One Last Challenge for the Green Hornet

Yesterday as I was scrolling through Facebook the worst thing happened.  I came across the announcement that Van Williams, the man that played The Green Hornet, Van Williams, had died.

Needless to say I'm crushed.

I had actually recently finished the entire series.  I'd gotten them all from a friend, pirated from someone's TV viewing.  Having time in the morning between working out and getting ready for work to squeeze in an episode, the wound was fresh.

I vividly remember finding the Green Hornet as a kid.  I was in twelve or thirteen at the time.  We had recently received FX when it was a brand new cable channel.  I had stopped on the channel because Batman, the 60's Adam West show, was on.  They'd been showing marathons of it and Wonder Woman all day.  During a commercial they showed what was coming up next.  It happened to be the Green Hornet.  I was elated.  I'd seen the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee story, so I knew the show existed, but I'd never had the opportunity to see an actual episode.

Bruce Lee having been the most famous actor to come out of Green Hornet, Dragon of course played him up.  After finally watching an episode of Green Hornet I'd realized how much they'd downplayed Williams.  He had a very, very small part.  The actor playing Williams had been tied to a chair, and while Bruce punched and kicked his way through the scene, all he said was "Great job, Kato!"

I loved that movie, and at the time knew no better.  After seeing an actual episode I realized how sad it made Williams look, in my perspective anyway.  Not until recently did I find out that Williams had actual been in that scene as the director.  It made me feel a little better about the scene overall.

In the TV show, Williams was great.  He was the star.  The Green Hornet was smart and sleek.  He was a hero posing as a criminal to get close to the bad guys and bring them down.  Kato was there as his partner and muscle, but that never stopped the Hornet from getting his hands dirty.  He punched right along with Lee.

The show was made by the same company that had made Batman, but all the intentional campiness was gone.  Being made in 1966, and compared to today's fare, there were some campy moments.  For the most part the show was played straight   An article I read said that Williams insisted it be played straight and I respect him for it  For a show about a masked hero I think was pretty cool for it's time.

I ate it up.

Catching an episode every time I could was a high light of my weekend.  I would try to find DVD's with Green Hornet episodes, but sadly came up short.

I've recently found out through articles what happened to Williams since his stint as masked hero posing as a crime boss.  He'd gone on to do more acting, but eventually became a reserve deputy sheriff for L.A. county and a firefighter.  To paraphrase a line from an article, there aren't many people that play a hero and then go on to be one in real life.

It was because of Williams portrayal of Britt Reid and his alter ego the Green Hornet that I had a hard time stomaching the 2011 film.  Reid came across as a bumbling buffoon.  He let Kato take up the slack and be the real action star.  I prefer to remember my Green Hornet and Kato as partners. Solving crimes and fighting bad guys together.  I know most will always remember the Green Hornet as the launching point of Bruce Lee's career and I take nothing away from him.  I'm a fan along with everyone else.  I think in the many years since it's airing Van Williams has become underrated in just how great he actually was.  He played Green Hornet in a way that people would respect today.  He was what people want to see in their heroes on screen.
Williams left an impression on me of how I want my superheroes to act.  Smart, a little suave, and definitely kicking ass.  Van Williams holds a place of high regard in my heart among my favorite actors.  Not actors to play masked heroes, but actors.  Because as a teenage kid getting into comic books and superheroes he definitely was a large reason why I love them.
 He will be missed.