The Green Hornet Television Series
Given all the talk on the Comic Related forum about the release of the new Kevin Smith-written Green Hornet series, it seemed natural to want to dive in and focus this month on the Hornet. Originally, I was going to wait until the release of the movie; however, I like to keep my columns as topical and fresh as possible; hence, this mid-March examination of probably one of most influential - yet relatively "invisible" characters in pop culture. However, given my previous blogging about the Green Hornet - as well as a more thorough history by Martin Grams, Jr. (thanks, Mr. Fortier , for the heads-up!), this column's goal is going to focus exclusively on the 1967 - 1968 television show.
(My other goal is to avoid the obvious puns around "buzz" and "green", which is appropriate for St. Patrick's Day)
I have to admit, my objectivity goes out the window when I'm writing about the Green Hornet - when I was very young, I remember hearing some old time radio shows (including The Shadow and The Green Hornet) on a now-forgotten radio station while sitting in my dad's 1969 Ford waiting for Mom to leave work. (Later on, I would rediscover radio through Chuck Schaden's Those Were the Days on local Chicago radio....but that's a column for another day). However, flash forward twenty-some years later, and I was reintroduced (for the first time) to the Green Hornet through two sources - the first was through the well renowned NOW Comics series written by Ron Fortier (now where have I heard that name before?), and the other was (at least, for me) the first reshowing of the series on local Chicago television around the same time .
Admittedly, my only exposure to the television Hornet for years was the two-part crossover with Batman , and admittedly, I have a love-hate relationship with the 1960's Batman show. (I loved it as a kid, but at times, it rubs me the wrong way as an adult). So my curiosity about the Hornet - fueled by the occasional listen of the radio shows, one hour's worth of action, and several rumors and innuendo (as well as, admittedly, a love of Bruce Lee) had me peaked all those years ago to watch the show.
Remarkably, the Green Hornet's 1960s tv adventures hold up relatively well - unlike his work on Batman, William Dozier chose not to make the Green Hornet "campy". (View his pilots for both Wonder Woman and Dick Tracy, and you kind of wish that he had kept that philosophy). It's a more straight-ahead crime show, and shares some aspects with its better known cousin (a friendly relationship with local law enforcement, a slightly greater reliance on gadgets). Van Williams plays it perfectly straight - no hint of the slightly knowing humor that Adam West brought the Caped Crusader. Given that there's no real "canon" to the Green Hornet, there is a great ease into watching...and these are almost like the near perfect pop singles of that era: short, effective, and near irresistible.
However, one factor, above the rest, gives this show an additional amount of impact not just in terms of the tone, but in being truly groundbreaking. And that factor can be summed up in two words:
First, his unique approach to martial arts skills helped give the show an extra dimension - granted, he may have only had a few minutes to demonstrate his prowess, but Bruce Lee made every minute count. (For a then-contemporary contrast, watch Lee in Marlowe as he destroys an entire office with nothing but his bare hands). Unlike most modern martial artists, Lee's style has a grace, a fluidity, and an almost ballet-like flow. Personable, intelligent - even if the only work Bruce Lee ever did was the Green Hornet, it would be seen as groundbreaking. (Plus, Chuck Norris may be tough, as the Internets claim, but Bruce Lee taught Chuck Norris. And I think possibly even Chuck Moore, but Mr. Moore isn't saying). It's no surprise that several episodes were later edited into a feature-length film which capitalized on Lee's sudden, unexpected death.
(Note - I actually own the DVD on Brentwood Home Video, and the series at this point remains unreleased. The Brentwood video is good only for a 15 minute featurette on the Black Beauty - the Green Hornet feature is in relatively poor quality. Although rumor has it the original film stock went missing, more recent viewings on a local Chicago television station reveal some restoration of the show. Perhaps with the release of the movie this summer, we will see a more formal release. Are you listening, Shout Factory?)
But Lee's role as Kato also had a much deeper, more resonant effect on our culture. Think about the context that The Green Hornet was broadcast - America was in the midst of the Vietnam War, and the current Cold War was boiling over into popular culture, with spies and espionage being the "heroes" of the media. (Think 24 at a much less frenetic page). This, combined with the more fantastic/escapist shows of the era, meant that there was less focus on the more esoteric...and with Asian culture being less-than-exposed (or worse, blatant stereotypes being prevalent), seeing an articulate, physically striking Asian male would have been seen as unusual, and against the grain. At the time, Lee was already making progress for his more progressive views on martial arts; the Green Hornet was the first time he could demonstrate a charm, grace, and pleasant demeanor.
But perhaps the reason why I love the Hornet show is that...well, it took place in an unnamed city. (At least, I don't think it ever was named). So it was easy for me to simply picture the Hornet happening in my city...after all, it's not like there was never any positive or negative association in the past.. And with not only the new movie, but a made-in-Chicago fan series (To answer the obvious questions: yes, I have a contact within the group making the fan films. Yes, they know I write for the site. Yes, there may potentially be a column out of this) and other fan media being created, there's only one thing to say for sure - as long as people enjoy good old-fashioned, hard driving action, the Green Hornet will continue to hunt the biggest of all game.
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