The Green Hornet
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The Green Hornet
First appearance: American old time radio, January 31, 1936
Created by: George W. Trendle and Fran Striker
In story information
Alter ego: Britt Reid
Abilities: Genius level intelligence, Master detective, Martial arts master
The Green Hornet (also referred to as simply Green Hornet) is a masked fictional crime fighter. Originally created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker for an American old time radio program in the 1930s, the character has appeared in other media as well, including film serials in the 1940s, a network television program in the 1960s, and multiple comic book series from the 1940s to the 1990s. Though various incarnations sometimes change details, in most incarnations the Green Hornet is Britt Reid, a newspaper publisher by day who by night goes out in his masked ''Green Hornet'' identity to fight crime as a vigilante, accompanied by his similarly masked Asian manservant Kato and driving a car, equipped with advanced technology, called ''Black Beauty''. The Green Hornet is often portrayed as a fair to above average hand to hand combatant and is often armed with a gun that sprays knock out gas (an electric stun weapon called the ''hornet's sting'' was added to his arsenal in the TV series).
Originally, the show was to be called The Hornet, but the name was changed to The Green Hornet so that it could be more easily trademarked. The color was chosen because green hornets were reputed to be the angriest. One relatively minor aspect of the character which tends to be given limited exposure in the actual productions is his blood relationship to The Lone Ranger, another character created by Striker. The Lone Ranger's nephew was Dan Reid. In the Green Hornet radio shows, the Hornet's father was likewise named Dan Reid, making the hero the Ranger's grand nephew.
The Western property was sold to another company in the 1950s, a legal complication that resulted in the identity of the Masked Rider of the Plains being obscured when it has been dealt with at all in Green Hornet depictions (though a comic book from NOW Comics later displayed the Hornet's living room as being decorated with a painting of a man dressed very similarly to the Lone Ranger; the radio series had expressly indicated the presence of such a portrait there).
During World War II, the radio show's title was used as a codename for SIGSALY, secret encryption equipment used in the war. ''The Green Hornet'' also became a popular nickname for General George S. Patton, due to the unique and attention getting uniform that he proposed for tank crews, which featured a gold painted football helmet. Supposedly, while Patton was testing it after development (which he funded out of his own pocket), one Army trooper said ''Look! It's the Green Hornet!'' and the name followed Patton for years.
The character premiered in The Green Hornet, an American radio program that ran on WXYZ (a local Detroit station), the Mutual Broadcasting System and the network known through its succession of various owners as NBC Blue, the Blue Network and the ABC Network from January 31, 1936 to December 5, 1952. The series detailed the adventures of Britt Reid, debonair newspaper publisher by day, crime fighting masked hero at night: With his faithful valet Kato, Britt Reid, daring young publisher, matches wits with the Underworld, risking his life so that criminal and racketeers within the law may feel its weight by the sting of the Green Hornet! During World War II, this was changed to: matches wits with racketeers and saboteurs, risking his life so that criminals and enemy spies will feel the weight of the law by the sting of the Green Hornet!
After the revving of the Black Beauty motor, the announcer would then say: Ride with Britt Reid in the thrilling adventure [title of episode inserted]! The Green Hornet strikes again! When the series first began in 1936, this was originally: Ride with Britt Reid as he races toward another thrilling adventure! The Green Hornet strikes again! and after the thrumming of the hornet sound, Britt Reid would then call out: ''Hurry, Kato! Here's where we smash a [type of criminal operation featured in the episode inserted] racket!''
The opening sequence of the radio show originally began with the announcer (famed newsman Mike Wallace held the position at some point during the run) proclaiming that the Green Hornet ''hunts the biggest of all game ... public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach,'' referring to FBI agents. Bureau Chief J. Edgar Hoover objected to the line's implication that some crime fighting was beyond the abilities of the FBI, and it was changed to ''public enemies who try to destroy our America.''
The vigilante nature of his operation quickly resulted in his being declared an outlaw himself, and Britt Reid decided to play to it. The Green Hornet became thought of as one of his city's biggest criminals, allowing him to walk into suspected racketeers' offices and ply them for information, or even demand a cut of their profits. He would be accompanied by his similarly masked but unnamed chauffeur - bodyguard - enforcer, who was also Reid's valet, Kato, initially described as Japanese, and eventually as Filipino. A widespread urban legend has been the claim that the show's writers switched from one nationality to the other immediately after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, but the first disappeared well before direct U.S. involvement in the war, and the latter was not initially given until much later, with nothing more specific than ''Oriental'' being said in the interim. Specifically, in and up to 1939, in the series' opening narration, Kato was called Britt Reid's ''Japanese valet''. From 1940 to 1945 he was Reid's ''faithful valet'', and in 1946 he became his ''Filipino valet''. When the characters were used in the first of a pair of movie serials, the politically perceptive producers of 1939 had Kato's nationality given as Korean.
The radio show used Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's ''Flight of the Bumblebee'' as its theme music, blended with a hornet buzz created on a theremin, and ''The Infernal Dance of King Koshchei'' from Igor Stravinsky's ''The Firebird'', usually used after this announced part:
The Lone Ranger
Britt Reid is a blood relative of The Lone Ranger. The character of Dan Reid, who appeared on the Lone Ranger program as the Masked Man's nephew, was also featured on the Green Hornet as Britt Reid's father, making the Green Hornet the grand nephew of the Lone Ranger. Confirming this was the November 11, 1947 radio show episode ''Too Hot to Handle'': After his secret identity was uncovered in a previous episode, ''Exposed'' (broadcast October 28, 1947), by Linda Travers, a novice reporter secretly hired by Britt's father to check up on him, Britt told his father Dan that he was the masked Green Hornet. After his initial shock and anger, Dan Reid referred to a ''pioneer ancestor'' of Britt's that he himself had rode alongside with in Texas, a man who rode a horse and acted as a vigilante, and expressed his pride in and love for his son. As he explained this, the Lone Ranger theme briefly played in the background.
The Green Hornet was played by:
Al Hodge (who later went on to play television's Captain Video) (1936 -1943)
Donovan Faust (1943 - 1944)
Robert Hall (1944 - 1947)
Jack McCarthy (1947 - 1952)
The role of Kato was originated by Raymond Hayashi but handled through most of the run by Roland Parker, who also voiced ''The Newsboy'' at the conclusion of each episode who hawked the ''Extra'' edition of The Sentinel that carried the story of the weekly racket or spy ring being smashed, concluding with: ''Read all about it! Green Hornet still at large! Sentinel Ex-tree, paper!'' Mickey Tolan was the radio series' final Kato. Jim Jewell directed the series until 1938. Jewell's sister, Lee Allman (Lenore Jewell Allman) wanted to play a part in a radio series at WXYZ so Jim had her written into The Green Hornet. She was the only actress to play Lenore Case, Britt Reid's secretary, during the entire run of the series.
Lenore Case, known as ''Casey'', was aware of her boss' double life, but only in the later years of the run. Similarly, another confidant, Police Commissioner James Higgins, did not come into existence until near the end of the series; he was introduced in the previously mentioned episode ''Too Hot to Handle'' as an old friend of Dan Reid's who was being blackmailed and who was rescued by the Green Hornet. Shortly thereafter, either Dan Reid or Britt himself confided the Hornet's secret identity to Higgins. Other major characters in the radio series included:
Mike Axford (originated by Jim Irwin, then played for most of the series by Gil Shea), a bombastic former policeman who originally had been hired by Britt Reid's father as a bodyguard for Britt, but who drifted into becoming a reporter for The Daily Sentinel by virtue of his contacts at Police Headquarters (especially his best friend Sergeant Burke, known usually as ''Sarge''). He was the most dedicated pursuer of the Green Hornet (while expressing his admiration for the Hornet's ability to both smash criminals and elude the authorities). He was known for his pet phrases ''Holy Crow!'' and ''Sufferin' Snakes!'' and his usual parting phrase ''See ya later. So long!''
Gunnigan, the irascible city editor of The Daily Sentinel (whose temper invariably got worse in the presence of Axford or even when Axford was talking to him on the phone).
Ed Lowery (played by Jack Petruzzi), one of The Sentinel's best reporters, who also admired the Hornet.
''Clicker'' Binny, a female photographer for The Sentinel who usually teamed up with Lowery on news assignments and filled in as Britt Reid's secretary on those occasions when Lenore Case was away. When ''Clicker's'' character was written out of the series (in the episode ''The Corpse That Wasn't There'', broadcast on February 28, 1943, a letter from ''Clicker'' states that she has become a Second Officer in the WACS stationed in North Africa), her place was filled in 1942 by Gale Manning, whose southern drawl and ''dumb southern belle'' manner (which didn't fool Britt Reid but which totally irritated both Lowery and Axford, especially when she managed to get information or stories that neither man could) hid both her intelligence and her ability as a top notch reporter. After Gale's character left the series, Lenore Case herself sometimes joined either Lowery or Axford on assignments.
Two major foes for The Green Hornet were the mysterious ''Mr. X'', a criminal mastermind introduced in the episode ''Walkout for Profit'' (broadcast June 21, 1941) who became part of a storyline in 1941 pitting the Hornet against him in an ongoing battle, and Oliver Perry (1945 - 1949), a famous but unscrupulous private detective who repeatedly returned to try and unmask The Green Hornet. Perry suspected Britt Reid of being the Hornet but was never able to prove it, and episodes featuring him always ended with the Hornet either outwitting him or humiliating him, if not both, to the point where he was forced to leave town.
The Green Hornet was adapted into two movie serials. Disliking the treatment Republic gave The Lone Ranger in two serials, George W. Trendle took his Number 2 property to Universal Pictures, and he was much happier with the results. The first serial, titled simply ''The Green Hornet'' and released in 1940, starred Gordon Jones in the title role, albeit dubbed by original radio Hornet Al Hodge whenever the hero's mask was in place, while ''The Green Hornet Strikes Again!'' of 1941 starred Warren Hull. Keye Luke, the famous #1 son of the Charlie Chan films, played Kato in both; also starring in both serials were Anne Nagel as ''Lenore Case'' and Wade Boteler as ''Mike Axford''. Even though America wasn't in the war yet, Kato's nationality is changed to Korean. Ford Beebe directed both serials, partnered by Ray Taylor on The Green Hornet and John Rawlins on The Green Hornet Strikes Again, with George H. Plympton and Basil Dickey contributing to the screenplays for both serials. The Green Hornet ran for 13 chapters while The Green Hornet Strikes Again had 15 installments, and in both serials the plotlines followed the radio series style, with the Hornet and Kato smashing a different racket in each chapter. In each serial, they were all linked to a single major crime syndicate which was itself put out of business in the finale, while the radio program had the various rackets completely independent of each other.
The Green Hornet
Genre: Action adventure
Created by: George W. Trendle and Fran Striker
Directed by: William Beaudine, E. Darrell Hallenbeck, Leslie H. Martinson, Allen Reisner, Seymour Robbie
Van Williams (Green Hornet)
Bruce Lee (Kato)
Narrated by: William Dozier
Opening theme: ''Flight of the Bumblebee'' by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, arranged by Billy May, performed by Al Hirt
Composer(s): Billy May (background score)
Country of origin: United States
Number of seasons: 1
Number of episodes: 26
Executive Producer: William Dozier
Producer(s): Richard M. Bluel (23 episodes), Stanley Shpetner (2 episodes)
Editor: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
Running time: 30 minutes
Broadcast: Original channel ABC
Original run: September 9, 1966 - March 17, 1967
Inspired by the success of the Batman series, ABC brought The Green Hornet to television in 1966 - 1967, an adaptation which introduced martial arts master Bruce Lee to American audiences as Kato and starred Van Williams as the Green Hornet. Unlike Batman, the TV version of The Green Hornet was played straight, but in spite of the considerable interest in Lee, it was cancelled after only one season. However, the rise of Lee as a major cult movie star ensured continued interest in the property to the point where proposed Green Hornet productions typically have the casting of some major martial arts film star as Kato as the first order of business. Lee's popularity in Hong Kong, where he was raised, was such that the show was marketed there as The Kato Show.
As with the later years of the radio version, secretary Lenore ''Casey'' Case is again aware of Reid's secret, and the Hornet also has a confidante within the law enforcement community, but now he is District Attorney Frank P. Scanlon. This character was changed from the original's police commissioner because the same company's Batman TV series was already using a man in that post as the official contact of its hero. William Dozier, executive producer of both programs, wanted no more comparisons between the two than were unavoidable. Michael Axford, the bodyguard turned reporter of the radio series, is now simply the police reporter for The Daily Sentinel, with no history of having been on the force.
The music of ''Flight of the Bumblebee'' was so strongly identified with The Green Hornet that it was retained as the theme, orchestrated by Billy May (who also composed the new background scores) and conducted by Lionel Newman, with trumpet solo by Al Hirt, in a jazz style nicknamed Green Bee. Years later, this music was featured during a key scene in the 2003 film, Kill Bill, Volume 1, which paid tribute to Kato by featuring dozens of swordfighters wearing Kato masks during the film's key fight sequence.
The TV series displayed the Hornet's car, Black Beauty, a 1966 Chrysler Crown Imperial sedan customized by Dean Jeffries. The Beauty's regular headlight cluster supposedly could be flipped over to reveal what studio publicity described as ''infra-green'' headlights, but this could not be done on the actual vehicle, and the green filters were always seen deployed. It was revealed in the related comic book spun off from the show that the green headlights used polarized light which in combination with the appropriately polarized vision filter (translucent green sun visor like panels that the two men pulled down when needed) could provide almost as much illumination as conventional headlights while being extremely dim, almost invisibly dark, to someone without the filter. In some early episodes in two shots with both Van Williams and Bruce Lee inside the Black Beauty, as seen through the windshield, Lee's face was tinted green since he was supposedly seen through a ''polarized'' filter in the form of a large pull down, transparent green gray visor; Williams on the other hand was seen in normal light. The tint is not present in close ups of Lee alone. Since specification of what this lighting was supposed to indicate never actually made it into any finished episode, the effect was unexplained to the audience and soon discontinued. However, most night shots were actually filmed during the daytime by the day for night technique, giving the illusion of night time as the actual car headlights were not polarized but just had green lenses, which would render the headlights useless for real night driving. As the series progressed, the process was executed less effectively, reaching the point where the viewer would need context to understand that some scenes were supposed to be taking place at night, as can be observed in screening the episodes in either original network airing or syndication (production) order.
The Black Beauty could fire explosive charges from tubes hidden behind retractable panels below the headlights which were said to be rockets with explosive warheads; had a concealed when not in use, drop down knock out gas nozzles in the center of the front grille and the vehicle could launch a small flying video and audio surveillance device (referred to as the Scanner) through a small rectangular panel in the middle of Black Beauty's trunk lid. Working ''rockets'' and ''gas nozzles'' were incorporated into the trunk lid as well.
In 1992, a Green Hornet enthusiast Dan Goodman, purchased the ''number one'' Black Beauty from the former transportation director of Twentieth Century Fox for the sum of US $5000 and commissioned Jeffries to restore the car; two cars had been built for the series and Goodman's was the primary car. Although the vehicle was in perfect mechanical condition with the original custom wheels and most body modifications as used in the show and had logged only 17,000 miles since new, it was badly weathered and in need of a full cosmetic restoration. Despite numerous legal bouts between Jeffries and Goodman over cost overruns and rights to the ''Black Beauty'' name and likeness, Jeffries eventually restored the car to its current condition albeit series incorrect. While the rocket launcher panels on the trunk lid had been welded shut, requiring replacement of the body panel in order to make the system functional again, the flip down green headlights were intact less their drive motor and discovered beneath the hood after Goodman took delivery of the car. The Black Beauty is currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum; The ''Number Two'' Black Beauty is currently under restoration to be completed in 2009. It resides in a private collection in South Carolina.
The TV series also employed an audio device from the radio show. In its era, the engines of cheaper cars made a lot of noise; the expensive Pierce Arrow was reputed to be extremely quiet. So, when the Green Hornet said, ''rig for silent running,'' the hornet like buzz on the radio show was turned off and the listener was left to imagine that the car really was silent. On TV, the car sounded like a modern car, but the noise was removed from the soundtrack after this command. An article in TV Guide published during the show's network run made reference to disparaging comments made within the industry about ABC being ''the two car network'' because of the Black Beauty and the Batmobile. The program currently airs on AmericanLife TV Network.