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THE GREEN HORNET

Continued from here

When short story author and popular culture historian Jim Harmon began writing about old-time radio programs such as The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, almost no books on the subject had been published. Doubleday jumped on the bandwagon with Harmon’s book, The Great Radio Heroes, which to this day holds the record as one of the most-referenced books listed in bibliographies. For research, Harmon tracked down a number of producers, directors, writers and actors from the Golden Age of Radio. He conducted exclusive interviews. And he relied on a number of newspaper articles and interviews as the basis of his work -- including Raymond Meurer’s statements to the press.

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In the interview, Meurer claimed that Kato’s nationality changed from Japanese to Filipino the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Meurer also stated that the announcer’s catch phrase that would later become synonymous with the series was revised from “The Green Hornet! He hunts the biggest of all game. Public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach!” to ““He hunts the biggest of all game… public enemies who try to destroy our America!” This also was incorrect.

As the war continued to spread overseas, The Green Hornet had to fight more than racketeers. Outside agitation such as Nazis and Japanese Spies were incorporated into the scripts and shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Uncle Sam picked up sponsorship. The original “standard” opening at the beginning of each broadcast was used as late as the broadcast of December 20, 1941. But sometime in early 1942, the “standard” opening was changed to push the program into a new decade and widened the scope of the dangers that The Green Hornet faced. The new catch-phrase reflected these changes. As for the statement that the phrase was altered circa 1939 at the request of J. Edgar Hoover… that is false. Hoover himself signed a letter praising The Green Hornet program, and made no reference to the G-Men catch-phrase.

As for Kato’s nationality, he was not always referred to as Japanese in every episode. Beginning with the broadcasts of January 1938, Kato was again referred to as Reid’s “faithful valet” or “oriental” purposely to avoid any mention of his nationality. In the script for “War on the Waterfront” (July 18, 1939), the announcer comments, “That evening in his apartment, Britt Reid showed a copy of the photograph to Kato, his Filipino valet and the only living man to know that his employer was really the Green Hornet!”

The word “Filipino” was scratched out and the word “faithful” substituted. This is the earliest indication found that Striker chose to change Kato’s race without a logical and educated explanation and hope the radio audience would not question it. Beginning with the episode “Man Wanted — For What?” (June 21, 1941), Kato was clearly referred to as Filipino, months before the U.S. entry into the war escalating overseas. The Philippine Islands were ceded to the United States in 1898 and became a self-governing commonwealth in 1935. With the Japanese occupation of the islands during the war, it seemed logical to make Kato a Filipino when given the choice of another race.

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Striker’s scripts for The Green Hornet were written weeks in advance, so it wasn’t until the broadcast of January 10, 1942, that Kato was referred to again as a Filipino. Throughout November and December 1941, no reference was made about Kato’s nationality. Concern after the attack was obvious since all the broadcasts from January 10 to March 7 not only referred to Kato as a Filipino, but Striker did so numerous times in each script, as he’d done earlier in the June and July 1941 broadcasts.

Author Jim Harmon is not at fault for reprinting the errors in his book. In 1965 and 1966, while he was researching the subject of The Green Hornet, he naturally assumed that anything that appeared in newspapers that took a direct quote from Trendle or Meurer was accurate. After all, who would have thought that Trendle and Meurer would have purposely or unintentionally stretched the truth a bit for the sake of sensationalism? Over the past four decades, authors who chose to reference previously published books and failed to do their own legwork (which would have been as simple as paying a visit to George W. Trendle’s archive in Michigan), recycled the same mistakes in their books. These myths have since become facts because it’s hard to doubt fifteen books reprinting the same details would be inaccurate… but this is the hard lesson we now have to overcome. The truth has been uncovered and with luck, corrections will be implemented so the myths will cease spreading.

The third and last myth that needs to be debunked is Trendle’s claim that from the time The Green Hornet program was conceived, there was a direct connection to The Lone Ranger. Fran Striker had almost free reign to develop the program as he saw fit. On the evening of February 21, 1941, radio station WXYZ presented a special broadcast as an inaugural special for the station’s new 5,000-watt transmitting plant authorized by the FCC to increase its daytime power from 1,000 to 5,000 watts. The highlight of the promotional campaign was the presentation of a special half-hour dedicatory program which aired that evening within transmission range (not through a coast-to-coast hookup) over the Michigan Radio Network.

Fran Striker even prepared a special composite of the station’s most famous shows. This offered a unique one-time opportunity for radio listeners to hear Ned Jordan, Britt Reid, Tonto and The Lone Ranger in the same broadcast. This program also revealed the first hints ever broadcast that Britt Reid was related to the masked man of the western plains. A congressman in Washington had contacted Reid and asked him to deliver the secret word, “Silver.” As Reid explains, “The Texas Representative who communicated with me is one of my closest friends. He happens to know things about me that… well… that my own father doesn’t know.” It would not be until December 1942 on The Lone Ranger program that the second connection would be made — the introduction of Dan Reid as a teenager, who rode the plains with the masked man. Yes, Dan Reid appeared in character on The Green Hornet in 1936, six years before appearing on The Lone Ranger. And it would not be until 1947 that the direct connection would be revealed to the audience. But it has been verified that until this inaugural broadcast, no mention, hint or suggestion was ever made on either program of a direct relation between The Hornet and The Ranger.

The October-November 1947 story arc concerning Britt Reid’s revelations to his father continued through early 1948 when Commissioner Higgins of the city’s police department was let in on the big secret, courtesy of Senior Reid. Miss Case’s role of a secretary expanded to that of a newspaper reporter and Reid himself let her in on his secret when a situation arose where he needed a female assistant to smash a criminal organization. In this manner, while The Green Hornet was still a wanted fugitive on the streets, the police, thanks to Commissioner Higgins, no longer sought the masked man. The reward for his capture was withdrawn from The Daily Sentinel. He was no longer a criminal. The Green Hornet was secretly assisting the local police where court orders and warrants could not be obtained to gather evidence the masked man could acquire in an unofficial capacity.

The growing alarm from concerned parents forced Trendle and Striker to arrive at a compromise. Leagues of decency and mothers who expressed their dislike against blood n‘ thunder programs were voicing out. Boycotts began and the major networks stood to attention, offering numerous solutions including carrying the crime programs at a later time slot. For George W. Trendle, public fire was against him.

“We found that we were stirring up quite a bit of ill-will toward The Green Hornet because everybody considered him a master crook — and as a sympathetic character, he was nil,” Trendle explained years later. “I, therefore, conceived the idea of having his identity known only to the police commissioner. This was accomplished in a series of four or five shows, which I listened to on Sunday evening.”

After the war, a new kind of criminal began walking the streets. There were fake mediums who attempted to profit from those who lost loved ones during the war. The black market was still booming with supplies. But the worst were Nazi underground agents and Communists who lurked in the shadows. The Green Hornet was not restricted to fighting racketeers. He fought against anyone who wanted to destroy America.

One notable broadcast was the case of “The Hooded Hoods” (July 18, 1949), concerning a group of men terrorizing citizens of two communities by setting fire to a piece of wood shaped like a snake. Attempting to drive people from their neighborhood using fear, the hooded Klan-like group led by the Grand Copperhead has evaded the efforts of Commissioner Higgins. A young child has been kidnapped and an elderly man beaten. Axford interviews one of the victims and discovers a connection to the Billings Real Estate Company. The city council is going to order the construction of a new highway and Frank Billings and his associate, Chuck Randolph, hope the threats will convince the stubborn residents to sell their property. Reid sets out as The Green Hornet to capture Randolph and force him to arrange an emergency meeting of the Purple Snakes, including their leader, The Grand Copperhead. After phoning Higgins with the plan, The Hornet appears at the secret meeting and enters the doorway. Holding a protector over his nose and mouth, a gas bomb sends the men staggering and then crashing to the floor, unconscious. The police arrive and on orders from Higgins, drag the unconscious men into custody and then don their robes, so when the Grand Copperhead arrives, the villain will not know the room is filled with police.

When the men start to murmur, Higgins, under one of the hoods, demands an explanation and the whereabouts of the kidnapped boy, Bobby. The Copperhead is forced to confess the reasons for the scheme and the police unmask. There can be no doubt this episode attempted to preach the evils of the Ku Klux Klan, especially since the announcer described the crowd of men dressed alike, “in long, white gowns with pointed hoods over their heads and slits in the hood so they could see and speak.” On the front of the gowns were the figures of two purple serpents. Axford spoke to Police Commissioner Higgins: “Can you imagine the gall o’ those filthy blatherskites! You’d think this was the back country where those stupid omothons (sic) that make up like kluxers are common! But this is the city!”

This episode also breaks a number network rules. Among them, two — not one — separate scenes in which young Bobby is slapped and beaten by a member of the Klan. The child is later kidnapped, which pushes The Green Hornet to apply third-degree methods when confronting Randolph. Addressing the issue of racism in a radio program aimed towards young children was not uncommon. In June 1946, the Superman radio serial featured stories concerning the Man of Steel’s battle against “The Klan of the Fiery Kross,” which dramatized the story of a hooded group planning a wave of terror against the Unity House. Described in the same manner of the notorious KKK, the criminals burn wooden crosses in front yards, led by “The Grand Scorpion.”

In a number of broadcasts, The Green Hornet program also attempted to preach a message about the evils of juvenile delinquency and street gangs. In “The Ever-Eatin’ Alligators” (July 25, 1949), Britt Reid discovers sidewalk clubs are sprouting across town and he sends Mike Axford to investigate. Young boys join the clubs in the hopes of becoming tough gangsters, but Reid knows someone is fronting the costs for these clubs — especially one known as the Ever-Eatin’ Alligators. When an attempt to uncover the club leaders ends with an unconscious Mike Axford in the hospital, The Green Hornet pays a personal visit to the young boys. Revealing the true motives of their employers, he shows the boys how people like Chiggy Domain and Artie Kareeley have no intention of using the young men for petty thefts. Their goal is to make the boys traitors against their country, hating the law and disregarding their parents. If the enemy tries to take over the country, the boys would side with them. After forcing Kareeley to confess, The Green Hornet exits as the boys get tough by being on the side of the law; their first act is to tie Kareeley up and turn him over to the police.

After sixteen years on the air waves, The Green Hornet concluded broadcast in December of 1952. Had the present sponsor, Orange Crush, optioned to renew the series for an additional thirteen weeks, the program would have continued into the calendar year of 1953. By that time, the radio scripts were composed a week in advance and since the series was heard twice a week, this meant two scripts were written but never broadcast. These two dramas, both scripted by Steve McCarthy, are among the handful of surviving scripts that for various reasons were never broadcast. The plot summaries are offered for your enjoyment.

“The Green Hornet’s Hunch” tells the story of Charles Washburn who was mixed up with the Reds at a university, and it took a faculty board and then a congressional committee to clear him of any wrongdoing. Now an assistant to important physicist Professor Durand, Charles is engaged in top secret government work. Douglas Brandon, a sardonic Communist agent, arranges the kidnapping of Charles’ sister, Laura, and promises her safe return in exchange for the formula recently perfected and given to the U.S. government. Lenore Case, an old college friend of Laura’s, learns that her friend has disappeared. Professor Durand is shot by Caspar, the gunman responsible for the kidnapping. After gaining the formula, Caspar turns his gun on Charles and shoots the lab assistant. When Lenore Case tells Britt Reid that her friend mentioned Brandon had talked to her brother just moments before her brother disappeared, and Commissioner Higgins tells Britt that government papers were stolen from the lab, The Green Hornet visits Brandon. Shooting Caspar with his gas gun, The Hornet then uses his fists to beat a confession out of Brandon, who takes the packet of papers from Caspar’s body and hands it to the masked man. Brandon tells of his role as a Communist leader at the university and how he had turned student sympathizers into active Red agents. After revealing the whereabouts of Laura, Brandon is also gassed. The Hornet phones police, leaves a note to explain the details for authorities, and sets out to rescue Laura.

“The Red Drop” begins with Britt Reid who receives a phone call from a mysterious voice asking for protection in return for details about where the greatest Communist information drop in the city is located. Before Reid can learn more, the voice is abruptly cut off. Hours later, the homicide squad finds a bullet-riddled body identified as Johnny Lawrence, tabbed as a Communist sympathizer. Commissioner Higgins tells Reid that Johnny was on the bureau’s missing persons list since the day before, reported by Ida and Jess Crawford, Johnny’s aunt and uncle. After questioning the two, Britt Reid points out his suspicions to Commissioner Higgins - that the Crawfords are Communists. Later that afternoon, Miss Case creates a distraction while Reid, now under the guise of The Green Hornet, investigates Jess and Ida’s bookshop for clues. Miss Case accidentally says too much, faints while trying to get away, and wakes to find herself bound and gagged. When Jess enters the store, The Hornet and Kato hide in a corner to observe Comrades Ted and Andre arrive to deliver code books, account ledgers and lists of the code names of the Commies in local cells. They also hand over blueprints delivered from an airplane factory. Jess reports his problem with Miss Case. The Hornet, hearing about Miss Case, punches out Jess while Kato gasses the other two. Leaving Kato to tie the three men, Reid goes upstairs to find Miss Case freeing herself from her bonds. Playing the role straight so his identity is not overheard, The Hornet orders Miss Case to take down a message for the police when they arrive.

George W. Trendle ceased further efforts to keep The Green Hornet on radio. Potential sponsors were bailing for the growing new medium of television and Trendle felt his character could make a successful transition. The Lone Ranger premiered on the tube in 1949 and thanks to producer Jack Wrather, Trendle spent $26,392.30 out of his own pocket to have a pilot filmed. The film was completed in April of 1952, but on a shoe-string budget. Communication exchanged between Wrather and Trendle heated up when the radio mogul learned how much it would cost to have a pilot film produced. Trendle sought other television producers but learning how much their costs were, returned to Wrather and negotiated.

This article includes excerpts from the recent publication, The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television (2010, OTR Publishing) by Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson. Reprinted with permission. For more details about the book, please visit Amazon.com.

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