Classic Television Memories: The Green Hornet 1966-1967
Hi. Welcome to my Classic TV Time Capsule. Take a seat. This month's journey takes us back to the year 1966 for another classic series featuring a masked hero, The Green Hornet starring Van Williams and the late martial arts master, Bruce Lee. Although the series lasted only 26 episodes, it was instrumental in launching Bruce Lee's adult film career and introduced a new word into the English lexicon; Gung-Fu.
We're going to begin our journey in a moment, but first a little history.
The Green Hornet and his aide, Kato were created in the 1930's. The character is the brainchild of George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The Hornet was first brought to the entertainment world as a radio series beginning in 1936. In 1940, he was brought to the big screen as a 13 chapter cliffhanger serial starring Gordon Jones and Keye Luke (later of Kung Fu TV series fame). During this decade, the duo graced the comic book page. What some people may or may not know is that The Hornet is related to another masked hero, The Lone Ranger.
In 1966, the character was brought into our homes via television.
Joining the Green Hornet in his crusade against crime is his valet, and chauffer, Kato. In the early days before WWII, Kato's nationality was Japanese, shortly afterward, he became Filipino. In the television series he became Chinese.
Did I detect a yawn, or are my eyes playing tricks? Just as well. Enough history, lets go. CLICK!
Dig that theme song? It's a jazzed-up version of The Flight of The Bumblebee, by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov. This hip version is by the great jazz trumpeter, Al Hirt.
The television series was produced by William Dozier, the man who introduced Batman into our homes. Batman was such a big hit, I guess he thought lightning would strike twice. The differences between the two series is that Batman seem geared for children, while The Green Hornet played it seriously. Batman fought crazed, costumed super-villiains, while the Hornet fought gangsters, corrupt businessmen, politicians, and an occasional mad scientist. The Batman series employed famous guest stars as villiains; The Hornet used 'B' list character actors. The are two episodes of Batman that featured the Hornet; It was entitled A Piece of the Action, and its sequel, Batman's Satisfaction.
More after this message.
The Green Hornet premiered on September 9, 1966 on Friday at 7:30 on ABC as a half-hour series which unlike Batman who had two nights to bring the fiends to justice, The Hornet and Kato had to take care of business in one evening.
The Green Hornet, aka Britt Reid, was played by Van Williams, who previously starred in the series' Bourbon Street Beat, and Surfside Six. He had the rugged, All-American Boy handsomeness and acting ability that in my humble opinion, made him the perfect Hornet.
Kato, played by Bruce Lee auditioned for the role of Charlie Chan's Number One Son, for a proposed series that never got off the ground. The producers instead signed him on as Britt Reid's valet, and The Hornet's fighting companion, who is a master of the ancient art of Chinese Gung-Fu or Kung-Fu.
The cast featured Wende Wagner as Lenore (Casey) Case, Reid's secretary at the Daily Sentinel newspaper where he is owner/publisher. She's very intelligent, as well as beautiful, and is one of two people who knows her boss is The Green Hornet.
Walter Brooke played District Attorney Frank Scanlon, the other person who knows The Hornet's identity. He often runs interference between The Hornet, who poses as a criminal in order to effectively fight crime and the law. In contrast to the Seth Rogan movie Scanlon, the TV character is a straight- arrow.
Lloyd Gough is Mike Axford, crime-busting ace reporter; a throwback to the newspaper men of the 30's, 40's and 50's crime dramas. Mike is on a one-man crusade to bring the Hornet to justice. Personally, I like this Axford better than the ho-hum character Edward James Olmos played in the movie.
Although not a regular on the series, Gary Owens appeared in several episodes as TV announcer/anchorman for DSTV, the broadcast arm of the Daily Sentinel. Mr. Owens in addition to The Green Hornet, provided the voice for many cartoon characters, most notably Space Ghost (1966), and later became the announcer for Rowan and Martin's Llaugh-In (1967).
The Green Hornet, like Batman uses gadgets in the war against crime. Batman has his Utility Belt, full of Bat-Weaponry, while The Hornet basically has two main weapons; the Gas Gun which emits a green gas that renders one unconscious, and the Hornet Sting, a retractable cane-like weapon that emits a destructive ultra-sonic sound. Kato, in addition to his formidable fighting skills, throws hornet-shaped darts with amazing accuracy.
Both heroes also used crime-fighting vehicles. Batman, of course the Batmobile, while The Hornet has The Black Beauty. The car, designed by Dean Jeffries, who also created the Monkeemobile for the 60's singing group is in reality a Chrysler Imperial. It also employed weaponry such as rockets, smoke-screen, and a tv scanner that when launched from the rear of the car provides a birds-eye view of the city.
I firmly believe the reason for the show's popularity lies with Bruce Lee. At least that why my friends and I watched. I remember many a Saturday discussing the previous night's episode, and throwing kicks and punches for effect. Up until The Green Hornet, no one person generated so much excitement in beating the crap out of criminals than Lee. His role was so popular with the Chinese that in 1974, a year after his death, a re-edited version of several episodes hit the theatres both here and abroad as a feature film, called The Kato Show in the Orient. I remember my disappointment, because I thought a new Bruce Lee film had been unearthed.
The Green Hornet lasted 26 episodes, and was cancelled in July, 1967. My take on this is while Batman focused on color and camp. The Hornet came off too dark and serious, much like the detective and police dramas of that era. However, for a then 9 year-old, I thought the show was great - I still do.
That's it for now. In the next installment, I'll give masked heroes a rest.
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Wende Wagner (Lenore Case) 1941-1997
Walter Brooke (Frank Scanlon) 1914-1986
Lloyd Gough (Mike Axford) 1907-1984
Bruce Lee (Kato) 1940-1973
William Dozier (Announcer, Executive Producer) 1908-1991