Recently I’ve had the opportunity to look through a large stash of family papers related to my great uncle James Jewell, who was the director and part of the team that created The Lone Ranger, which began as a radio series on WXYZ.
The files contained some documents relating to that character and also to shows that were less successful. Many of them shared characteristics with The Lone Ranger.
As I was discussing The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet (my grandmother, Leonore Jewell Allman, played the role of Lenore Case on that program) I thought about all of those masked superheroes created in the 1930s. The Lone Ranger and Superman were both created in 1933. The Green Hornet in 1936. Batman was created in 1939.
I thought about some of the articles I have been writing here about how our culture has changed since the late 19th Century. Victorians enjoyed tragic endings where the protagonists did something noble that was never revealed or rewarded. It occurred to me that these masked heroes of the early 20th Century represent a transitional period in our culture. They manage to embody both ethos through the simple expedient of a secret identity. Their deeds are known and celebrated– as Superman or The Lone Ranger– but their personal identities are not. Like a 19th Century character they do the moral thing for the good of it with no earthly reward. The people in the newsroom never know that Clark Kent is a hero. Yet he is not entirely unacknowledged as his alter ego is praised.