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Radio actress recalls Lone Ranger days



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Shirley (Russell) Maylock loved being in Saturday's parade. (click for larger version)
August 07, 2013 - Shirley Maylock – born Shirley Ann Russell – wasn't one of those millions of children who eagerly followed the Lone Ranger's thrilling adventures on the radio.

That's because she was on the show.

"I just enjoyed it. It was a fun part of my childhood and a very pleasant part," said the 85-year-old Harrison Township resident, who was a guest of honor in Oxford's Celebrate Lone Ranger parade held Aug. 3.

Maylock said she will "treasure" her parade experience. "I had a ball," she said. "The people of Oxford were so receptive."

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From 1935-44, Maylock acted on the show whenever her talents were needed. She was only 7 years old when she joined "The Lone Ranger" cast.

"They would call my mom, she would get me out of school if necessary, and we would go," she said. "It was kind of intermittent because they didn't have children on (the show) all that much."

Due to her age, Maylock, who grew up on the Detroit's east side, typically portrayed little girls and they were "almost always in distress."

"Occasionally, (I played) a little boy because the voices were pretty interchangeable," she said.

Because the studio microphone was mounted on the ceiling and not adjustable, Maylock had to stand on a box to reach it.

When she began working on "The Lone Ranger," Earle Graser portrayed the masked man. When he died in a car crash in April 1941, Brace Beemer, who had been an announcer for the show, took over the lead role and remained the Lone Ranger's voice for the next 13 years.

She wasn't as close to Beemer as she was to Graser, who she described as "warm" and "kind," and John Todd, the Shakespearian actor who played Tonto and gave her acting lessons. But Beemer "was always nice to me."

Beemer lived in Oxford from 1942 until his death in 1965.

She believes the Lone Ranger character was so popular with audiences because of his basic "altruism."

"He was a good role model," she said.

Maylock's radio career began prior to the Lone Ranger when she was 5 years old.

"I was accepted on a program called 'Children's Theater of the Air,'" she said. "It was a variety show. We sang. We danced. We did skits. We did drama."

"It was just kind of a natural thing for me to do once I started," Maylock explained. "I liked acting."

Rehearsals for the Children's Theater program, which involved about 20 kids, were at the Maccabees Building in Detroit, where WXYZ radio was located at the time.

The Lone Ranger radio program was created by WXYZ and aired on the station three times a week from 1933-54. Although it originated in Detroit, the program was broadcast by 129 radio stations nationwide, reaching more than 80 million listeners.

One day, one of the directors asked Maylock to read for a commercial for the American Automobile Association (AAA).

"That went well, so I got whatever children's parts there were from then on," she said.

She recalled show days tended to be long because the cast had to do two live broadcasts – one at 7:30 p.m. and another at 10:30 p.m. for the West Coast audience.

"I remember vividly staying there and being very sleepy," Maylock said. "We were down there to rehearse at 3 o'clock, so that was an eight-hour day."

The day was made even longer by the fact that her family didn't own an automobile, so she had to take a bus and streetcar just to get to work. "It was quite an undertaking," she said.

Maylock was paid $10 for a day's work.

"In the 1930s, that was pretty good," she said. "I was there, just like the grown-ups, to do a job."

Her wages increased to $35 a day when she joined the American Federation of Radio Artists. "I was probably the youngest member of the union," she said.

While working on "The Lone Ranger," Maylock acted on other well-known WXYZ radio programs such as "The Green Hornet" and "Challenge of the Yukon," later renamed "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon."

She also did commercials and had a part in a WWJ radio broadcast of "Wings," a 1927 movie about two World War I pilots involved with the same woman.

"I did other work, but my steady job was the 'Children's Theater of the Air' every Sunday," she said.

Broadcast on WXYZ from the Broadway Capitol Theatre – now the Detroit Opera House – the show was popular because child entertainers, like Shirley Temple, were all the rage at that time.

For a nation that was dealing with the Great Depression followed by World War II, she said, "these programs were a wonderful escape" because they offered "feel-good" entertainment that was "upbeat and happy."

To Maylock, "the beauty of radio" was that it required audiences to use their imaginations to picture the characters, settings and action. Everyone saw something different in their mind's eye.

As a young child, Maylock was "pretty comfortable" with people knowing about her radio career.

But that changed as she got older.

"I didn't like a lot of attention. I didn't like to be pointed out in school," Maylock said. "It got more uncomfortable for me when I got to high school. It's that adolescent period – you don't want to be different than anyone. Kids would point me out in the hallway and I would cringe."

She decided to end her radio days at age 16. "That was it for my show biz career. The last thing I did was a Cheerios commercial," she said. "I did some modeling a little later on – back when you didn't have to be five-foot-ten."

She was encouraged to act in Summer Stock theater, but ultimately, decided to follow the path of many young women in 1940s. She got married and raised a family.

"I have no regrets about that," she said.

Ironically, Maylock said she's received "more recognition in the last two years than I ever had when I was actually doing the program."

Maylock's participated in a number of presentations at various libraries with Lone Ranger historian and artist Larry Zdeb, of Troy. "He's got a marvelous program that he puts on, then I do a question-and-answer (session)," she said.

Ironically, Maylock had never heard herself as a child on the radio until Zdeb played a recording for her. "That was an amazing moment," she said.

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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