The Green Hornet is one of the comic book hero ilk referred to as ‘mystery men,’ on account of their secret identities. Created in 1939 by George Trendle and Fran Striker (also creators of the Lone Ranger) as a radio program for station WXYZ (later ABC) in Detroit, The Green Hornet fought evil doers for 16 years.
The daring and deadly Green Hornet was actually suave and cool Britt Reid, newspaper publisher. Reid posed as The Green Hornet by night to acquire knowledge in his fight against crime. Due to his being stamped a vigilante by the law, the crooks thought of him as a crimelord horning in on their business. The Green Hornet took advantage of this misunderstanding to walk among the seedier parts of the city’s underworld protected by his kung-fu fighting valet and bodyguard, Kato.
Many of the mystery men of the time were of a similar cookie cutter design, the classic bored socialite who roams the streets at night in a fedora and domino mask. One of the key differences here was the signature tune, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ mixed with a theremin-induced hornet buzz.
It was the key element of the theme tune that stuck with most audiences, leading to the pull hero’s debut in his own Republic serials.
Classic Green Hornet serial trailer
In 1966, the success of the Batman series lead to the creation of The Green Hornet TV series much in the same vein. While The Green Hornet retained it’s pulp edge, the incidental music and direction were almost identical to Batman.
The series starred Troy Donahue look-a-like Van Williams as Britt Reid/Green Hornet but it was Bruce Lee as Kato that really caught the viewers. The program was fraught with behind-the-scenes trouble as Williams felt overshadowed by Bruce Lee and Lee himself felt at odds with the program in general. The popularity of kung-fu, comic books and campy television serials surrounded the TV project, saddening Lee who tried to be a good sport about The Green Hornet‘s silliness but yearned to make meaningful films.
Short documentary on the Batman/Green Hornet cross-over
While not a television success, The Green Hornet TV series did gather a devoted fan base in its short time on the air. What it lacked in substance it more than made up for with style.
Much like it’s sister program, Batman, The Green Hornet came complete with a roadster, a modified 1965 Chrysler Imperial, called Black Beauty, so big you could lose a marching band in it. The car had all kinds of tricks and gimmicks, including ‘infra-green’ lights so that the heroes could stalk their prey at night, a gasp-spewing nozzle and even rocket-firing bumpers.
The cult following of the TV series carried over into film with Quentin Tarantino‘s film ‘Kill Bill.’ A memorable scene featuring identical Bruce Lee/Kato-like fighters (called Crazy 88s) was backed with the familiar ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ tune that fans would instantly recognize.
After the success of the 1989 Batman movie, directors and actors have been chomping at the bit to develop a modern version of The Green Hornet.
A 1990 film featuring George Clooney and Jason Scott Lee was mentioned only to fall from rumor radar almost as quickly as it appeared. Most famously, Kevin Smith has been stating his interest in the property. Smith mentioned that he saw Jake Gyllenhall and Jet Li as the stars… but finally dropped the idea after roughly three years of kicking it around the rumor mill.
This past March, Columbia Pictures announced that Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) has been developing the property for the big screen. It’s still unclear if Rogen has his mind set on directing, writing or starring in the picture, but the recent addition of Stephen Chow as Kato has everyone interested. Chow set the film world in hysterics with his movie ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ in 2005 and will surely bring a unique character to the project.
As of the writing of this entry, production has not begun, so there is still no release date set. With the oncoming storm of the new Summer movie franchise with films such as Transformers, Batman, The Hulk, Iron Man, Speed Racer and Superman, everyone is trying to develop the next big thing.
Maybe The Green Hornet will surprise everyone and grab the brass ring over them all. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Green Hornet Radio Show
Green Hornet’s Black Beauty
Captain Action The Green Hornet Uniform & Equipment Set
Captain Action Kato Uniform & Equipment Set
Green Hornet TV Series – Vol. 1
Kill Bill, Volume 1
Kill Bill, Volume 2
Biography – Bruce Lee: The Immortal Dragon (A&E DVD Archives)