driver’s seat by summer. With his doctor’s encouragement, he drives 120 miles from his Canoga Park ranch house to the track at Del Mar, Calif. once a week to give Tribal Dance a workout. “It’s very good therapy,” he says.
Silverheels’ winning way with horses caused a problem in the days of yore, he discloses. The vaunted Silver was a bit of a slowpoke, and as the two men galloped into the sunset, Scout had to be reined in lest he leave the masked stranger in that traditional cloud of dust.