The Greatest American Hero: My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

It’s funny, I never expected that I’d ever write about the tv series, The Greatest American Hero, but I watched an episode last night that was pretty good, especially when you consider it was made in 1981.

Season 1, Episode 6 of The Greatest American Hero is titled, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” and for me it’s the most touching episode yet. Bill (the FBI agent) learns that his personal hero is involved in something illegal, and it’s a real blow to him. He’s hurt, and then down in the dumps.

Meanwhile, Ralph, The Greatest American Hero, has two incidents where innocent bystanders are almost hurt while he’s attempting to go after the bad guys. One group is a busload of tourists, and the second one is an elderly woman. This affects him to the point that he doesn’t want to put the suit on any more, because he’s afraid he’ll hurt innocent people.

It turns out the Ralph was a big fan of The Lone Ranger, and the actor who played The Lone Ranger for one season, John Hart, is in town and giving small shows nearby. Ralph goes to see him once with his son, and then while Ralph is struggling about what to do with his situation — ever putting on the red suit again — he goes back to see Mr. Hart a second time. This is the conversation between Ralph and The Lone Ranger (TLR):

Ralph: Well, it’s kinda silly, but I wanted to see you again.

TLR: Well there’s nothing silly about that, everybody loves The Lone Ranger.

Ralph: Some thought he was on the side of the outlaw, many knew him as a lone rider dealing out justice to the law-abiding citizenry. None knew where he came from and non knew where he went.

TLR: Hey, you really are a fan.

Ralph: Oh you bet, you bet I am. Only when I was a kid it didn’t sound so ...

TLR: So corny?

Ralph: Yeah.

TLR: You see, I don’t think it’s corny. I think it’s important. In the cold light, justice and morality always look corny, and you can’t wave the flag and look cool. But like it or not, society needs its heroes.

Ralph: Anybody in a mask tried dealing out justice today, they’d probably lock him up.

TLR: Maybe, but I don’t think that’d stop The Lone Ranger. Do you?

Ralph: [thinking] No, probably not. [long pause] Thanks a lot.

TLR: Okay.

Ralph: Adios. [turns and walks away]

TLR: Hey. [Ralph turns back to him] Adios, Kemo Sabe.

This conversation is followed by a brief song:

He cast a ten-foot shadow,
He wears a three-foot smile,
The ladies love his manners,
The men admire his style.

You’ll know him when you see him,
He’s there and then he’s gone,
The living legend rides away alone.

Heroes are human,
No one sees that side,
Sometimes they get lonely,
Sometimes they love to hide.

Heroes are human,
They do the best they can,
But after all a hero’s just a man.

At the end of the episode, Ralph, who is a schoolteacher, takes his students to see The Lone Ranger and his show. One of the students (Tony, played by a young Michael Pare) keeps asking Ralph why he brought them to see this, and Ralph eventually answers:

I grew up on this guy, Tony. You know, on Saturday mornings. He stood for something that’s not around much any more. I really don’t know how to say it, but well, he means something to me, and I thought I would share it with you guys. Like the flu shot, you know. Sometimes it takes ... I grew up on this guy(!). I grew up on him.

That’s followed by another song and some touching (corny) video, going back and forth between Ralph (the new hero) and John Hart (the old hero).

I don’t generally expect too much out of old tv series, it seems like they were all made fast and with a low budget, but that was a pretty good scene.