The mask of the Green Hornet belongs to Seth Rogen these days — the film opened to a solid $40 million in domestic box office over the weekend — but the role has a history that dates back farther than the debut of Superman or Batman. The tales of Britt Reid, a newspaper publisher who fights crime as a masked vigilante with a fierce-fighting sidekick named Kato, go back to the mid-1930s, and here’s a look at four other actors who brought the Hornet to life.
Al Hodge: “The Green Hornet” began on radio in 1936 with the sonorous-voiced Hodge playing the role of Reid until 1943. (Robert Hall took over from 1943 to ’46, and Jack McCarthy came on board in 1946 and stayed with the series until it ended in 1952.) Hodge’s talents went beyond microphone work — he also produced radio dramas, including “The Lone Ranger” and “Challenge of the Yukon.” After Hodge’s stint with “Hornet,” he served in the Navy during World War II and then played the role with which he became most closely identified — the space adventurer Captain Video in 1950. Though the TV series ended in 1955, he continued as Captain Video on a children’s show and was the host of a Captain Video cartoon show until 1957. He eventually moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he guest starred in a number of TV series, including “Mannix” and “The Mod Squad” — but he found substantial roles were out of his reach because he had been firmly typecast by the Captain Video years. He died in 1979 at the age of 67 in a room in the George Washington Hotel in New York that was filled to the brim with Captain Video memorabilia.
Gordon Jones: The burly, likable Jones, who later played Mike the Cop on “The Abbott and Costello Show,” was the first on-screen Britt Reid in the fun 1940 Universal movie serial, “The Green Hornet,” which also featured Key Luke as Kato. Jones was 29 when he played the role, and there’s a youthful exuberance and immense likability in his performance as Reid. But perhaps his voice was too youthful when he took on the Hornet persona — the producers had Hodge supply the (uncredited) voice of the Hornet. Jones continued in movies and TV, including appearances in 1942’s “My Sister Eileen,” 1952’s “The Marrying Kind” and 1957’s “The Monster That Challenged the World.” His last film was 1963’s “McLintock!” which was released the same year he died at the age of 52.
Warren Hull: The singer-actor was already a popular star of such serials as 1938’s “The Spider’s Web” and 1939’s “Mandrake the Magician” when he was cast as Reid in 1941’s serial “The Green Hornet Strikes Again!” Hull, who was in his late 30s when he was cast, lacked the puppy-dog enthusiasm of Jones’ Reid/Hornet. But Hull brought maturity and sophistication to the part. Unlike Jones, his voice was used for both characters. Hull, who had worked in radio prior to films, returned to the medium in the 1940s, hosting such radio shows as “Your Hit Parade.” When TV entered the picture, he was the popular host of such game shows as “Top Dollar” and “Strike it Rich.” He died in 1974 at the age of 71.
Van Williams: Certainly the hunkiest of all the actors who have played Reid and the Hornet, Williams starred in ABC’s 1966-67 TV series version of “The Green Hornet,” with Bruce Lee as Kato. Produced by William Dozier, who also had great success on ABC with his campy version of “Batman,” this half-hour series was far less silly than the Gotham City farce. Williams and Lee played it straight and, well, perhaps that wasn’t the audience was expecting from their masked-man television shows at that point. Prior to “Hornet,” the Texas native had played the role of Kenny Madison in two Warner Bros. detective series, 1959’s “Bourbon Street Beat” and its 1960-62 sequel, “Surfside Six.” After “Hornet,” he continued to do guest shots on TV series, eventually retiring from acting in the early 1980s. Williams, now 76, did a cameo as the director of the “Hornet” TV series in the 1993 film “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.” The lawman mode seemed to appeal to the former television crime fighter — after he left show business, he became a reserve officer with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. He has lived for many years in Idaho.
– Susan King
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