Happy 82nd birthday to The Green Hornet; one of my top five most favorite old-time radio shows of all time. I should’ve written a worthy tribute myself, but this will do in a pinch. It’s from the Radio Spirits blog, which sponsors the Radio Classics channel on SyriusXM and still offers digitally remastered shows for sale, believe it or not.
“He hunts the biggest of all game! Public enemies who try to destroy our America!”
January 31, 2018
By Ivan G Shreve Jr
In the annals of radio broadcasting, Detroit, Michigan’s WXYZ was a truly remarkable station. It would introduce one of the medium’s larger-than-life heroes
(and a genuine pop culture icon) in The Lone Ranger in 1933. Ten years later, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (described by more than a few as “The Lone
Ranger on ice”) was added to its panoply of juvenile heroes. In between those successful programs came The Green Hornet, which premiered over WXYZ on this
It was station owner George W. Trendle, giddy over the success of The Lone Ranger, that suggested to WXYZ director James Jewell and writer Fran Striker
that they pursue a second radio series along the same lines. After kicking ideas back and forth, it was decided to tweak the Ranger formula (an individual
facing off against the forces of corruption prevalent in both politics and society) to give it a modern-day bent. The legend has it that Trendle was obsessed
with using a bee as a symbol for the new hero, purportedly due to an incident in which he spent a sleepless night in a hotel room with a trapped bee buzzing
The show’s original title was The Hornet. Trendle wasn’t completely satisfied with this; he was concerned about possible legal problems since that same
title had been used for a previous radio series. After a discussion on the color of the hornet (pink, blue, chartreuse), it was decided that their hornet
would sport a hue of green. (I read somewhere that “green hornets” are the angriest of their kind—but I am not going to say this with any degree of authority,
because I make it a point to stay away from any kind of hornet, regardless of their color.)
It probably didn’t escape the notice of those listeners who tuned into The Green Hornet that there were a number of similarities between the series and
the earlier Ranger. The Ranger’s mode of transportation was “his great horse Silver,” while the Hornet tooled around in a sleek, black automobile dubbed
“The Black Beauty.” Both heroes operated outside the law (though they themselves were not lawless), and for their trouble were occasionally believed by
law enforcement to be engaging in criminal behavior (though it always seemed that The Hornet got the worst of this—all the Ranger had to do was show skeptics
a silver bullet to remove all doubt). And like the Lone Ranger’s “faithful Indian companion Tonto,” the Green Hornet had his own sidekick in a Filipino
valet named Kato. Kato, like his boss, was not what he seemed: he functioned as the Hornet’s chief-cook-and-bottle-washer, but he was quite schooled in
chemistry (the Hornet’s gas gun and smokescreens were his designs) and the art of Oriental combat. Kato also knew the Green Hornet’s true identity: Daily
Sentinel publisher Britt Reid.
That last name may ring a familiar bell. As the mythology of The Lone Ranger developed over the years, the folks at WXYZ gave their masked hero a certain
backstory: he had been Texas Ranger John Reid. And in a number of Lone Ranger episodes, he would ride with his young nephew, Dan Reid. The Green Hornet’s
writers later capitalized on this familial connection by revealing that Dan Reid was the father of Britt, who had quite a surprise for his pa when he revealed
that he was more than just a callow millionaire playboy. As the cherry on top of this sundae, the elderly Dan Reid was played by John Todd—who played Tonto
on The Lone Ranger.
Did anyone else but Kato (and later Dan Reid) know that Britt Reid and The Green Hornet were one and the same? Well, Britt’s secretary Lenore Case (“Miss
Case” to Britt; “Casey” to pretty much everyone else) certainly suspected that something was up. In the final years of The Green Hornet’s radio run, she
had put two and two together…but kept the information to herself. One person who did not suspect was Michael Axford, a cantankerous Irishman who started
out on the series as Reid’s bodyguard, but eventually wound up as one of the Sentinel’s reporters. (And you thought Sean Penn was responsible for the death
of journalism.) Axford could certainly handle himself in a tough scrape, but he served mostly as the program’s comic relief, forever railing against “that
no-good spalpeen, the Har-nut!” Other Sentinel employees included the paper’s ace reporter Ed Lowry and resourceful female photographer “Clicker” Binney.
When The Green Hornet premiered over WXYZ in 1936, the titular hero was played by actor Al Hodge. Hodge became so identified as “the Har-nut” that when
Universal brought the crime fighter to the silver screen in the form of a 1940 serial, they had Hodge dub the voice of the Hornet. (He was physically portrayed
by Gordon Jones.) Hodge would be replaced by Robert Hall in 1943, and Hall himself would be relieved by Jack McCarthy in 1946. McCarthy continued in the
role until the series rounded up its last evildoer on December 5, 1952 as the familiar strains of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee played
the program out. (Another similarity to The Lone Ranger was the use of familiar classical music pieces as their theme music.)
Copyright 2016 Ivan G Shreve Jr and RSPT LLC. All rights reserved.
This article gets a few things wrong:
Al Hodge played Britt Reid/The Hornet from 1936 to 1944 when he was drafted. During his absence, both A. Donovan Faust and Robert Hall carried the role until Hodge’s return in January of 1945. Hodge continued the role for eight months, departing for New York in September, at which point Robert Hall again resumed the role for nearly two years, until July of 1947, when Jack McCarthy took over the role for the duration of the series’ run.
Kato’s ethnicity was not always Filipino. For the first five years of the program, Kato was Japanese, even being played by a Japanese actor. His heritage mysteriously changed at or near the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Lenore Case did indeed learn the true identity of the Green Hornet, but the article states that she kept it to herself. This is incorrect. Casey figured it out, but Britt took her into his confidence and often called upon her assistance to nail a bad guy. Police Commissioner Higgins also learned the Hornet’s identity and provided aid behind the scenes, which lent the Hornet an air of legitimacy as the ‘50’s approached and law and order became the standard of entertainment in the wake of World War II.
The Green Hornet deserves his due because he was the first masked vigilante of the modern era. He came before Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and even the crimefighting radio version of The Shadow. He was the true renegade, going after the villains who were too smart to be caught by legal means. This, of course, put him at odds with the cops. He did not possess any super powers; he could not fly or bend steel with his bare hands. He did not own an arsenal of fancy gadgetry and he didn’t operate in a secret underground cave. All he had was Kato, a gas gun, a super-fast car and his brains.
One final note… A guy named Martin Grams wrote an extensive book about the Green Hornet in all of his incarnations; radio show, movie serials, TV series and comics. It has always been my dream to read this book, but Mr. Grams refuses to make it available to Bookshare.org because he fears it will be pirated. I bought a copy of the book and sent it off to a Bookshare transcriber, but never heard another word. This was five years ago. This is such a niche item that I doubt I will ever get to read it. So, Mr. Grams, you can kiss my ass, ya spalpeen! I hope a real hornet stings you right in the eye!