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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

Despised producer creates TV idol

By Paul Niemann

[SEPT. 7, 2006]  George Washington Trendle was born on the Fourth of July in 1884.

Even though you probably don't recognize his name, you've seen his creation. It wasn't an invention, but since copyrighted characters are covered in this column, we feature him in this week's story.

He was a writer and producer who brought us one of the West's most popular characters. Trendle is not the lone producer to be featured in this column; last year we introduced you to Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond character.

No one would ever accuse Trendle of having a heart of gold or even a heart of Silver; in fact, he was a ruthless business owner -- the kind who would make Dilbert's boss look good by comparison.

Trendle created a show around his character in order for his WXYZ radio station to compete with the other stations in the Detroit area. His show began in 1933, during the golden age of radio, in the thrilling days of yesteryear.

Trendle was known for his refusal to pay his employees a fair salary. Despite large royalties flowing in from sales of the radio show's spinoff products, including a weekly TV show, books, movies and merchandise, the writers and actors never received a dime of any royalty money.

In fact, Trendle was such a skinflint that he hired many of his employees for no wages, promising them that they would someday get paid when things got better. Even the writer who created the character, Fran Striker, was refused any royalties and had to scrape by on the meager salary that Trendle paid him.

In a move that would make Scrooge jealous, Trendle fired 26 of his employees on Christmas Day in 1936.

Why would his employees tolerate all of this mistreatment? Because it was during the Great Depression, when people would take -- and hold on to -- any job they could find.

So what character did George Trendle produce? Now that you know the background of the owner, let's Scout out the facts so we can unmask this mystery.

[to top of second column]

The radio show was adapted for TV in 1949 and the series ran until 1957. It was made into a movie in 1981. The main character's name was John Reid, but that's not much of a clue, because his name was never revealed in the show (in the same way that no one ever called Gilligan by his first name). In fact, none of the other characters on the show even knew his name. His brother and four other colleagues in law enforcement were shot by the evil Cavendish gang.

John Reid was the only one to survive. He was found by an Indian friend and nursed back to health in a nearby cave (in these Western shows there always seems to be a cave nearby when you need one). His friend became one of the stars of the show, along with their horses. John Reid was "The Lone Ranger."

Now that you know the mystery behind George Trendle's idol, the answer could be found in the clues given above:

  • "the lone writer"

  • "heart of Silver"

  • "the thrilling days of yesteryear"

  • "let's Scout out the facts" (Scout was the name of Tonto's horse)

  • "so we can unmask this mystery"

The Lone Ranger and his loyal friend Tonto recognized each other because the Lone Ranger saved Tonto's life after his family was killed when Tonto was a boy. As the Lone Ranger was recovering from being shot, Tonto dug six graves in order to mislead the Cavendish gang into thinking that all six rangers had died. He wore a mask to hide his identity from the Cavendish gang, and he made his mask out of his dead brother's vest.

In case you're still trying to figure out what Gilligan's first name was, it was Willie.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann may be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2006

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