When I got back into record digging more than a decade ago, this was one of the first records I bought.
I had no idea it existed, but was delighted to find it. I’ve loved “The Green Hornet” since I was in fourth grade, 1966-67, the only season it aired on ABC.
Likewise, I had no idea a YouTube playlist of all 26 episodes of “The Green Hornet” existed. I was delighted to find that, too. So, over the course of a month’s time during the pandemic, I watched all 26 episodes in the order they aired, one each night. (With the exception of two-part cliffhangers watched in a single night.)
Some takeaways from that lone season of “The Green Hornet,” seen by eyes that are more than 50 years older now:
— I didn’t expect it to be relevant from the first episode. One of the bad guys in “The Silent Gun” was …
— Van Williams, as The Green Hornet and Daily Sentinel publisher Britt Reid, gets the job done. The guys like the action. The ladies like the eye candy. How no one ever figured out that Britt Reid was the Green Hornet is beyond me. That mask isn’t much of a disguise.
— Bruce Lee, as Kato, never gets quite enough to do. He gets more lines and screen time as the series goes along, but there’s never enough of what everyone came to see — martial arts fights. The best one: Kato vs. Mako in “The Preying Mantis.” (Keye Luke, who played Kato in “The Green Hornet” movie serials in 1940, also appears in that episode.)
— Wende Wagner, as Lenore Case, Britt Reid’s secretary, never gets to do much more than answer the phone and be eye candy. In real life, Wagner was a tremendous athlete, a surfer and scuba diver. We get to see her run for her life in the season-ending cliffhanger, but that’s about it.
— Lloyd Gough, as Daily Sentinel reporter Mike Axford, who’s convinced that The Green Hornet is a bad guy, shamelessly blusters over the top for much of the series. Not exactly comic relief, but Britt Reid and Miss Case enjoy yanking his chain at the end of many episodes. He’s much more effective in the last handful of episodes, going low-key and playing it straight. (“The Green Hornet” was Gough’s first regular gig after being on the Hollywood blacklist for more than a decade. He has no IMDb listings from 1952 to 1964.)
— Walter Brooke, as District Attorney Frank Scanlon, is the show’s anchor, delivering gravitas every time he speaks. He also gets to ride in that cool lift behind the fake fireplace at Britt Reid’s home. That, of course, was activated by tipping books out of the bookshelves, which every kid did at home, at school and at the library, myself included. (Brooke is best known for tipping Benjamin Braddock to “plastics” in “The Graduate,” which was filmed after “The Green Hornet” had wrapped in 1967.)
— The Black Beauty is the least cool superhero car ever, built by Dean Jeffries from a 1966 Chrysler Imperial. They made two of them, and both showed up in “Corpse of the Year,” a two-part cliffhanger.
— There seemingly wasn’t much of a budget. The same footage of The Green Hornet and Kato flipping Britt’s white convertible for the Black Beauty in the garage, then hopping into the Black Beauty and driving it through dark, rain-soaked streets is used over and over. The same warehouse appears in multiple episodes. One sharp-eyed YouTube commenter saw the same boxes in that warehouse in back-to-back episodes.
— The day-for-night film technique, which created night scenes by underexposing film shot during daylight, is maddening. Per Wikipedia, “it is often employed when it is too difficult or expensive to actually shoot during nighttime.” Much of “The Green Hornet” is way too dark, with many of the fight scenes lost in the shadows. I’d love to see it shot with today’s film techniques.
— Lots of familiar faces show up as the series goes along … John Carradine, “Alias The Scarf,” the killer in a fog-shrouded wax museum? Imagine that. In the same episode, character actor Paul Gleason shows up briefly in only his third TV appearance and there’s Ian Wolfe, dressed much as he would be two years later as Mr. Atoz on “Star Trek.” … Barbara Babcock, later seen on “Hill Street Blues,” shows up twice as Britt Reid’s girlfriend. … Jeffrey Hunter — Capt. Christopher Pike on “Star Trek” — as a corrupt contractor in “Freeway To Death.” … Gary Owens as the Daily Sentinel TV news reader. … A gorgeous 21-year-old Lynda Day (before she was Lynda Day George) as a good girl mixed up with bad guys and James Best — yep, old Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane — as the baddest of the bad guys in “Deadline for Death.” … Michael Strong — “I am Roger Korby!” from “Star Trek” a year earlier — as the bad guy who tries to frame Britt Reid for murder in “Hornet Save Thyself.”
— The most fun episode is “Ace in the Hole,” in which The Green Hornet pits two gangsters against each other. It’s the only episode even close to being played for laughs. The bad guys are the always unflappable Richard Anderson and the always blustery Richard X. Slattery. Character actor Percy Helton shows up as Gus, the guy living across the hall from reporter Mike Axford. The weirdest part of this starts at the 19:43 mark. Billy May drops about 30 seconds of Tijuana Brass-style music into a fight scene involving some of the bad guys as The Green Hornet and Kato stand by and watch. It’s the only time that the series departs from May’s more muscular scores. It’s also one of two episodes in which “Batman” is shown on a TV during a scene.
After watching all the episodes, I can say this:
— I vividly remembered the fights, the gadgets and the costumes. I remembered none of the plots.
— I love that it was set at a newspaper.
— It’s a little sad to think that all five of the show’s stars are no longer with us.
— Let’s cue up that great opening and that great narration by executive producer William Dozier.
— Let’s cue up my record.
“Green Hornet Theme,” Al Hirt, from “The Horn Meets The Hornet,” 1966.