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“The Green Hornet strikes again!”

Though most people remember veteran newsman Mike Wallace from his long-running stint on the television investigative news program 60 Minutes (from 1968 to 2008), old-time radio fans know that Wallace—often using his real name of “Myron”—served as an announcer on such programs as  Curtain TimeA Life in Your Hands, and Spotlight Revue (the variety show starring Spike Jones and His City Slickers).  Wallace also worked as an announcer on Sky King; he had an association with several juvenile-oriented programs during his broadcast career (Ned Jordan, Secret AgentThe Adventurers’ Club)—but perhaps none so famous as the program which premiered over Detroit’s WXYZ on this date in 1936: The Green Hornet.

WXYZ station owner George W. Trendle, anxious to duplicate his success with The Lone Ranger series, decided to create a new hero..  The legend goes that Trendle became obsessed with the concept of a hornet after spending a sleepless night in a hotel room in which just such an insect was trapped…and constantly buzzing. Since The Hornet had been appropriated for a previous radio series, it was decided that adding a color to the title would do the trick. Green, of course.

From its debut, listeners couldn’t help but notice that there were a number of similarities between “the daring and resourceful Masked Rider of the Plains” and the modern-day vigilante who “hunts the biggest of all game—public enemies who try to destroy our America!”  The Ranger’s mode of transportation was “the great horse Silver!” and the Hornet tooled around in a souped-up automobile known as the “Black Beauty.”  The Lone Ranger was accompanied by his trusty Potawatomi sidekick Tonto and the Green Hornet’s aide-de-camp was his faithful Filipino valet Kato. (More than just performing as a “gentleman’s gentleman,” Kato was schooled in chemistry—his boss’ gas gun and smokescreens were among his inventions—and was most adept at the art of physical combat.  In addition, Kato was frequently behind the wheel of the Beauty, zipping up and down city streets with the greatest of ease.)

The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet also shared classical music based theme music…though this can be explained by the fact that using tunes in the public domain meant that WXYZ didn’t have to pay anyone royalties.  Just as it’s difficult to hear Rossini’s William Tell Overture without thinking of the Ranger astride his steed and Tonto by his side, I defy you to listen to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee and not picture the Hornet and Kato in the Black Beauty chasing down bad guys.  Perhaps the most telling parallel between the masked heroes is that both men operated outside the law and were often mistaken for the very villains they sought to apprehend.  In the Lone Ranger’s case, any suspicions that he might be an outlaw could quickly be dispelled by his producing a sample silver bullet.  For the Green Hornet…it was a tougher exercise.

You see, when he wasn’t donning the Hornet gear, our masked hero was Britt Reid—the editor of big city newspaper The Daily Sentinel.  Though Reid could wield influence through his paper, he felt it necessary to take on corruption by posing as the shadowy figure who quickly became the subject of many a Sentinel front page story.  The Hornet’s “outlaw” status gave him an advantage when it came to mixing with underworld figures and other disreputable types…but the trade-off was that law enforcement personnel were convinced that the Hornet was every bit as dangerous as the evildoers he was trying to bring down.

Besides Kato, not many people knew that Britt Reid and The Green Hornet were one and the same. Lenore “Casey” Case, Britt’s loyal secretary, was one of the few exceptions; it took her a few years to put two and two together, but she eventually figured out Reid’s secret.  One individual who would never make the connection—even if Britt wore a sign reading “Yes, I am the Green Hornet”—was Mike Axford, an ex-cop hired by Reid’s father to be Britt’s personal bodyguard.  Axford, an excitable Irishman whose favorite expression was “Sufferin’ snakes!”, eventually become a reporter on the paper (he worked the police beat). He joined other Sentinel employees, like city editor Bill Gunnigan, crack reporter Ed Lowery, and ace photographer Clicker Binney.

Oh, there was one other noteworthy individual who had the skinny on Britt Reid’s alter-ego…and that was Britt’s elderly father, Dan Reid.  If that name sounds familiar…it’s because Dan was the nephew of The Lone Ranger, who rode with the Masked Man during those crimefighting days “in the early Western United States.”  The connection between the Ranger and the Hornet was slowly developed throughout the years, and finally came to a boil with an October-November 1947 story arc (available on the Radio Spirits collection Generations) that cemented the ties between the hard-riding hero of yesteryear and his modern-day counterpart.

Actor Al Hodge—who later achieved boob tube fame as Captain Video—played the Green Hornet in the program’s early years. He became so well-known as the voice of the crimefighter that when Universal brought the Hornet to the silver screen in a 1940 serial they dubbed the actor playing the Hornet (Gordon Jones) with Hodge’s voice.  A. Donovan Faust and Robert Hall also portrayed the masked hero, with Jack McCarthy taking the final shift in the lead role until the show left the airwaves on December 5, 1952.  The Green Hornet has become firmly ingrained in American pop culture, with movie adaptations (a second Hornet serial in 1940 and a rightly-panned feature film in 2011) and a 1966-67 TV series…not to mention comic books, a comic strip, toys, and other merchandising items.

Here at Radio Spirits, we’re in the vintage broadcasts business…and we’ve got plenty of sets on hand for fans of the original radio program.  In addition to Generations, we invite you to while away the hours listening to The Big DealCity Hall ShakeupFights Crime!Night FlightSting of JusticeUnderworld, and (appropriately, considering the title of this blog post) The Green Hornet Strikes Again! Happy anniversary to “that no-good spalpeen, the Har-nut” and remember: our daring young punisher and Kato match wits with the Underworld, risking their lives “so that criminals and racketeers within the law may feel its weight by the sting of the Green Hornet!”

One Comment

  1. Joel S says:

    Love The Green Hornet. Love the book I bought from you about the show by Grams. I have a wall of fame in my lounge devoted to the masked man and his Japanese sidekick. Thank you!

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