Opinion: Hope for Green Hornet Success Goes Back Four Decades

If this guy in a hat and overcoat could fight crime in a cool car with machine guns built into the hood -- why couldn't I?

It was short-lived and got pretty silly at the end but I loved the 1966 ABC TV series The Green Hornet.

I was too young to realize that Bruce Lee was practicing a fighting style that had a long and storied history or that he would later go on to become a cultural icon. But loved the Black Beauty (an Imperial Crown sedan), Green Hornet’s tricked out ride and the Hornet’s Sting and most of all the minimalist costume that eschewed gaudy tights, briefs and pointed cowls for an overcoat, suit, mask and porkpie hat. That’s a costume I could put together with just one quick raid of my Dad’s closet!

I may have known, back when I was six, that I wanted to be a journalist some day so the fact that Britt Reid (played by Van Williams) inherited a newspaper publishing empire and used it to expose crime and corruption appealed to me. I marveled at how Britt could drop the crusader role and take up the guise of “criminal mastermind” Green Hornet in a flash. His secretary Lenore “Casey” Case (Wende Wagner) was so very easy on the eyes and just the type of woman you’d love to charge into danger for. There was even a lovable curmudgeon reporter named Mike Axford, played by Lloyd Gough (my last name up on the TV!).

I loved the Al Hirt theme song with his trumpet trilling at a feverish pace at the start of every show (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee), raising my heart rate for the action to come. That may have been why I took up the cornet myself once I got old enough!

I got the toys, including a Green Hornet squirt gun that looked like a set of brass knuckles and the Hasbro board game. I thought when the Green Hornet and Kato made the cover of TV Guide I’d be watching this show for many, many years.

Reality had a different plan. The other William Dozier produced, comic book inspired TV series Batman made a much bigger splash. Soon it was Bat-this and Bat-that everywhere. And while I suffered through the Adam West groaners, Burt Ward’s silly yellow cape and leggings, the “Zams!” and the “Splorts!” and all of the cartoony sound effects, and the ridiculous over-the-top guest star villains (such as Vincent Price’s egg-cruciating Egghead).

There were two Batman episodes featuring a Green Hornet crossover. In one 2-part episode titled “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction”, Green Hornet and Kato faced off against Batman and Robin in the classic “superheroes misunderstand each other and end of battling among themselves before realizing their mistake and taking on the bad guy together” plot. I thrilled when the Hornet faced off against Batman and laughed while the writers tried to make it look like Robin stood a ghost of a chance against Kato. The villain was a forgettable one-off (Colonel Gumm played by ‘60s character actor Roger Carmel – better known as Harry Mudd in the classic Star Trek) but it’s a classic crossover to be treasured and remembered.

But to my lasting disappointment, Green Hornet’s TV show faded into the background after just one season, overshadowed by the pop art phenomenon that was Batman.

Recently I was able to get the complete original Green Hornet series on DVD (in Hong Kong, they called it the Kato Show) and I realized that it wasn’t always all that great and in fact, later episodes got very silly (fake aliens with silver tinfoil suits are not to be taken seriously).

But it rekindled my love of the character and the concept which first began as a radio serial created by George Trendle and Fran Striker in 1936 and then made into movie theaters as a serialized cliffhanger in 1940. I waited anxiously for any word or detail of the long-rumored Green Hornet film; bit my nails when Kevin Smith was first named director and then shunned the project and rejoiced when it was back on again.

I held in check my worry about comedian-actor Seth Rogen taking the Britt Reid/Green Hornet role (after all Michael Keaton surprised everyone when he made Bruce Wayne/Batman his own in 1989). Swallowed my disappointment that George Clooney and Jet Li didn’t get the starring roles in the aborted 1990s attempt to get the Hornet back on the silver screen, got excited when it was rumored that Zhang Ziyi might get the role and am now withholding my judgment of Jay Chou’s performance.

The Green Hornet debuts this weekend, four and a half decades after he first appeared on TV and seven and a half decades since he debuted on radio. A new crowd of fans, many of whom probably are going to wonder why he doesn’t have an emerald power ring and fly, will cast their votes at the ticket booths. And we’ll know in a couple days if the Green Hornet will enjoy his revival or sink back into obscurity for another 40 years.

Luckily, the comic book series will continue as they have virtually uninterrupted since the 1940s. The latest incarnation is from the kind folks at Dynamite Entertainment.

But in the back of mind as I enter the theater to watch how co-writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg interpret the character, I’ll have Al Hirt’s thrilling Green Hornet theme music playing in my head and will hope for the best (and pretend my 2007 Honda is the Black Beauty on the drive home!).

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Former Marvel Studios President Michael Helfant's production company Amasia has officially teamed with Universal Pictures for The Green Hornet and Kato, a reboot of the classic pulp property!
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Hit the jump check out some nifty alternate mask designs for the Green Hornet, who was played by Seth Rogen ("Superbad") and for Kato, who was played by Jay Chou ("Kung Fu Dunk ").

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