Friday, October 30, 2009

Presenting: An Inaction-Packed Episode Starring The Phantom, The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, Hawkeye, Captain Africa, Jem, The Holograms, Star Trek and The X-Men. Featuring Special Guest Appearances by Death and Disappointment.

The Masked Mayhem’s friend and sometimes collaborator, Larry Houston, was the first to tell him of it, “Didn’t you work with the guy who was the “other” Lone Ranger?” The Mayhem nodded and Larry continued, “I saw his obituary in the Times a couple of days ago and meant to bring it in for you.”

My friend forgetting to bring the goods ties in nicely with my brief acquaintance with John Hart: actor, author, producer, director, and post production supervisor, the last being the capacity in which the “Other” Masked Rider of the Plains met the Masked Man of Mayhem.

Alhough the Mayhem was one of the principal artists, directors and producers of the Jem and the Holograms animated series in the mid-80s, Marvel Productions had a policy of letting only one director at a time go off campus to Paramount where Jem’s video post production was done, and generally one of his senior directors would grab the field trip. So it wasn’t until near the end of the series that the Mayhem got the OK to go to Paramount, where he met Marvel’s strikingly handsome post production supervisor, Mr. John Hart.

On our first meeting, it didn’t dawn on me that our post guy with the movie star good looks had actually been a movie and television star, and it didn’t until later in the week when I noticed a small TV station was running the old Lone Ranger series some evenings. I tuned in expecting to see the Ranger of my youth, Clayton Moore. But instead these episodes starred a strikingly handsome young man -- none other than John Hart!

You see, back in the 50s, Clayton Moore played The Lone Ranger for the first season of the show, but left for undisclosed reasons. John replaced him for the second and third years, but Moore ultimately returned to the long-running show, replacing his replacement; leaving John Hart forever foot noted in TV history as the “other” Lone Ranger.

I couldn’t wait to do my next post session and tell John that I’d seen his old show, liked him in it, and then get the skinny on what it was like playing such an iconic character for two years. So when it was my turn to see another episode of Jem through post, I rushed cross-town in an effort to arrive at the session a little earliy in hope of having a chat with John about his past career. But the stars delayed me, literally.

Shooting had started on one of the Star Trek features (the one with the whales), and a big chunk of the Paramount parking lot had been torn out and converted into a giant water tank to simulate the area under the Golden Gate Bridge. The rest of the parking lot was a mess with far too many cars for the remaining spaces, generator trucks, wind machines, Star Coaches, and cables everywhere, not to mention zealous security guards.

I got to the session late, as had everyone else, and we were up against it for time since a bigger, more prestigious live action series was on deck to use the edit bay immediately after us. Still, John and I did talk briefly about his episodes of The Lone Ranger. Mainly that I’d seen it, he didn’t know it was on, couldn’t pick up the tiny UHF station which was broadcasting it, and would I tape him a couple of episodes as he didn’t have any of them.

So the Mayhem started taping the Lone Ranger for the guy who played him on TV, and also did some research about Mr. Hart, who as it turns out not only was the “other” Lone Ranger but had a bevy of other pop culture connections. The ones that most interested me were John’s role as the serial version of Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, Hawkeye in the Last of the Mohicans television series which also starred Lon Chaney, Jr., and lastly, his super hero serial, Captain Africa.

Interestingly, the Captain Africa serial had started production and even done some shooting with John playing not Captain Africa, but the famous newspaper strip super hero, The Phantom! Then, Columbia Studios and King Features had a falling out. The Phantom serial was scrubbed and quickly re-written into The Adventures of Captain Africa.

I couldn’t wait to see John again, give him his Lone Ranger tape and quiz him about his heroic rolls. But it didn’t happen. Never got to ask him about Jack Armstrong, Captain Africa, or what it was like co-starring with Lon Chaney. Marvel pulled me off Jem for a few months to work with Stan Lee, Larry Houston and Rick Hoberg developing a new pilot film, Pryde of the X-Men. I handed off the Lone Ranger tape to one of the other Jem directors to pass along to its star.
I was disappointed, but wondered what it would have been like to have been John Hart. He survived and prospered over the years despite what must have been two terrible disappointments. Taking over the role of the Lone Ranger when Clayton Moore left the series, John gave the part his all for two hard working years, only to be replaced by the returning Moore and robbed of the role of a lifetime. Then he landed on his feet as the star of the movie serial version of another classic masked hero, The Phantom, only to have that taken away, too.

Disappointment was soon to be a visitor in the Mayhem’s life as well. Marvel and Sunbow severed their ties, causing Jem, GI Joe, Transformers and several other series to cease production. The Pryde of The X-Men pilot didn’t sell, and production soon halted on the Robocop cartoons on which the Mayhem, Larry Houston and the other action artists at Marvel were working. These were not only disappointing developments but horrifying ones as well. After years of steady work, the Marvel action team was split up and tossed on the shoals of unemployment.

In the end all of us survived and prospered. While the Pryde of the X-Men pilot didn’t sell a series, it helped the Mayhem land his next big job as the Supervising Producer-Director of The Real Ghostbusters, and three years later lead to him having the same job on the Fox Kids series X-Men, which was co-produced and directed by none other than Larry Houston.

Over the years, I’ve often thought of John Hart. Despite the disappointments of The Lone Ranger and The Phantom, he went on and enjoyed starring as Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans, doing guest shots on other series and movies, being a voice over artist, writer, producer, director and post production supervisor not just on Jem but on some of the major TV series shot on the Paramount lot during the 70s and 80s. He was a survivor in a tough industry, and from what the Mayhem saw of him, well-liked and a great guy who loved what he was doing.

When his time comes, The Mayhem can only hope he is as kindly remembered as John Hart, the “other” Lone Ranger.

All images are copyright by their respective owners. The Masked Mayhem and associated images and text are copyright Will Meugniot 2009.

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