Harold Jay Smith
May 26, 1912
Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario, Canada
|Died||March 5, 1980 (aged 67)|
|Residence||Calabasas, Los Angeles County, California|
|Nationality||Mohawk / Canadian|
|Occupation||Actor, stunt man, athlete, poet, salesman|
|Television||Tonto in The Lone Ranger (TV series)|
|Bobbi Smith (m. 19; div. 1943)|
Mary Diroma (m. 1945)
Jay Silverheels (born Harold Jay Smith, May 26, 1912 - March 5, 1980) was a Mohawk actor and athlete. He was well known for his role as Tonto, the faithful Native American companion of the Lone Ranger in the long-running American western television series The Lone Ranger.
Silverheels was born Harold Jay Smith in Canada, on the Six Nations of the Grand River, near Hagersville, Ontario. He was a grandson of Mohawk Chief A. G. Smith and Mary Wedge, and one of the 11 children of Captain Alexander George Edwin Smith, MC, Cayuga, and his wife Mabel Phoebe Dockstater, maternal Mohawk, and paternal Seneca. His father was wounded and decorated for service at the Battle of the Somme and Ypres during World War I, and later was an adjutant training Polish-American recruits for the Blue Army for service in France, at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Silverheels excelled in athletics, most notably in lacrosse, before leaving home to travel around North America. In 1931, owners of N.H.L.'s franchises in Toronto and Montreal created indoor lacrosse (also known as "box lacrosse) as a means to fill empty arenas during the summer months, and, playing as Harry Smith, Silverheels was among the first players chosen to play for the Toronto Tecumsehs. Along with his brothers and cousins (Russell (Beef), Sid (Porky) and George (Chubby), he also played on teams in Buffalo, Rochester, Atlantic City, and Akron throughout the 1930s on teams in the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association. He lived for a time in Buffalo, New York, and in 1938 placed second in the Middleweight class of the Golden Gloves tournament. Silverheels was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a veteran player in 1997.
While playing in Los Angeles on a touring box lacrosse team in 1937, Silverheels impressed Joe E. Brown, with his athleticism. Brown encouraged him to do a screen test, which led to his acting career. Silverheels began working in motion pictures as an extra and stunt man in 1937. He was billed variously as Harold Smith and Harry Smith, and appeared in low-budget features, westerns, and serials. He adopted his screen name from the nickname he had as a lacrosse player. Jay Silverheels was cast in a short feature film, I Am an American (1944).[a] From the late 1940s, he played in major films, including Captain from Castile starring Tyrone Power (1947), Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart (1948), Lust for Gold with Glenn Ford (1949), Broken Arrow (1950) with James Stewart, War Arrow (1953) with Maureen O'Hara, Jeff Chandler and Noah Beery Jr., The Black Dakotas (1954) as Black Buffalo, Drums Across the River (1954), Walk the Proud Land (1956) with Audie Murphy and Anne Bancroft, Alias Jesse James (1959) with Bob Hope, and Indian Paint (1964) with Johnny Crawford. He made a brief appearance in True Grit (1969) as a condemned criminal about to be executed. He played a substantial role as John Crow in Santee (1973), starring Glenn Ford. One of his last roles was a wise white-haired chief in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973).
Jay Silverheels achieved his greatest fame as Tonto on The Lone Ranger. The fictional story line maintains that a small group of Texas Rangers were massacred, with only a "lone" survivor. The Lone Ranger and Tonto then ride throughout the West to assist those challenged by the lawless element. Their expenses and bullets are provided through a silver mine owned by The Lone Ranger, who also names his horse "Silver". Being irreplaceable in his role, Silverheels appeared in the film sequels: The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958).
When The Lone Ranger television series ended, Silverheels found himself firmly typecast as a Native American. On January 6, 1960, he portrayed a Native American fireman trying to extinguish a forest fire in the episode "Leap of Life" in the syndicated series, Rescue 8, starring Jim Davis and Lang Jeffries.
Eventually, he went to work as a salesman to supplement his acting income. He also began to publish poetry inspired by his youth on the Six Nations Indian Reserve and recited his work on television. In 1966, he guest-starred as John Tallgrass in the short-lived ABC comedy/western series The Rounders, with Ron Hayes, Patrick Wayne, and Chill Wills.
Despite the typecasting, Silverheels in later years often poked fun at his character. In 1969, he appeared as Tonto without The Lone Ranger in a comedy sketch on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The sketch was featured on the 1974 record album Here's Johnny: Magic Moments From The Tonight Show. "My name is Tonto. I hail from Toronto and I speak Esperanto." In 1970, he appeared in a commercial for Chevrolet as a Native American chief who rescues two lost hunters who ignored his advice in that year's Chevy Blazer. The William Tell Overture is heard in the background.
Silverheels spoofed his Tonto character in a Stan Freberg Jeno's Pizza Rolls TV commercial opposite Clayton Moore, and in The Phynx, opposite John Hart, both having played The Lone Ranger in the original television series.
His later appearances included an episode of ABC's The Brady Bunch, as a Native American who befriends the Bradys in the Grand Canyon, and in an episode of the short-lived Dusty's Trail, starring Bob Denver of Gilligan's Island.
In the early 1960s, Silverheels supported the Indian Actors Workshop, where Native American actors refined their skills in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Today the workshop is firmly established.
Silverheels raised, bred and raced Standardbred horses in his spare time. Once, when asked about possibly running Tonto's paint horse Scout in a race, Silverheels laughed off the idea: "Heck, I can outrun Scout!"
Married in 1945, Silverheels was the father of four girls (Marilyn, Gail, Pamela and Karen) and a boy, Jay Anthony Silverheels, who later became an actor.
Silverheels suffered a stroke in 1976, and the following year, Clayton Moore – his co-star on The Lone Ranger – rode a paint horse in Silverheels' honor in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. Silverheels died on March 5, 1980, from complications of a stroke, at age sixty-seven, in Calabasas, Los Angeles County, California. He was cremated at Chapel of the Pines Crematory, and his ashes were returned to the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario.
In 1993, Silverheels was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was named to the Western New York Entertainment Hall of Fame, and his portrait hangs in Buffalo, New York's Shea's Buffalo Theatre. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6538 Hollywood Boulevard. First Americans in the Arts honored Silverheels with their Life Achievement Award.
In 1997, Silverheels was inducted, under the name Harry "Tonto" Smith, into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in the Veteran Player category in recognition of his lacrosse career during the 1930s.
A fictionalized version of Silverheels appears in the Thrilling Adventure Hour serialized segment "Tales from the Black Lagoon".
His job in Hollywood was to help his partner, "The Lone Ranger" stop the devious plots of hardened outlaws.
In the 1930s he played lacrosse with the Rochester, NY "Iroquois" team of the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association
He finished second in the Eastern Square finals of the Golden Gloves boxing championshipin Madison Square Garden.
Silverheels, an accomplished boxer, wrestler and lacrosse player, capitalized on this athletic prowess to break into the movie business, starting as a stuntman and extra.
He worked as a stuntman and extra before landing bit parts in the early 1940s, almost always credited as simply "Indian" or "Indian Brave".
... he was in four serials at Republic when he was still going by Harry Smith, before he changed his name ...
Changing his name to Jay Smith Silverheels, partly a nickname from his uncle due to his superb running style
... he became noted for the white running shoes he wore. He was so swift that his feet were streaks of white.
In addition to starring in The Lone Ranger television series from 1949 to 1957, Silverheels appeared in the films The Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold.
... with his career no longer sufficient to support his family, he began working as a salesman.
... married, wife's name, Mary; children: Marilyn, Pamela, Karen, Jay Anthony.
Jay Silverheels suffered a stroke in 1974 and passed away on March 5, 1980 after several years of ill health