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Fmr. waitress reminisces about most famous customer

Helen Bierwirth, of Oxford, holds up old photos of Brace Beemer, radio’s Lone Ranger from 1941-54. (click for larger version)
June 12, 2013 - To millions of Americans, the Lone Ranger is a cultural icon, a masked hero who fought for the innocent and brought the wicked to justice in the Old West.

But to Oxford Village resident Helen Bierwirth, the Lone Ranger was a faithful customer and a heck of a nice guy.

"I used to wait on him," she said.

Bierwirth met the Lone Ranger (a.k.a Brace Beemer) during her 20 years working as a waitress and hostess at the Villa Inn, an Italian restaurant that used to be in Orion Township and owned by Aldo Sorbelli. It was located where Christi's Bar & Grill stands today at 95 E. Clarkston Rd.

Beemer, an Oxford resident who portrayed the Lone Ranger on the radio from 1941-54, was a regular customer at the Villa Inn.

"He came in at least once a week when he was on his way home from doing his show in Detroit (at WXYZ radio)," Bierwirth said. "He'd stop by and I always waited on him. He liked that Italian food."

Bierwirth, who's maiden name is Haydu, noted Villa Inn "was the nicest restaurant around at that time."

"Customers came from all over," she said. "I waited on (Teamsters President Jimmy) Hoffa and (Michigan Gov.) Soapy Williams."

Bierwirth said "you couldn't miss" Beemer because "he was such a big guy" and had "a real deep voice." He was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed about 200 pounds.

Although Beemer was a national celebrity, he didn't put on airs or demand any special treatment.

"He had a real nice personality," Bierwirth said. "He loved people, he really did. He wasn't grumpy like they say he was. He liked the chefs there (at Villa Inn). He'd buy them drinks."

Beemer, who died in 1965, was even gracious enough to invite Bierwirth to attend live broadcasts of "The Lone Ranger" show.

"I went to his show a couple times," she said. "It was really very interesting."

She recalled viewing the performances through a glass window. Bierwirth watched Beemer voice the masked lawman and other cast members use objects and instruments to create various sound effects.

"Everyone was there in one room. It was really something else," said Bierwirth, who still has a 1952 autographed photo of Beemer dressed as the Lone Ranger and riding his faithful white horse, Silver.

Bierwirth got to meet and pet Silver when she worked cocktail parties at Beemer's home on W. Drahner Rd.

It's interesting to note that Beemer actually had five horses who were "Silver." His favorite was named Silver's Pride, an albino Arabian stallion who stood 16½ hands high.

Even after he stopped portraying the Lone Ranger, Beemer continued to frequent the Villa Inn.

Bierwirth still has a newspaper clipping that shows Beemer celebrating his 59th birthday at the restaurant in 1962. In the photo, she's standing behind him as he cuts a two-tier cake topped with a little Lone Ranger figure.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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