The Green Hornet and Kato began life during the Golden Days of radio - specifically in 1936, created at WXYZ Detroit by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker, the same team who three years earlier had given creative birth to the ultra popular THE LONE RANGER for the same station. Their intent with the “Hornet” was to do a very similar vigilante-like character who would strike fear into the hearts of villains, but to do this new “Ranger” in a more contemporary vein. Many residents of the fictitious Century City would mistake this “Ranger” as a criminal himself and he would use this fortuitous misunderstanding to his advantage, gaining entrée to the inner mechanizations of the criminal underworld from whence he could smash it from within. As with the older Ranger the new modern counterpart would also don a mask over the eyes, travel with an ethnic protector / co-fighting companion, and even bear the same last name as the legendary western hero - the name “Reid“.
While the western Ranger was never given a first name himself until the 1981 theatrical film THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (wherein he was called “John”) the original Ranger and Hornet radio serials connected the two characters by making the Lone Ranger’s juvenile sidekick (who’d sporadically appear later in the series) “Dan Reid”, the western Ranger’s nephew. In the Hornet’s adventures Dan was the father of the Green Hornet’s publisher alter-ego Britt Reid.
Also like the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet would have a musical “name” signifying his identity in the form of a classical tune adapted as his theme. With the Lone Ranger it was of course Gioachino Rossini’s trotting “William Tell Overture”. With the Green Hornet it would be Rimsky-Korsakov’s swirling and colorful “Flight of the Bumblebee”. While the tune would certainly become popular with the general public during the Hornet‘s radio days it would gain world-wide acclaim in the jazz version realized by Billy May and trumpeter Al Hirt for the 1966 - 67 HORNET TV series.
Two Universal GREEN HORNET film serials followed the radio show: the simply titled THE GREEN HORNET in 1940, and THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN in 1941. While the two serials featured different actors as Reid, both co-starred Keye Luke as Kato. Best known to one generation as “Number One Son” in the Charlie Chan films, Luke would many years later become famous to another as the old pawnshop proprietor in the movie GREMLINS. Over the next two decades various comic book versions of the characters would appear with varying degrees of success until William Dozier, the successful producer of BATMAN’s campy 1960s TV redo, re-introduced the Hornet and Kato to a new generation via a guest appearance in a two episode cliffhanger on the Caped Crusader’s show. In it he and Robin mistake the Hornet and Kato for underworld assassins before they’re all nearly turned into giant postage stamps. Yeah, it was that kind of show, but a heckuva lotta fun though!
Spun off into it’s own series starring Van Johnson as Reid and rising martial-arts star Bruce Lee as Kato, the new THE GREEN HORNET lasted only one season but went on to attain STAR TREK-like cult status around the world. In fact in Hong Kong it was so popular it was re-titled “THE KATO SHOW”. Syndicated episodes of the series are still broadcast around the world, with the most recent American airings to date being a run on the Starz!/Encore movie network in the mid 2000s.
GREEN HORNET COMICS - Issue # 29 (March 1946)
An updated feature length version of THE GREEN HORNET had been in various states of Hollywood "development hell" since 1992. First up to bat was Universal studios. With a script by Chuck Pfarrar (THE JACKAL, RED PLANET, VIRUS, HARD TARGET) and Rich Wilkes (AIRHEADS, XXX) it's rendition was originally set to star George Clooney as Reid until he backed out in 1995 to star in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Music video director Michel Gondry (who would go on to helm the features THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and BE KIND REWIND) was at the time attached as names such as Greg Kinnear, Jason Scott Lee and Mark Wahlberg entered and exited stage until Gondry decided to do the same.
In 2000 industry and internet buzz circulated about comic book fan, long time Hornet lover and filmmaker Kevin Smith (CLERKS, DOGMA) spearheading a new HORNET for Miramax. It failed to materialize but Smith did however go on to write a series of popular Hornet comic book adventures for publisher Dynamite Entertainment.
The final "batter up" would be producer Neil H Moritiz (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, FAST AND THE FURIOUS, XXX) who's Original Films banner optioned the rights to Sony/Columbia in 2007. Seth Rogan (popular in films such as THE 40 YR. OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP) was approached to star in (and co-write with frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg) a comedic action "buddy film" version closer in tone to LETHAL WEAPON and 48HRS. Directed by Michel Gondry (who was first approached back in the 1990s) and co-starring Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Tom Wilkinson and Edward James Olmos, it would be this comic/action rendition making it to multiplexes in January 2011.
While the film's critical reception wasn't kind (managing only an aggregate 45% "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes.com) it would reap almost $228 million worldwide on it's $120 million investment; leaving audiences to wonder if ... or more likely when the GREEN HORNET will return. For he always does.
CEJ - May 2011
Dynamite Entertainment's contemporary GREEN HORNET comic book series:
Issue #1 (March 2010) written by filmmaker Kevin Smith
THE GREEN HORNET TV Series (1966 - 67) -
* While THE GREEN HORNET was produced by William Dozier at 20th Century Fox TV the same time he produced the popular BATMAN series, HORNET eschewed BATMAN’s camp in favor of more realistic criminals (mobsters, power mad industrialists, Chinese mafia, etc. - albeit larger than life ones) like those in the original radio broadcasts and in early pulp comics like THE SPIRIT.
* The TV newscaster in the HORNET series is Gary Owens, best known as the announcer “voice” of the popular 1960’s comedy variety show ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN.
* The episode “Freeway to Death” features Jeffrey Hunter, the 1950s/60s heart throb who co-starred opposite Charlton Heston in BEN-HUR and was STAR TREK’s original Capt. Christopher Pike in the series pilot before being replaced by William Shatner as Capt. Kirk.
* “Corpse of The Year” director. James Komack started as a standup comic then became creator of the hit TV shows THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, CHICO AND THE MAN and WELCOME BACK KOTTER. He also directed eps. of the original STAR TREK and had bit roles on shows such as GET SMART. He died in 1997.
* In “Alias the Scarf” wax museum curator James Rancourt is played by horror film legend John Carradine, the father of David Carradine. The younger Carradine would become a star in the 1970’s TV series KUNG FU … which was actually the brainchild of Bruce Lee. Lee was rejected for the starring role in KUNG FU because network execs felt he was too “oriental”.
Season and Ep.#s / Production #s / Orig. Air Dates / Episode Titles
1. 1- 1 9804 9 Sep 66 The Silent Gun
2. 1- 2 9806 16 Sep 66 Give 'Em Enough Rope
3. 1- 3 9802 23 Sep 66 Programmed for Death
4. 1- 4 9803 30 Sep 66 Crime Wave
5. 1- 5 9805 7 Oct 66 The Frog is a Deadly Weapon
6. 1- 6 9807 14 Oct 66 Eat, Drink, and Be Dead
7. 1- 7 9808 21 Oct 66 Beautiful Dreamer (1)
8. 1- 8 9809 28 Oct 66 Beautiful Dreamer (2)
9. 1- 9 9801 11 Nov 66 The Ray is for Killing
10. 1-10 9810 18 Nov 66 The Preying Mantis
11. 1-11 9811 25 Nov 66 The Hunters and the Hunted
12. 1-12 9812 2 Dec 66 Deadline for Death
13. 1-13 9813 9 Dec 66 The Secret of the Sally Bell
14. 1-14 9815 16 Dec 66 Freeway to Death
15. 1-15 9814 23 Dec 66 May the Best Man Lose
16. 1-16 9817 30 Dec 66 The Hornet and the Firefly
17. 1-17 9816 6 Jan 67 Seek, Stalk and Destroy
18. 1-18 9818 13 Jan 67 Corpse of the Year (1)
19. 1-19 9819 27 Jan 67 Corpse of the Year (2)
20. 1-20 9820 3 Feb 67 Ace in the Hole
21. 1-21 9821 10 Feb 67 Bad Bet on a 459--Silent
22. 1-22 9822 17 Feb 67 Trouble for Prince Charming
23. 1-23 9823 24 Feb 67 Alias The Scarf
24. 1-24 9824 3 Mar 67 Hornet Save Thyself
25. 1-25 9825 10 Mar 67 Invasion from Outer Space (1)
26. 1-26 9826 17 Mar 67 Invasion from Outer Space (2)
GREEN HORNET - 2011: release trailer