The Green Hornet is a television series on the ABC US television network that aired for the 1966–1967 TV season starring Van Williams as the Green Hornet/Britt Reid and Bruce Lee as Kato.
The Green Hornet followed the adventures of playboy-media mogul Britt Reid, the owner and publisher of The Daily Sentinel. As the masked vigilante Green Hornet, Britt fights crime with the assistance of his martial-artist partner Kato, Britt's valet, and his weapons-enhanced car the Black Beauty with license plate V-194. On police records, the Green Hornet is a wanted criminal, but in reality, the Green Hornet pretends to be a criminal in order to infiltrate and battle the criminal gangs, leaving them and the incriminating evidence for police arrival. Beyond Kato, Britt's dual identity is known only to his secretary at The Sentinel, Lenore "Casey" Case and the District Attorney Frank P. Scanlon.
Britt's motive for becoming a crimefighter was explained on-screen that his father had died in prison after having been framed and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.
The single-season series premiered September 9, 1966, and ran through March 17, 1967, lasting 26 episodes; ABC repeated the series after its cancellation by the network, until July 14, 1967, when The Green Hornet had its last broadcast on network television.
The character had originated as the star of a 1930s to 1950s radio series, and had previously been adapted to movie serials, comic books, and other media. Britt Reid shares the same last name as The Lone Ranger, as Britt's father was Dan Reid, the Lone Ranger's nephew.
Despite character co-creator George W. Trendle's failed efforts to generate interest in a Green Hornet TV series in 1951 and 1958, the success of ABC's 1960s Batman series prompted the network to adapt the venerable radio and movie-serial character. The series starred Van Williams as the Green Hornet and introduced martial artist Bruce Lee to American television audiences as his partner, Kato. Unlike the campy and humorous Batman series, The Green Hornet was played straight. Though it was canceled after one season, Lee became a major star of martial arts movies. Lee's popularity in Hong Kong, where he was raised, was such that the show was marketed there as The Kato Show. The Green Hornet and Kato also appeared in two episodes of Batman titled "A Piece Of The Action/Batman's Satisfaction," with Reid mentioning that he and Bruce Wayne had been acquaintances and rivals since childhood. Though other characters in the story were all led to believe wrongly that the Green Hornet and Kato were villains, as on The Green Hornet: The Series, Roger C. Carmel acted out the show's real villain, who called himself Colonel Gumm.
Differences from radio version
As with the later years of the radio version, secretary Lenore "Casey" Case (played by Wende Wagner) is again aware of Reid's secret, and the Hornet also has a confidant within the law enforcement community, but now he is District Attorney Frank P. Scanlon (played by Walter Brooke). This character was changed from the original's police commissioner because the Batman TV series was already using a man in that post as the hero's official contact, and William Dozier, the executive producer of both programs, wanted to downplay comparisons between the two shows. Michael Axford (Lloyd Gough), the bodyguard turned reporter of the radio series, is now solely a police reporter for The Daily Sentinel, the newspaper owned by Britt Reid/the Green Hornet. (The first episode, "The Silent Gun", provides a connection between the radio and the TV series, as Axford reminds Reid of the "old days" when he lived in the same apartment with Reid's father, which hints that Reid's father may have been the Green Hornet of the radio series.) In this series, Reid owned a television station as well.
There were visual differences as well. Promotional artwork for the radio program and the comic books of the day depicted the Hornet wearing a mask that covered all of his face below the eyes (the two Universal Studios Saturday matinee serials contained a full face mask with eye holes) while Kato wore goggles. Here, both men wear masks that cover only the upper portions of their faces. These masks initially had a stylized angularity that soon proved problematic: neither man could see much. They were soon replaced with masks molded to the performers' faces.
In a technological update, the Hornet carried a telescoping device called the Hornet's Sting, which projected ultrasonic soundwaves. He most frequently used it to open locked doors, although he was also seen using it to set things on fire (presumably by vibrating them and causing friction heat) and to threaten criminals to get information. In the episode "The Secret of the Sally Bell", the Hornet used it to explode the thug's gun, causing the thug to fall and suffer a concussion, resulting in the criminal's being hospitalized. He also had a Hornet knock-out gas gun.
The television version also had Kato using green "sleeve darts" to give him a ranged attack he could use to counter enemies both at a distance and in hand-to-hand combat. The impression Bruce Lee made at the time is demonstrated by one of the TV series tie-in coloring books produced by Watkins & Strathmore, titled, Kato's Revenge Featuring the Green Hornet.
Theme music and opening
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral interlude, "Flight of the Bumblebee", used for the radio series, was so strongly identified with The Green Hornet that it was retained as the theme, rearranged 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". Each episode begins with the following monologue, narrated by producer William Dozier.
Another challenge for the Green Hornet, his aide Kato, and their rolling arsenal, the Black Beauty. On police records a wanted criminal, the Green Hornet is really Britt Reid, owner-publisher of The Daily Sentinel; his dual identity known only to his secretary, and to the district attorney. And now, to protect the rights and lives of decent citizens, rides the Green Hornet!
Years later, the Billy May music was featured in the 2003 film, Kill Bill, Vol. 1, in which Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to Kato by featuring dozens of swordfighters wearing Kato masks during one of the film's fight sequences.
A Black Beauty used in the series
The TV series featured the Green Hornet's car, The Black Beauty, a 1966 Imperial Crown sedan customized by Dean Jeffries at a cost of US$13,000. Two cars were built for the show and both exist today. Black Beauty 1 is located in the Petersen Automotive Museum collection and Black Beauty 2 has been fully restored and is located in a private collection in South Carolina.
Storage and deployment
The Black Beauty was stored underneath Britt Reid's garage. A set of switches on a secret control panel behind a tool wall would sequentially set the lights to green, attach clamps to the bumpers of Reid's personal car, rotate the floor of the garage – hiding Reid's car and bringing up the Black Beauty – finally unclamping the Black Beauty's bumpers. The Black Beauty would then exit the garage through a hidden rear door, and enter the street from behind a billboard advertising the fictitious product Kissin' Candy Mint (with the slogan "How sweet they are") designed to separate down the middle and rejoin.
Weaponry, surveillance and security features
The Black Beauty, which carried rear license plate number V194, 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 nozzle in the center of the front grille and the vehicle could launch a small flying video/audio surveillance device (referred to as the scanner) through a small rectangular panel in the middle of the trunk lid. It was a foreshadowing of today's small helicopter-like drones. Working rockets and gas nozzles were incorporated into the trunk lid as well.
Crossover with Batman TV series
Van Williams and Bruce Lee made a cameo appearance as the Green Hornet and Kato as "window cameos" (while the Caped Crusaders were climbing a wall). This was in part one of a two-part second season episode of the Batman TV series: "The Spell of Tut", which aired on September 28, 1966. Later that same season, the Green Hornet and Kato appeared in the two-part second season episodes "A Piece of the Action" and "Batman's Satisfaction", which aired on March 1–2, 1967. In the two episodes, the Green Hornet and Kato are in Gotham City to bust a counterfeit stamp ring run by Colonel Gumm (portrayed by Roger C. Carmel). The "Batman's Satisfaction" episode leads up to a mixed fight with both Batman & Robin and The Green Hornet & Kato fighting Colonel Gumm and his gang. Once Gumm's crew was defeated, Batman and Robin squared off against The Green Hornet and Kato, resulting in a stand-off that was interrupted by the police. In this episode, Batman, Robin and the police consider the Green Hornet and Kato as criminals, though Batman and Robin were cordial to the duo in the earlier window. Also, in the Green Hornet episode "Ace in the hole", the Green Hornet turns on a TV for a moment, and Batman and Robin are shown climbing a building.
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
The 1993 American semi-fictionalized film biography of Bruce Lee depicts Lee (Jason Scott Lee) meeting fictional producer Bill Krieger (Robert Wagner) after a martial arts tournament, and being hired to play Kato in The Green Hornet series. The movie shows the fictionalized shooting of the first episode, where cast and crew are impressed by Lee's martial arts skills. Van Williams plays the director of the episode.
Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet
Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman are co-writers of a Batman and Green Hornet team-up titled Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet. The artist is Ty Templeton. The six-issue miniseries is being co-produced by DC Comics (publishers of Batman) and Dynamite Entertainment (current publishers of the Green Hornet titles). The overall story is a sequel to the above-mentioned Batman/Green Hornet two-part TV crossover episodes, reuniting Hornet & Kato with Batman & Robin, and pitting both teams against the now "General Gumm" and his new criminal cohort, the Joker. The series is being published both in physical comic book form and in an extended 12-part digital format (splitting each regular issue's material into two digital issues).