The Green Hornet’s car, the Black Beauty. Photo by Bill Johnson. Taken at San Diego Comicon, July 2010.
This weekend, the Green Hornet “flies” on to the silver screen. Seth Rogen will portray the latest incarnation of this beloved hero.
While the character may have a new coat of paint, his roots run fairly deep. They go back to 1936 – and a radio station in Detroit, Michigan.
A New Masked Man
By 1936, Detroit radio station WXYZ had already impacted popular culture. Three years earlier, WXYZ president George Trendle had developed a radio show about a new Western hero. This hero was the Lone Ranger. Now, Trendle wondered if lightning could strike twice.
In his memoir WXYie Wonderland (An Unauthorized 50-Year Diary of WXYZ Detroit), Dick Osgood describes the Green Hornet’s beginnings. Osgood notes that the Lone Ranger appealed to children. According to Osgood, Trendle now wanted a radio program for “young people who are about to vote.” Osgood explains that this new program was to feature a modern-day hero who exposed corrupt office holders. Thus, the Green Hornet was born!
The Green Hornet – like the Lone Ranger before him – wore a mask. The two heroes also shared a common surname. The Lone Ranger’s real name was John Reid. The Green Hornet was the alter ego of newspaper publisher Britt Reid. The two masked men were, in fact, related (The Hornet was the Ranger’s great nephew.).
Both also preferred “colorful” modes of transportation. While the Ranger rode a horse named Silver, the Hornet owned a car called “the Black Beauty.” Kato, his valet and sidekick, drove.
A closer look at the Black Beauty
In On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning states that Kato was “a master chemist” who created “gas guns and smoke screens” for the Green Hornet. Dunning also describes Kato as “blessed with keen intelligence” and “an expert in the secrets of Oriental combat.”
In the program’s earliest years, Kato was identified as Japanese. Dick Osgood notes that Kato “changed miraculously overnight from Japanese to Filipino” after the United States entered World War II. According to Dunning, this isn’t completely true, as “Kato was described as a Filipino of Japanese descent at least two years earlier.” Regardless, Osgood states that Raymond Toyo Hayashi, the Japanese actor who provided Kato’s voice, “disappeared.” Osgood speculates that Hayashi may have been placed in a wartime internment camp. Regardless, Osgood recalls that “no one at WXYZ ever saw Raymond again.”
From Then Until Now
The Green Hornet radio program ended in 1952. In 1966, a Green Hornet television series debuted. Van Williams performed the title role, and Bruce Lee played Kato (Lee, of course, later became a star of martial arts films, including Enter the Dragon). The show ran for a single season but many viewers recall it fondly.
Of course, even cancellation can not stop the Green Hornet and Kato. As the two prepare to ride on the big screen, Michigan residents can feel a special tinge of pride. It all began, after all, with one radio station in Detroit!