The Green Hornet (also referred to as simply Green Hornet) is a masked fictional crime fighter. Originally created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker for an American radio program in the 1930s, the character has appeared in other media as well, including film serials in the 1940s, a network television program in the 1960s, and multiple comic book series from the 1940s to the 1990s. Though various incarnations sometimes change details, in most incarnations the Green Hornet is Britt Reid, a newspaper publisher by day who by night goes out in his masked "Green Hornet" identity to fight crime as a vigilante, accompanied by his similarly masked Asian manservant Kato and driving a car, equipped with advanced technology, called "Black Beauty". The Green Hornet is often portrayed as a fair-to-above average hand-to-hand combatant and is often armed with a gun that sprays knock-out gas (an electric stun weapon called the "hornet's sting" was added to his arsenal in the TV series).
Originally, the show was to be called The Hornet, but the name was changed to The Green Hornet so that it could be more easily trademarked. The color was chosen because green hornets were reputed to be the angriest.
One relatively minor aspect of the character which tends to be given limited exposure in the actual productions is his blood relationship to The Lone Ranger, another character created by Striker. The Lone Ranger's nephew was Dan Reid. In the Green Hornet radio shows, the Hornet's father was likewise named Dan Reid, making the hero the Ranger's grand-nephew.
The Western property was sold to another company in the 1950s, a legal complication that resulted in the identity of the Masked Rider of the Plains being obscured when it has been dealt with at all in Green Hornet depictions (though a comic book from NOW Comics later displayed the Hornet's living room as being decorated with a painting of a man dressed very similarly to the Lone Ranger; the radio series had expressly indicated the presence of such a portrait there).
During World War II, the radio show's title was used as a codename for SIGSALY, secret encryption equipment used in the war. "The Green Hornet" also became a popular nickname for General George S. Patton, due to the unique and attention-getting uniform that he proposed for tank crews, which featured a gold-painted football helmet. Supposedly, while Patton was testing it after development (which he funded out of his own pocket), one Army trooper said "Look! It's the Green Hornet!" and the name followed Patton for years.
The character premiered in The Green Hornet, an American radio program that ran on WXYZ (the same local Detroit station which originated The Lone Ranger), the Mutual Broadcasting System and the network known through its succession of various owners as NBC Blue, the Blue Network and the ABC Network from January 31, 1936 to December 5, 1952.
The series detailed the adventures of Britt Reid, debonair newspaper publisher by day, crime-fighting masked hero at night:
- With his faithful valet Kato, Britt Reid, daring young publisher, matches wits with the Underworld, risking his life so that criminal and racketeers within the law may feel its weight by the sting of the Green Hornet!
- During World War II, this was changed to:
- ... matches wits with racketeers and saboteurs, risking his life so that criminals and enemy spies will feel the weight of the law by the sting of the Green Hornet!
After the revving of the Black Beauty motor, the announcer would then say:
- Ride with Britt Reid in the thrilling adventure [title of episode inserted]! The Green Hornet strikes again!
When the series first began in 1936, this was originally:
- Ride with Britt Reid as he races toward another thrilling adventure! The Green Hornet strikes again!
and after the thrumming of the hornet sound, Britt Reid would then call out:
- "Hurry, Kato! Here's where we smash a [type of criminal operation featured in the episode inserted] racket!"
The opening sequence of the radio show originally began with the announcer (famed newsman ">Mike Wallace held the position at some point during the run) proclaiming that the Green Hornet "hunts the biggest of all game ... public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach," referring to FBI agents. Bureau chief J. Edgar Hoover objected to the line's implication that some crime fighting was beyond the abilities of the FBI, and it was changed to "public enemies who try to destroy our America."
The vigilante nature of his operation quickly resulted in his being declared an outlaw himself, and Britt Reid decided to play to it. The Green Hornet became thought of as one of his city's biggest criminals, allowing him to walk into suspected racketeers' offices and ply them for information, or even demand a cut of their profits.
He would be accompanied by his similarly masked but unnamed chauffeur/bodyguard/enforcer, who was also Reid's valet, Kato, initially described as Japanese, and eventually as Filipino. A widespread urban legend has been the claim that the show's writers switched from one nationality to the other immediately after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, but the first disappeared well before direct U.S. involvement in the war, and the latter was not initially given until much later, with nothing more specific than "Oriental" being said in the interim.
Specifically, in and up to 1939, in the series' opening narration, Kato was called Britt Reid's "Japanese valet". From 1940 to '45 he was Reid's "faithful valet", and in 1946 he became his "Filipino valet". When the characters were used in the first of a pair of movie serials, the politically perceptive producers of 1939 had Kato's nationality given as Korean.
The radio show used Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" as its theme music, blended with a hornet buzz created on a theremin, and "The Infernal Dance of King Koshchei" from Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, usually used after this announced part:
- Stepping through a secret panel in the rear of the closet in his bedroom, Britt Reid and Kato went along a narrow passageway built within the walls of the apartment itself. This passage led to an adjoining building which fronted on a dark side street. Though supposedly abandoned, this building served as the hiding place for the sleek, super-powered "Black Beauty", streamlined car of The Green Hornet. [Sound of Reid and Kato getting into car] Britt Reid pressed a button. [Sound of car starting] The great car roared into life. [Sound of revving engine] A section of the wall in front raised automatically, then closed as the gleaming "Black Beauty" sped into the darkness. [Sound of engine roaring and car driving away]
Other famous classical works used as incidental music for the series included Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and the Overture to Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.
The Lone Ranger
Britt Reid is a blood relative of The Lone Ranger. The character of Dan Reid, who appeared on the Lone Ranger program as the Masked Man's nephew, was also featured on the Green Hornet as Britt Reid's father, making the Green Hornet the grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger.
Confirming this was the November 11, 1947 radio show episode "Too Hot to Handle": After his secret identity was uncovered in a previous episode, "Exposed" (broadcast October 28, 1947), by Linda Travers, a novice reporter secretly hired by Britt's father to check up on him, Britt told his father Dan that he was the masked Green Hornet. After his initial shock and anger, Dan Reid referred to a "pioneer ancestor" of Britt's that he himself had rode alongside with in Texas, a man who rode a horse and acted as a vigilante, and expressed his pride in and love for his son. As he explained this, the Lone Ranger theme briefly played in the background.
The Green Hornet was played by:
- Al Hodge (who later went on to play television's Captain Video) (1936-1943)
- Donovan Faust (1943-1944)
- Robert Hall (1944-1947)
- Jack McCarthy (1947-1952).
The role of Kato was originated by Raymond Hayashi but handled through most of the run by Roland Parker, who also voiced "The Newsboy" at the conclusion of each episode who hawked the "Extra" edition of The Sentinel that carried the story of the weekly racket or spy ring being smashed, concluding with:
- "Read all about it! Green Hornet still at large! Sentinel Ex-tree, paper!"
Mickey Tolan was the radio series' final Kato.
Jim Jewell directed the series until 1938. Jewell's sister, Lee Allman (Lenore Jewell Allman) wanted to play a part in a radio series at WXYZ so Jim had her written into The Green Hornet. She was the only actress to play Lenore Case, Britt Reid's secretary, during the entire run of the series.
Lenore Case, known as "Casey", was aware of her boss' double life, but only in the later years of the run. Similarly, another confidant, Police Commissioner James Higgins, did not come into existence until near the end of the series; he was introduced in the previously mentioned episode "Too Hot to Handle" as an old friend of Dan Reid's who was being blackmailed and who was rescued by the Green Hornet. Shortly thereafter, either Dan Reid or Britt himself confided the Hornet's secret identity to Higgins.
Other major characters in the radio series included:
- Mike Axford (originated by Jim Irwin, then played for most of the series by Gil Shea), a bombastic former policeman who originally had been hired by Britt Reid's father as a bodyguard for Britt, but who drifted into becoming a reporter for The Daily Sentinel by virtue of his contacts at Police Headquarters (especially his best friend Sergeant Burke, known usually as "Sarge"). He was the most dedicated pursuer of the Green Hornet (while expressing his admiration for the Hornet's ability to both smash criminals and elude the authorities). He was known for his pet phrases "Holy Crow!" and "Sufferin' Snakes!" and his usual parting phrase "See ya later. So long!"
- Gunnigan, the irascible city editor of The Daily Sentinel (whose temper invariably got worse in the presence of Axford or even when Axford was talking to him on the phone).
- Ed Lowery (played by Jack Petruzzi), one of The Sentinel's best reporters, who also admired the Hornet.
- "Clicker" Binny, a female photographer for The Sentinel who usually teamed up with Lowery on news assignments and filled in as Britt Reid's secretary on those occasions when Lenore Case was away.
When "Clicker"'s character was written out of the series (in the episode "The Corpse That Wasn't There", broadcast on February 28, 1943, a letter from "Clicker" states that she has become a Second Officer in the WACS stationed in North Africa), her place was filled in 1942 by Gale Manning, whose southern drawl and "dumb southern belle" manner (which didn't fool Britt Reid but which totally irritated both Lowery and Axford, especially when she managed to get information or stories that neither man could) hid both her intelligence and her ability as a top-notch reporter. After Gale's character left the series, Lenore Case herself sometimes joined either Lowery or Axford on assignments.
Two major foes for The Green Hornet were the mysterious "Mr. X", a criminal mastermind introduced in the episode "Walkout for Profit" (broadcast June 21, 1941) who became part of a storyline in 1941 pitting the Hornet against him in an ongoing battle, and Oliver Perry (1945-49), a famous but unscrupulous private detective who repeatedly returned to try and unmask The Green Hornet. Perry suspected Britt Reid of being the Hornet but was never able to prove it, and episodes featuring him always ended with the Hornet either outwitting him or humiliating him, if not both, to the point where he was forced to leave town.