THE ORIGIN OF THE GREEN HORNETby Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson.
In the episode “Too Hot To Handle” (broadcast on radio November 11, 1947), Britt Reid’s father explained that when he was a young boy, he rode alongside a masked man who also fought for law and justice… The Lone Ranger. “I saw him six-gun his way through red tape and ride roughshod over crooks who thought they were too smart for the law. He rode for justice.”
Legend and lore have spread through generations of radio, television and comic book fans about The Green Hornet’s family relations to The Lone Ranger. But few have read the original radio script or heard the existing recording of that 1947 broadcast to share the excitement that came from a story arc that began just a month before. With the major motion picture from Sony Entertainment coming out in theaters, starring Seth Rogen in the lead of Britt Reid, it seems only fitting to recount some of the origins and myths that have circulated over the years.
“When I first conceived the character, the idea was to connect it up with The Lone Ranger,” explained George W. Trendle. “As we had a character in The Lone Ranger who was the Ranger’s nephew, one Dan Reid, a young boy 14 or 15 who occasionally traveled with the Ranger, I had Dan Reid sent East to finishing school by The Lone Ranger, where young Dan eventually became a newspaperman and the owner of a large metropolitan newspaper. His son, who is the Britt Reid of The Green Hornet, was in his youth a playboy; and as his dad wanted to make a man out of him, he turned the newspaper over to Britt to see if the responsibility of that sort of a job would bring about the desired result. He never quite figured out that it had; but in the meantime, Britt was masquerading as The Green Hornet in the same manner as The Lone Ranger did in the Wild West.”
Trendle’s recollection originates from an interview he granted in 1966, to help with the publicity of the newly produced television program being filmed at 20th Century Fox. What he didn’t know at the time was his pale recollection was not only incorrect, but would help support a number of errors that, even today, are taken for the gospel.
“If there had been great controversy over the creation of The Lone Ranger, there can be none about the Hornet. It was George W. Trendle’s idea, aided and abetted somewhat by a book he came across called The Adventures of Jimmie Dale,” recalled Dick Osgood, who worked 36 years in various positions at WXYZ. Over the decades, both Trendle and Fran Striker claimed to have created The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, but the fact remains that both were influential — and the characters and elements of the program evolved as both series got off the ground.
According to the novel, Jimmie Dale was a wealthy heir and member of the prestigious St. James Club by day, but at night, he enjoyed breaking into businesses and homes to crack their safes for “the sheer deviltry of it.” He did not actually steal anything — he did it because he could. He was a modern-day Robin Hood who left a diamond-shaped gray paper seal at the scene of his crimes and became known in the press as The Gray Seal. His real identity stayed a secret until he was caught in the act by a woman who chose to blackmail him into using his unique talents to help others. Before long, he was taking on organized crime and various bad guys. All the while, he tried to stay ahead of the police and avoid being discovered by the press.
Jimmie Dale, a.k.a. The Gray Seal, was a pulp character created by Frank L. Packard in 1917 and was popular enough to inspire a movie serial that same year. Packard continued to crank out the stories for pulp magazines, later published as novels. Whether Trendle ever read the book or the pulp magazines is still unresolved. According to Osgood, Trendle’s biggest worry was to make sure the door to Britt Reid’s office sounded exactly like the one in his own office. He drove the sound effects crew crazy until they finally built a full-scale door with identical wood to his office and thus the sound finally passed muster. (On the radio program, Reid had a glass desk top in his office, and Trendle himself had had a glass top on his desk.) Trendle consulted Felix Holt, publicist and head of news at the Michigan Radio Network, for his opinion, and when Holt approved of the idea, Trendle handed the book to Fran Striker.
“Read this,” Trendle told Striker. “We can do something like this with our new series. The Lone Ranger appeals to the kids. Now I want to put something on the air to interest young people who are about to vote. I want to do something to show young men how crooked office holders can be, and what they have to do to stop it… that they have to get out and vote and see what’s going on in the world, watch things so we can elect candidates to office who will be something. See?”
Fran Striker blended numerous elements from the Jimmie Dale novel with the cookie cutter format of The Lone Ranger and carried over the Michael Axford character from Manhunters to form The Green Hornet. A deliberate connection between The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger was made with the lead character named Britt Reid, who exercised freedom of speech, not by preaching on top of a horse, but with a newspaper. Reid was a man who fought hard, yet showed mercy and compassion when he chose the side of the oppressed — the underdog — the little man in need of help. And like The Lone Ranger broadcasts, there was no racial or religious prejudice. The villains were gangsters and racketeers — never depicted as a minority. Britt Reid’s closest companion was Kato, also a minority who chose the side of justice.
The development of The Lone Ranger began four years earlier on December 28, 1932, when Jewell wrote a letter to Striker proposing he write up “three or four wild west thrillers” using a lone cowboy as the central figure. As a former theatre owner, Trendle knew Westerns were always popular movies and certainly the most profitable. Jewell created a western of his own, but it failed to impress the boss and lasted only a short time before he contacted Striker. Adapting multiple elements from the tenth episode of a short-run western, Covered Wagon Days, Striker created what became The Lone Ranger. When he sold over all rights to Manhunters, Thrills of the Secret Service and The Lone Ranger in May 1934 for $200, the agreement made between both parties was that Striker accepted a full-time position writing exclusively for the Detroit station. Since this was during the Great Depression and Striker was supporting eleven family members, this was a welcome opportunity.
Striker and his family moved to Detroit shortly after Thanksgiving that year and continued to churn out an incredible amount of work. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, it was estimated he wrote around 60,000 words a week. Striker created the silver horseshoes on the great horse Silver, the silver bullets and the trademark departure as the masked man rode away. For The Green Hornet, Striker created all the trademarks that would become synonymous with the newly created masked vigilante, just as he did for The Lone Ranger. He created the gas gun, the glass containers of gas, the smoke screen from his car, the Hornet mask, the Black Beauty, and prominent devices featured on the program. Striker, having created The Green Hornet while under employment of Greorge W. Trendle, knew that for this creation, he was not the sole creator and therefore Trendle played a larger role in approving or disapproving any new gadgets that would be employed in the radio thrillers. CONTINUE
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