JAY SILVERHEELS Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Jay Silverheels                                                                 
Born: 26 May 1912 Six Nations Indian Reserve, Brantford, Ontario, Canada             
Died: 5 March 1980 Woodland Hills, California, USA                                   
Jay Silverheels (May 26, 1912 – March 5, 1980) was a Canadian Mohawk Indian         
Born Harold J. Smith on the Six Nations Indian Reserve, in Brantford, Ontario,       
Canada, Silverheels excelled in athletics and lacrosse as a boy before leaving       
home to travel around North America, appearing in boxing and wrestling               
tournaments. He lived for a time in Buffalo, New York. In 1938 Silverheels           
placed second in the middleweight section of the Golden Gloves tournament.           
Silverheels began working in motion pictures in 1937. During the early years of       
his screen career, he was billed variously as Harold Smith or Harry Smith, and       
appeared in low-budget features, westerns, and serials. From the late 1940s he       
played in more prestigious pictures, including Captain from Castille starring         
Tyrone Power, Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart, (1948), Broken Arrow (1950) with       
James Stewart, War Arrow (1953) with Maureen O'Hara, Jeff Chandler and Noah           
Beery, Jr., Walk the Proud Land (1956) with Audie Murphy and Anne Bancroft,           
Alias Jesse James (1959) with Bob Hope, and Indian Paint (1964) with Johnny           
Silverheels was best known for his appearances as the Lone Ranger's friend Tonto.     
In addition to starring in the Lone Ranger television series from 1949 to 1957,       
Silverheels appeared in the films The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and     
the Lost City of Gold (1958).                                                         
Following the end of the Lone Ranger television series, Silverheels found             
himself typecast as Tonto and had trouble finding further acting work.               
Silverheels was also hindered by a changing attitude, as some felt that the           
Tonto character was equivalent to a Native American Uncle Tom. Subsequently,         
Silverheels was forced to work as a salesman to supplement his acting income. He     
also began to concentrate on writing poetry influenced by his youth on the Six       
Nations Indian Reserve and appeared on television reciting his poetry.               
But despite the typecasting, Silverheels had a tendency to poke fun at his           
character in later years. In the late 60s, he appeared playing Tonto in a comedy     
sketch on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In the sketch, Tonto decided he       
wanted a temporary change of scenery and seek other employment from The Lone         
Ranger (whom Silverheels referred to in the sketch only as Kemo Sabe). An audio       
copy of this sketch appears on the 1973 record album Here's Johnny: Magic             
Moments From The Tonight Show.                                                       
In the early 1960s he helped to establish the Indian Actors Workshop in Echo         
Park, California as a place where Native American actors could develop their         
acting skills. It is still active.                                                   
His last filmed appearance was on an episode of Dusty's Trail.