“He hunts the biggest of all game- public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach.”
He is the Green Hornet, a man who takes down criminals by pretending to be a criminal himself.
Premiering Jan. 31, 1936 on Detroit’s WXYZ radio, The Green Hornet was one of the great shows of old time radio, running until December 1952. It also was a one-season TV show in 1966, and has had various comicbook incarnations.
I own more than 2,800 radio shows, and the Green Hornet has always been a particular favorite. My old time radio collection began with a Green Hornet episode, and I now own 107 Green Hornet shows, excluding duplicates.
The Green Hornet was created by WXYZ owner George W. Trendle and scriptwriter Fran Striker, the two men who were part of the ensemble that created The Lone Ranger in 1933 and Challenge of The Yukon (AKA Sergeant Preston of the Yukon) in 1947.
Britt Reid was the “daring young publisher” of the Daily Sentinel, a crusading newspaper that fought for the common man and woman against corrupt politicians, racketeers, and other criminals. Not only did Britt write hard-hitting editorials, and send his reporters out to expose corruption, he also fought it head-on as the Green Hornet.
The need to fight for justice must be genetic, because not only were The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet created by the same people, but they were also related. Britt’s father, Dan, was the Lone Ranger’s nephew, making Britt the Ranger’s grand-nephew.
Like his granduncle, Britt wore a mask, but unlike the Lone Ranger, who was acknowledged as a good guy (after some initial misunderstandings), Britt encouraged the belief that the Hornet was a criminal. All the better to dismantle rackets from within and/or to trick criminals into turning on each other.
While he wore a mask, the Green Hornet was not a superhero in any sense of the word. He didn’t have any special abilities, and with the exception of his mask, wore street clothes. What’s more, had a real-life man set out to smash criminal rackets in the 1930s, he’d probably have concluded that posing as a fellow criminal- one who cultivated fear among them- would have been the best route to take.
As a publisher, Britt also avoided the type of problem Clark Kent would later have. Clark would often have to come up with plausible reasons why he wasn’t around when Superman- very much a newsmaker- was on the scene. Once Britt had handed out assignments or wrote an editorial, as far as his staff was concerned, he’d either gone home for the day or to the Civic Club.
And unlike Clark- who bizarrely hung out with the same people in both identities- Britt didn’t talk to people as the Hornet who knew him and would recognize his voice.
That’s not to say no one ever suspected him. A private detective- and supposed friend- named Oliver Perry tried to prove Britt was the Hornet several times.
The Lone Ranger fought for law and order in the old west with help from Tonto; while the Green Hornet patrolled the streets of his unnamed city (which had a waterfront, so it could have been Detroit) with his valet, Kato. Kato drove the “sleek, super-powered” streamlined car called “The Black Beauty.”
Early on, Kato’s nationality was Japanese, but he later became identified as a Filipino. However, that change took place well before Pearl Harbor, so Japan’s attack on the U.S. in December 1941 had no bearing on that change.
The part of Britt Reid was first played by Al Hodge (later TV’s “Captain Video”) from 1936-1943. Hodge also dubbed the voice of the Green Hornet in the Gordon Jones-led 1940 13 chapter Universal Pictures serial, The Green Hornet, a task made easier by the fact that the Hornet wore a full face mask in that serial.
The 1966-1967 TV series starred Van Williams as Britt Reid and the late Bruce Lee as Kato. Although produced by William Dozer, who also produced the Adam West-led Batman series, the Green Hornet wasn’t done in the “camp” style of Batman. Ironically, that may be why it had such a short run.
To the best of my knowledge, the TV series was never re-run in the Detroit area. In fact, I didn’t see any complete episodes until the 1990s, when a “feature length” videotape of three unconnected episodes was released. Previous to that, my only exposure to the TV Hornet had been via his guest appearance on Batman.
The Green Hornet’s comicbook adventures began in 1940 with a 47 issue series published initially by Holyoke Comics and later Harvey Comics. A three issue series based on the TV show was published by Gold Key Comics in 1967. In 1989, Now Comics published two Green Hornet series, running 14 issues and 40 issues respectively, plus a number of ancillary titles. More recently, Dynamite Entertainment has begun publishing at least two Green Hornet titles. Tempted as I was to pick up the first issues of both, $3.99 for a 22-page comicbook is insanely high, so I’ll wait for the trades.
The Now Comics series maintained the uncle-to-nephew theme and established a “Hornet Dynasty” of radio-era Hornet Britt Reid; his nephew Britt Reid II as the TV-era Hornet; and his nephew, concert pianist Paul Reid as the modern day Hornet (with Paul’s older brother, Alan, having briefly taken up the mantle before being killed on his first outing).
Similarly, the TV Kato (named Hayashi Kato in the Now Comics series) was established as the son of the radio Kato (Ikano Kato). Both Hayashi and his sister, Mishi, worked alongside Paul.
The Now Comics series was initially written by Ron Fortier, who according to a 2006 interview at comicsbulletin.com, researched the character for nearly six months before beginning his presentation package to the rights holders. End result, an excellent blending of the radio era, the TV era and all new modern-day adventures. In fact, my only real complaint about the Now Comics series has nothing to do with how the radio or TV incarnations of the Hornet were portrayed; it was that Fortier continually spelled “all right” as one word.
A Green Hornet movie is due out this summer starring Seth Rogan. I understand some people on the Internet are apprehensive because Rogan’s known for comedies. However, I’ll reserve judgment until I see the film. I’m reminded of those who bitterly complained that casting Michael Keaton as Batman in the 1989 Batman film would be a disaster, and that Keaton (then known primarily for comedic roles) would play it for laughs.
Batman was a major hit and wasn’t played for laughs; and when Joel Schumacher derailed the franchise a few years later, I’m sure many of the people crying out “we need to get Michael Keaton back!” were among those who’d decried his casting in the first place.
So I’ll take a wait and see approach with Rogan, whose work I’ve never seen.
Whatever the quality of the movie, the radio show and the Now Comics series both remain high points. If you’re a fan of old-time radio, The Green Hornet should definitely be a part of your collection. I recently bought and enjoyed the Radio Spirits collection of episodes from 1939 called The Green Hornet: The Biggest Game (which includes 16 never before released episodes).
Next month, at the Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, I’ll buy The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion-Pictures, Comics and Television by radio historians Martin Grams, Jr. and Terry Salomonson (whose area of expertise includes the WXYZ radio shows).
More information about the book can be found at Salomonson’s website, http://www.audio-classics.com/index.html.
Copyright 2010 Patrick Keating.