history was made in Detroit on January 30, 1933 when the first episode of The
Lone Ranger was broadcast from the studios of WXYZ. The program was born out
of necessity when the station bowed out of their network affiliation with CBS in
late 1931. WXYZ lined up a handful of stations in Michigan to form a new
network, so new, high quality programming had to be created to fill hours of
WXYZ president George W. Trendle knew from his days managing
the Paramount theater chain in Detroit that western pictures always did well. So
Trendle, WXYZ’s drama director James Jewell and writer Fran Striker
collaborated to create a new kind of cowboy character, a man of mystery that
they named the Lone Ranger.
Trendle wondered if anyone was listening to his new program,
so in May of 1933 he offered a Lone Ranger tin gun to the first 200 children who
sent a postcard to the station. More
than 25,000 responses were received. The Lone Ranger was officially a
Detroit Department of Recreation requested that the Lone Ranger appear at their
annual Children’s Circus, a free event for the children of Detroit held on
Belle Isle, a public park in the middle of the Detroit River. Trendle agreed,
but it was clear that a few details had to be worked out first.
Graser had one of those great resonant radio voices, perfect for the Lone
Ranger, but his physical appearance left a lot to be desired. He was 5 foot 6
inches tall, had a bit of a paunch and no equestrian skills to speak of.
The Lone Ranger’s trusty steed Silver created another problem. On the
radio his whinny was a recording on a sound effects record, and his gallop was
created with two coconut shells. So the search was on to find a suitable Lone
Ranger and a flesh and bone Silver.
One man solved both problems. Carl Romig was a local horse
trainer who owned the Romig and Rooney Circus. Among his stable of horses was a
beautiful white stallion named Hero. Romig raised Hero from a colt and had
taught him many tricks. When WXYZ director James Jewell saw the tall, muscular
Romig put Hero thru his paces, he knew that he had found his man and horse.
Romig, WXYZ-TV’s Ricky the Clown and the son of Carl Romig, was on Belle Isle
the day of the Lone Ranger’s first public debut. He recalled, “It was a big
children’s day. They had bleachers on both sides of a big track, along with an
archway with “WXYZ” on it. Hero came out with my dad, dressed as the Lone
Ranger. WXYZ supplied him with a costume, but the saddle said “Romig.” They
circled the track. Dad lost his hat and his mask almost fell off, but the kids
were real excited to see them. Dad put Hero thru his paces, and for the finale
of the show they did the football kick. It was a big hit. As the horse went to
kick the ball the wind must have caught the ball, because it sailed so high.
After the show we loaded up the horse, but the kids were so excited to see
Silver that they were pulling hairs out of his tail. It’s amazing that the
horse had a tail when they were finished.”
The Lone Ranger’s appearance was supposed to have been the
intermission to the program, but when Romig left the field with a “Hi-Yo
Silver!,’ all hell broke loose. The ten thousand people who attended the event
stormed the field. Emergency squadrons of police had to be called in to restore
order. What was planned as the intermission ended the show.
A few months later, Hero, sans Carl Romig, appeared live on
stage at the Fisher Theater in a Lone Ranger play. Irv Romig recalls, “They
had a scene where Silver was sitting at a campsite between the Lone Ranger and
Tonto, planning their next move. The Lone Ranger turned to the horse and said
“Well, Silver. Do you think that’s a good idea?” Silver then shook his
head yes. The people just loved that. My dad had taught him how to do that on
Hero was used for parades and other personal appearances until WXYZ bought their own horse, which was also trained by Carl Romig. Hero went to horsey heaven in 1953. Irv Romig kept his mane and tail as a remembrance. He gave Hero’s last four horseshoes to Detroit television historian and collector Ed Golick.