Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury

Whatever happened to that masked man, anyhow? Klinton Spilsbury had the leading role in 1981's THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER and ironically, 24 years later (despite false reports) that film remains his lone film credit. Who was he? How did he get the role? Was his name not "household" enough to catch on? And more importantly, did he actually ride off into the sunset as his character was about to do at the end of the film? Now, that's commitment, perhaps the strongest case of method acting ever known!

As I remember the film, it was a hit... then again, I was 4 years old and knew no better. After seeing the film in the theater, I was hooked and had to have the inevitable memorabilia... action figures, View-Master reels, Lone Ranger disguise, et cetera. So, my perception was a bit skewed. I assumed the movie was a hit due to the merchandise surrounding it's release (this was 1981, a different era... merchandising wasn't as extreme as it is now). Alas, the film made a very small impact at the box office and also for the expectations of it's legacy.

Back to our leading star...
So, why didn't Klinton Spilsbury go on to make another film? Did the film's lack of success with both critics and audiences destroy his aspirations to continue as an actor? Or, was it the dubbing of his entire performance by another actor (supposedly James Keach)? What did Klinton Spilsbury sound like? Was he truly an actor? Maybe he was a complete nobody discovered by the film's producers or a model who couldn't act chosen only for his look. Was the dubbing a result of negative test screenings or was it an agreement from the beginning that his performance would be dubbed? Whatever the reason, Spilsbury got his share of bad reviews, not to mention a Raspberry award for "worst new star" of that year. Certainly, all of this could drive a person to reconsider their prospects and, perhaps, leave the business entirely.

As for the film, I haven't seen it in it's entirety since it's initial release. Caught fragments here and there on HBO as a kid, but never paid notice to the film's troubled history. So, my quest is to watch the film again for the first time, with a renewed sense as to whether the film works or not. Does it truly deserve all the bad publicity it has gotten throughout the years? It's certain that my childhood fondness for the film will take hold and I will have a biased opinion, but then, the critics of 1981 did not grow up with the film or own any of the beloved tie-in material as I did. Granted, they probably all grew up with the Clayton Moore incarnation on television and had a tough time seeing anyone else in the role. I can understand that completely. Moore was and is the standard for the role, along with Jay Silverheels as the Ranger's faithful sidekick, Tonto. On the other hand, THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER was a product of the same era as Richard Donner's big screen SUPERMAN and I'm sure all those invested had hoped the end result would mirror that same level of greatness. George Reeves was the standard for Superman, but then, so was Christopher Reeve.

Having gone through all the possible scenarios, there's only one thing left for me to do (short of tracking down Spilsbury and interrogating him profusely) and that is to take in a viewing of THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER in the form the late Lord Grade doth presented to us.

TO BE CONTINUED...

11 comments:

zacal said...

I remember seeing Spilsbury interviewed on something like Entertainment Tonight years after this film. He was doing theater and explained that his beautiful wife was dying during the making of the Lone Ranger. He wanted to leave the film to be with her but was trapped. His subsequent attitude during the filming got a lot of bad press. The guy had tremendous star presence but was never seen again. I did read that he had auditioned for "Flash Gordon"(1980) but refused to take off his shirt and show Dino DeLaurentiis his muscles. Another story had it that he was up for "Dick Tracy".

Nathan said...

Very interesting. I've read about his on-set attitude, but wasn't sure what triggered it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I knew Klinton during the period after the Lone Ranger and his biggest problem was that he refused to re-loop his voice which was needed due to tech problems and also the Clayton Moore suit to stop him from promoting the film.
I set up the ET location for Klinton at Ken Story Recording Studio on Hollywood & Vine for him and was present that day. Klinton was a confused gay Mormon and lives happily today (as I understand) with his long time life mate outside the spot light.

Anonymous said...

Andy Warhol made some interesting comments on Klinton in the posthumously published ANDY WARHOL DIARIES.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this movie a lot actually, I didn't think it was all that bad. My heart was pumping when the theme song of the Lone Ranger was playing for the first time during the rescue scene of Tonto. I thought Michael Horse did an excellent job as Tonto, and he actually gave the character some dignity instead of a cheesy, one liner subordinate. According to Michael Horse, Klinton got into a fight one night and was awoken 3 in the morning and some guard told Michael to pick him up and Michael is like "that faithful companion stuff is only in the movies" lol.

Anonymous said...

After growing up watching Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels I still though I would like the movie as I loved the Lone Ranger. It's biggest problem for me and any die hard Long Ranger fan is that most of the origin of the Lone Ranger in the movie did not in anyway reflect the actual origin from both the original radio or TV shows. The entire movie was a complete bastardized Hollywood creation. I was sorely disappointed to say the least. Anyone who does not believe this should get a copy of the TV show's origin of the Lone Ranger, available on DVD and watch it and compare the correct story line to this horrible movie. And remember the TV show was faithful to George Trendle's original Radio show first broadcast in 1933.

Anonymous said...

I knew Klinton in the mid 90s. He had moved to West Hollywood after the death of his partner in NYNY. He was a wonderful person although he eventually drifted away. He never spoke of his career in films, I only learned of that later. I have not seen him in over 10 years.

Anonymous said...

If anyone has any idea where he is or how to get a hold of him, please let me know. He is a distant cousin and we haven't heard from him in 6 or 7 years.

The Dixons said...

He was married to my aunt years ago and they had a child together.

rexjohnsonjr said...

His father was Max Spilsbury, my wife's father's brother (both deceased). Max is in the AZ Hall of Fame; he was one of the most successful college coaches in the history of the sport, leading the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (Division II in those days) to something like 60 wins in a row. He was an old-line Mormon and retired to the family ranch near the old Mormon colony of Colonia Juarez, in northern Chihuahua, where he became an administrator and football coach of the Colonia Juarez Secondario, or high school. Max, a tough, hard-nosed former college boxing champion, and son Klinton had a definite personality conflict. Klint was quarterback for Max's football team and quit the team in the middle of a game --never forgiven for that. Klint told my wife that he got the part for the movie because he was the only one of the Lone Ranger candidates who knew how to ride a horse(!) He was my wife's favorite cousin; she said he actually seemed embarrassed by all of the attention and of course was hurt by all of the piling on. If he had been ugly people would have cut him more slack. The Hollywood Babylon was definitely not for him, and it was very easy, surprisingly easy, for him to walk away from it all. This was truly a Lone Ranger-type move.

Anonymous said...

Klinton Spilsbury was one of my roommates at BYU in Utah. He was struggling as a student and would miss classes but he was actually a very nice guy. The girls called him "Mannequin Man" because he was almost perfect looking. I recall he asked me one day if he should go to L.A. and do modeling and I said he'd probably do better there than as a student...which was the truth. I never saw him again until the Lone Ranger movie came out. It's too bad he didn't do more with Hollywood. He definitely had the looks and stature. He truly was a very nice guy and his sister was a sweetheart too. He never told me about the football incident mentioned above. Never talked about his dad to me either.