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.
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