High Point man acted on original 'Lone Ranger' radio program
The Lone Ranger may be riding again, but 2013’s version of the masked lawman could never have the giddy-up of the original Lone Ranger from the 1930s and ’40s.
Just ask Les Flippo. Not only did the 83-year-old High Point man listen to the “Lone Ranger” radio show as a kid, he actually performed on the show when he was in college.
“It was fun, and it was an easy way to make a few dollars,” says Flippo, who has lived in High Point since 1969. “I recently started reading about the new ‘Lone Ranger’ movie coming out, and it made me sit back and think, ‘Wow, here it is 65 years later (since Flippo acted on the show), and they’re still going at it.’”
Flippo’s introduction to “The Lone Ranger” came as a boy growing up in Roanoke, Va., during the 1930s, when he listened to the popular radio program every time it was on the air.
“I listened all the time,” he says. “The Lone Ranger was the good guy with the white hat and his faithful companion, Tonto, and they were always going to win — you knew that.”
Even better than just listening, though, was actually pretending to be the Lone Ranger, which Flippo did with gusto — and with cool accessories.
“My father worked for the Merita Bread Co., and Merita sponsored the ‘Lone Ranger’ program on the radio at that time,” Flippo recalls, “so he would bring home a cowboy hat, a black mask, a red bandanna, which were mementos of the ‘Lone Ranger’ program that he would take around to the various stores that sold Merita bread.”
Years later, when Flippo was a student at Wayne University (now Wayne State) in Detroit, Mich., he performed on the original “Lone Ranger” radio show — the same one he had listened to as a kid — at Detroit radio station WXYZ, where the program was broadcast live.
The opportunity came through an audiovisual course he was taking as an elective at Wayne University. From time to time, the radio station would call seeking students in the class to perform bit parts on various radio programs, and Flippo — who had a deep, resonant voice and had once dreamed of becoming a sportscaster — signed up. The pay was low — about $7 per show — but it was fun.
Flippo performed on several other programs before being called in for an episode of “The Lone Ranger,” and he guesses he ended up doing about 30 “Lone Ranger” episodes altogether in 1948 and 1949. His parts were small ones: A rancher whose cattle were being rustled. A county sheriff. The owner of a general store.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” he says. “I never played any of the bad guys, though — I never wore the black hat.”
Flippo even worked with Brace Beemer, the radio actor who made a name for himself performing as the Lone Ranger and making costumed promotional appearances as the famed lawman from 1941 until the radio show’s final broadcast in 1954.
“I didn’t know who he was (when I saw him),” Flippo recalls, “but I recognized his voice instantly.”
Flippo never had a say in which character he played on the show.
“You’d find out the story as you read the script,” he explains. “We might have half an hour to 45 minutes prior to the air of the program to read the script, and then we’d go live.”
The perils of live radio sometimes came into play. Flippo’s first time on the air — even before he did any “Lone Ranger” episodes — he naively made the mistake of crumpling up a page of the script when he was done with it, rather than allowing it to flutter softly, and quietly, to the ground. The crumpling sound, of course, went out over the air, and a station technician quickly pulled him aside and instructed him not to do that again.
On other occasions, actors tripped over cables during a show, accidentally unplugging them and disrupting the broadcast, or an actor’s script somehow got out of order, and he had to ad lib.
Sixty-five years later, a few of Flippo’s friends still allude to his short-lived stint as a “Lone Ranger” radio actor.
“Every once in a while, I’ll get a card from some dear friends of ours, and when you open up the card it’ll play ‘The William Tell Overture,’ which of course was the theme music for the ‘Lone Ranger’ program,” he says. “And I’ve got friends who know all of this history, and they call me Tonto or the Lone Ranger. But I never played either of those — they were on the fixed payroll.”
Flippo, who is retired from the furniture industry, never pursued a career in broadcasting, though he did get a chance to announce a couple of high-school football games and a soccer game when he was still in Detroit. And during his furniture career, he often did voice-overs for promotional videotapes.
“I obviously never made a career doing radio,” he says, “but I had a lot of fun doing it.”
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