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Jay Silverheels Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (11) | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 26 May 1912Six Nations Reservation, Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Date of Death 5 March 1980Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA  (stroke)
Birth NameHarold J. Smith
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Jay Silverheels was born on Canada's Six Nation's Reserve and was one of 10 children. He was a star lacrosse player and a boxer before he entered films as a stuntman in 1938. He worked in a number of films through the 1940s before gaining notice as the Osceola brother in a Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo (1948). Most of Silverheels' roles consisted of bit parts as an Indian character. In 1949, he worked in the movie The Cowboy and the Indians (1949) with another "B movie" actor Clayton Moore. Later that year, Silverheels was hired to play the faithful Indian companion, Tonto, in the TV series The Lone Ranger (1949) series, which brought him the fame that his motion picture career never did.

Silverheels recreated the role of Tonto in two big-screen color movies with Moore,The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958). After the TV series ended in 1957, Silverheels could not escape the typecasting of Tonto. He would continue to appear in an occasional film and television show but became a spokesperson to improve the portrayal of Indians in the media.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Familiar Canadian Indian actor who shot to fame as Tonto, the faithful Indian companion of the masked man on the US television series The Lone Ranger (1949). A member of the Mohawk tribe of Canada's Six Nations Reserve, Silverheels excelled at wrestling, horse racing, football, boxing, and hockey, and became a renowned lacrosse player.

With the help of actor Joe E. Brown,Silverheels obtained work as a stuntman and extra in Hollywood films. Following military service in World War II, Silverheels returned to film and landed small, often stereotypical roles as Indian warriors in Westerns. John Huston cast him as one of the fugitive Osceola brothers in Key Largo (1948), and Silverheels followed with the two roles that would define his career, Tonto and the Apache leader Geronimo, whom he would play several times beginning with the Western classic Broken Arrow (1950). Silverheels' enormous fame as Tonto overshadowed everything else, although it did not prevent him from playing other prominent roles. Even after completing The Lone Ranger (1949)series, Silverheels continued to reprise Tonto for commercials, comic guest spots, and spoofs.

Silverheels became an outspoken activist for Indian rights and a respected teacher within the Indian acting community. He appeared on talk and variety shows performing his own poetry. In later years, he began a second career as a harness racer. His health failed in the 1970s, and he died of a stroke in 1980, a beloved figure to the Baby Boom generation America. His son, Jay Silverheels Jr. has acted in television as well.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Spouse (2)

Mary Diroma (1946 - 5 March 1980) (his death) (4 children)
Bobbie (? - 1943) (divorced) (1 child)

Trivia (11)

On The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), Silverheels told Johnny Carson that he had married his Italian wife to "get back at Christopher Columbus". They called their children "Indalions".
U.S. government records give Silverheels' birthdate as 26 June 1912, though virtually all cinema reference works disagree, giving instead the 1919 date listed here.
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1993.
Was an avid horse-racer when not acting. When asked if he ever thought about running Silver or Scout (who portrayed the steeds of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, respectively) in a race, Silverheels laughed: "Heck, *I* can beat Scout."
Was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian, one of 11 children of A.G.E. Smith, who had served as a decorated officer in the Canadian forces in WWI.
Of the nearly 200 TV and film appearances Silverheels made with Clayton Moore, the actors co-starred in just 4 features where they did NOT play Tonto and The Lone Ranger: Perils of Nyoka (1942), The Cowboy and the Indians (1949), Cyclone Fury (1951) and The Black Dakotas (1954).
Resided in Canoga Park, Ca and used to take walks around his neighborhood. Daughter attended and graduated from Canoga Park High School.
Adopted the nickname 'Silverheels" during a very brief boxing career, which saw him compete as a middleweight in a Golden Gloves bout in New York City's Madison Square Garden.
Was said to have 'despised' his show-business portrayal of an Indian.
Reportedly beat out 35 other actors to win the Tonto role in the initial radio version of "The Lone Ranger", which he had been invited to audition for based on his appearance in Key Largo (1948).

Personal Quotes (2)

[re his signature character] He's stupid. The Lone Ranger treats him like some kind of servant, and this seems to suit Tonto fine.
[re his lacrosse days] I was so scared, I was weak. I'd walk out on the floor shaking, thinking I can't do it, I can't, I can't. Then the whistle would blow, and I'd play in a fury. Happened every time.

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