1 9 6 6 – 1 9 6 7 (USA)
26 x 30 minute episodes
Everyone remembers that Bruce Lee (real name Lee Jun Fan) played the trusty sidekick Kato in the 1966 Batman knockoff The Green Hornet, but few recall that the fleet-fisted Van Williams starred as the title hero.
Lee’s skills and tragic death unleashed a cultural wave and a following which still exists today. Williams, for his part, was fortunate enough to outlive his career.
Winning the role of Kato on the ABC show (which was based on the radio classic of the same name, created in 1936 by Lone Ranger inventor George W. Trendle), Lee experienced a small taste of success and signed on celebrity students like James Coburn and Steve McQueen for his Jeet Kune Do classes.
Lee – who actually had to slow his martial arts moves down because the camera couldn’t pick them up – maintained he won the Kato role because he was the only Chinese guy in all of California who could pronounce the Hornet’s secret identity, Brit Reid.
Later, when Hollywood proved unreceptive, he went back to Hong Kong to make films. Lee’s movies did well in Hong Kong, and the US-produced Enter The Dragon (1973) went on to earn more than $200 million. Unfortunately, its star died before its release.
The TV series brought the Green Hornet story up to date by having Brit Reid as the owner of a newspaper (The Daily Sentinel) and a TV station.
His identity was known only to his faithful servant, Kato, his secretary, Casey (Wende Wagner) and District Attorney Scanlon (Walter Brooke).
The Green Hornet fought “real” organised crime and not the comic-strip style villains of Gotham City. He did, however, have his own gimmicks, such as a non-lethal gas gun and a sting gun, which was capable of penetrating steel.
His most impressive piece of hardware though was his 1966 Chrysler Imperial Black Beauty that was customised by Hollywood conversion wizard Dean Jeffries at a cost of $50,000.
The car’s new features included a remote control spy camera with a four-mile range and an adapted exhaust that emitted ice from its pipe in order to foil attackers.
Although it was a reasonably faithful translation of the old radio series, The Green Hornet failed to capture the imagination of the television viewing public in the same way that Batman did (although it was produced by the same team who had brought the caped crusader to TV) and only lasted the one season.
Brit Reid/Green Hornet