Live from the Texas That Never Was: Comic Book Legends Revealed #329: "E. Nelson Bridwell, longtime assistant editor to Mort Weisinger at DC Comics!:
Before Bridwell went to work for DC (where he helped introduce a number of innovations when it came to the world of comic book continuity), he wrote gags for Mad Magazine. And the Lone Ranger joke was one of them.
Reader Matt L. wrote in to ask me if this story was true. I’ve seen it before (our own Greg Hatcher mentioned it in a piece a few years back), but I’ve never looked into it.
As it turns out, in 1958’s Mad #38, Bridwell did a bit on things you’ll never see on various popular TV series. Joe Orlando did the artwork.
Here is the one for the Lone Ranger.
I’ve examined this pretty heavily (and I’ve seen other people at etymology sites do so, as well) and I have yet to find any other published version of this joke anywhere else that predate 1958. Mad certainly was a very popular magazine at the time, so the notion of the joke becoming so prolific from the pages of Mad is not so hard to believe. That said, I would not be shocked at all if the joke predated Bridwell’s usage. Still, since I can’t find any other published reference to it that predates Bridwell’s, I think it is fair to give him the credit. I also asked Mark Waid (who knew Bridwell late in Bridwell’s life when Waid was just starting in comics) what he thought about it, and he said he believed that it was Bridwell’s gag, noting that Bridwell was a gifted gag writer. So if it is good enough for Mark Waid, who am I to disagree?
Thanks to Matt L. for the suggestion! Thanks to Mark Waid for his thoughts and a big shout out to Greg Hatcher for his previous mention of this fact!