The latest entry in Geekville Radio’s Lesser Known Geek Hall Of Fame is The Green Hornet. Many fans remember the 1966 TV show with Van Williams and Bruce Lee, but did you know that the character had existed for 30 years before that TV show? Join Seth and Crazy Train as they discuss the long storied history of the character, and the surprising lineage back to the fictional Old West.
The Green Hornet was created in 1936 by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, the same creators as The Lone Ranger. Like before, the character was originally conceived for radio serials. We previously discussed both men in our previous episode about The Lone Ranger.
After the success of The Lone Ranger, Trendle and Striker looked to create another hero to add to their radio drama lineup. They opted for a contemporary hero, as The Lone Ranger was a Western.
Enter The Green Hornet.
The Green Hornet first aired on Jan 31st, 1936 for WXYZ radio. The origins of the character remain in line with many of the characters we’ve discussed so far. A wealthy individual who had a secret identity as a crimefighter. In this case, it was newspaper publisher Britt Reid, who donned a mask and took on crime lords as The Green Hornet.
Much like The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet had a partner who knew his identity and complimented his style. The Ranger had Tonto, The Hornet had Kato. Also, the show used actual classical pieces for theme and incidental music. In this case, the music was “Flight Of The Bumblebee” by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov .
Britt Reid’s father Dan had inherited a silver mine, which was used to fund a newspaper called The Daily Sentinel. If you listened to the last show, you will know the significance of that silver mine. That’s right, Dan Reid’s uncle was John Reid, aka The Lone Ranger. Which makes Britt The Ranger’s grand nephew.
While traveling in The Orient, Britt Reid saved the life of a man named Kato. Kato would go on to be Britt’s partner in crimefighting. He was also a master engineer and a martial artist. This complimented Britt’s intellect and detective skills. Plus, Britt used guns that would stun opponents, as his fighting skills were inferior to Kato’s.
During the 1940s, Kato’s nationality was quietly changed from Japanese to Korean due to fear that a Japanese hero during World War II would cause a backlash. We’ll touch more on that later when discussing the comic book titles.
Kato and Britt tricked out Britt’s limo, and dubbed it Black Beauty. While no model of car was given for the radio show, it likely was a very large automobile since it was a limousine.
When he first started fighting crime, Britt had no gimmick and no mask. He and Kato were out in The Black Beauty when a gunfight broke out between rival gangs, ending in a fatal shooting. The Police noticed The Black Beauty speeding away. Since the car was at the scene of the crime, Britt was concerned that if he kept using it, he would be linked to the crime. This is when he donned the mask and became The Green Hornet.
In an interesting twist, Hornet did not overtly fight crime. He built a reputation as a criminal, using the connections he would get to secretly bring the criminals to justice. Only Kato and the District Attorney knew that Hornet was a crime fighter and not a criminal himself.
After 15 years of crime fighting, Britt retired in the early 1950s
When NOW comics got the licensing in 1989, they retconned the character’s history to fit different generations. More on that later.
Much like The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet was adapted to movie serials. Trendle did not like the treatments The Ranger got, so he went to Universal Pictures for Hornet. Two serials were produced, The Green Hornet in 1940, and The Green Hornet Strikes Again in 1941.
After the success of the classic 1960s Adam West Batman series, a Green Hornet series was produced, which ran for a single season in 1966. Van Williams was cast in the lead role of Britt Reid. Unlike Batman, which was designed to be comedic in nature, The Green Hornet was played for drama. As a result, it wasn’t remembered as fondly as The Caped Crusader’s show
The series is probably now best known for being Bruce Lee’s first major acting role as Kato. But it also had a crossover episode with Batman, where the two heroes met onscreen.
A link to the previous radio show was provided through the character of Mike Axford. During the radio show run, Axford worked for The Daily Sentinel. In the TV pilot episode, Axford tells Britt about the old days when he knew Britt’s father. This implied that the TV Britt was the offspring of the radio incarnation.
When the TV show ended, the character faded into relative obscurity for the next two decades. Though the TV version of The Black Beauty, depicted as a Chrysler Crown Imperial, gained a following with car enthusiasts.
Comic Book Adaptions
There were several attempts over the years to publish Green Hornet comics, starting in the 1940s. They did not sell nearly as well as those of The Lone Ranger, and didn’t last more than a year or two at a time.
When NOW comics started publishing Green Hornet comics in 1989, they released a four volume series Tales Of The Green Hornet. This retconned the TV series Britt Reid to be the nephew of the original, and established the new incarnation, Paul Reid, as the son of the TV version. Van Williams, star of the TV show, even wrote a few issues about his character’s run.
The Lone Ranger connection remained intact during the NOW run. However, due to potential legal issues over the likeness, the name was never used.
Kato’s history was also addressed in the NOW series. It was explained that Britt lied about Kato’s heritage out of fear that he’d be sent an internment camp during WWII.
It’s also worth noting that the miniseries killed off the original Britt Reid due to a betrayal by District Attorney Frank Scanlon, who revealed the identity to an enemy.
Like The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet is not the property of any specific comic publisher, it is self owned and licensed out. Currently, Dynamite comics has the publishing license. Recently, Dynamite did their own crossover with DC Comic’s Batman that was written by Kevin Smith
Seth Rogan co-wrote and starred in a Green Hornet feature film. It was a complete reboot with no real connection to any previous incarnation, sans Black Beauty remaining a 1960s Chrysler. Unlike the TV show and radio serials, it was intended to be a comedic action film.
While the movie did well at the box office, it failed to perform enough to warrant a sequel.
What do you think, readers and listeners? Do you have any Green Hornet opinions? Feel free to share your thoughts below or on our social media pages!