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The Green Hornet:
Van Williams Interview (November 2006)


SPECIAL THANKS TO NANCY ELLEN BARR FOR MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN!


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Exciting things are always happening in Polar Blair's Den.  Few things are more thrilling than when one of your e-mail acquaintances tells you "I can get you in contact with Van Williams, star of TVs 'The Green Hornet'."  I certainly thank Nancy Barr and Van Williams for all of their support!

I wanted to make this an interview Van himself would be proud to have on the Internet for all of time, so everything you read here is EXACTLY as he answered it, word for word.  My questions are in italic; his responses in plain text.  Every fan of Van Williams and the Green Hornet TV show will find this to be a highly interesting piece of information.

1. How do you rate "The Green Hornet" role in your long list of filmed performances?  Is it the best thing you've felt you've done, the worst, or middle-of-the-road?

I felt my role was very one-dimensional as there were two characters that had to be dealt with.  When I had my first meeting with Bill Dozier my main complaint was that the show should have been done as an hour.  There was also lots of talk about the romance between Miss Case and Britt that never got off the ground because of time limits.  I told Dozier that the only way I would play the role was as straight and honest as I could make it and I would not do anything like they were doing to Batman.  I received some criticism because of the way I played it, but that was how I felt it should be played.

2.  It is unusual, even in the 1960s, that a show as dramatic as "The Green Hornet" was in the half-hour format.  Most drama shows are an hour long.  Why was "The Green Hornet" program a half-hour show?

As I said, this show should never have been done as a half-hour show.  They realized right off the bat that it was a mistake.  That is where the two-parters came in.  They did three of them just to show that was what was needed and when talk of the next year came up, Dozier said it would only be done as an hour show or it wouldn't be done.  Our ratings were better than the two hour shows we were against, but ABC couldn't or wouldn't find the extra half-hour we needed.

3.  Do you feel the fact that "Green Hornet" was a half-hour program beneficial or hampering to it, artistically-speaking?

I really believe the half-hour format was the cause of the demise of the show.

4.  What do you think was your Green Hornet's greatest attributes as a character?

Britt Reid and the Green Hornet really wanted the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose.  Maybe that is why I would later become a cop so I could further that goal because I admired that very much.

5.  What do you think was you Green Hornet character's weaknesses?  Were there any?

His life was one-dimensional in that he worked hard as a publisher and editor and as a crime-fighter, but there were no hobbies, romances, he didn't seem to have many friends, etc.

6.  A big part of Green Hornet's mystique is his dialogue.  What was your favorite line of dialogue as Green Hornet?  For instance, my favorite was when you said to a punk "Even a fish that smells as bad as you has a head," referring to the punk working for a bigger boss.

By all means, my favorite line was "Let's roll, Kato!"  It has been used many times.

7.  There were a lot of great guest stars on the Green Hornet show.  Who was your favorite guest actor(s) or actress(es) on the show?

I think my two favorites were JoAnne Dru and Jeffrey Hunter.  Jeff had been a friend of mine for years and I loved JoAnne Dru's role in "Red River," my favorite western.

8.  The show was cancelled after one season (a real pity).  What direction do you think the show would have gone?  How would the Green Hornet saga have played out?  For example, I think a serious relationship between Britt Reid and Casey would have been alright.

If the show had gone on it would have been an hour show and everyone's character would have been developed more.  I was told from the beginning that I would have a romantic relationship with Miss Case and Wende was told the same thing.  It never happened.

9.  The Green Hornet had a lot of gadgets.  What was your favorite gadget to work with?

I am a gadget freak and I would have loved to have had a real gas gun and sting gun, but they weren't for real.

10.  This show looks like it had an extremely good budget, especially for 1966.  The explosions and special effects, the action, the fight scenes...that stuff isn't cheap.  Did the show have a good budget or were there just clever things done to make it look so impressive?

We had a budget that was almost the same as "Batman," but that show was an hour and ours was a half-hour.  I understand that everything Fox was making on Batman we were losing on GH.  One thing I admired about Fox and the producers was that they never cut down on the fights or the special effects.

11.  Do you think the fact that this show was so incredibly different from "Batman" caused its premature cancellation?

No, I don't.  As it turned out, we had a different fan base than Batman.

12.  "Green Hornet" was quite serious and grown-up for a superhero show at that time, yet kids could still watch it.  It was certainly ahead of its time.  Was it the intention of the producers to make this show different than what had been done before in the costumed-hero genre?

No, I think the producers had a great respect for the premise of the Green Hornet.  It played for years as a radio show and some serials in the 30s and 40s.  Also, the show was a modernization of "The Lone Ranger," which was written by the same people.  In all the interviews I have done I never had anyone critique the show or the actors in a bad way.

13.  How important do you feel the character of Kato was to Green Hornet?

I think Kato was very important to GH and again, because of the short production time, we never could develop the relationship between the two.

14.  Wende Wagner, of whom I am also a great fan, had a memorable role as Casey, yet she didn't always get a lot of airtime.  How come, do you think, people remember Casey so fondly?  There were a few episodes where she had big parts, but for the most part she was on the sidelines.

Wende Wagner was a beautiful person and would have had a lot more to do, but we couldn't because of the time element and it is very sad because she and Bruce deserved better.  If we had gone another year with an hour to work with there would have been a lot more development of Wende's and Bruce's roles.

15.  Were there ever any plans for writers to do more with the Casey character?

I think I answered that in the last question.

16.  The application of the Kato character came a LONG way from the early episodes.  Still, do you feel that Bruce Lee as Kato was used to his fullest potential in the show by the later episodes?

We knew that Kato was a very important part of the show and the producers did everything to utilize the character that time restraints would allow.

17.  After "Hornet," did you ever see Bruce Lee, Wende Wagner, Lloyd Gough, or Walter Brooke again?

I saw Bruce and Wende a lot, but I don't remember seeing Lloyd or Walter after the show.

18.  What were the best things about the Green Hornet show?  You can get as elaborate as you want.  What were the things that you think made Green Hornet "cool?"

I guess the best thing was that we all ended up being friends.  The thing I liked the most was doing the stunts.  I think Bruce and I both enjoyed that part of the production, because both of us got to do most of our own stunts.

19.  What were the worst things about the show that you really think should've been reworked or taken out?

Being the only lead in the show, I never had any time off.  I was always kept as rain relief just in case.  "Rain relief" was where the directors would hold you over on the lot or the set just in case it rained or there was some emergency.

20.  I know after your acting heyday you started a very successful business.  Please tell us about that.

I had pretty much decided that the business was not for me.  Back in those days, the major studios ruled the acting business with an iron hand.  I was probably making as much as anyone in the business for the role of GH, but I couldn't make ends meet with the salary I was making.  It took me a few years, but I decided to get out of the acting business and into a business where I could control more of my life.  I started a communications business and also became a Reserve Deputy Sheriff with Los Angeles County Sheriff.  Now I was doing cop work for real and thoroughly enjoyed the 25 years with the department.  My business was successful enough that I could do what I wanted with my life.  I was with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for 25 years. The business was called KHM Communications.


21.  The Bruce Lee film biopic "Dragon:  The Bruce Lee Story" was interesting in the way that we get to see you, as a director, directing a young version of yourself playing Green Hornet.  How did that all come together?  Were you asked for that cameo?

Yes, the executive producer thought the role of Kato was a very important part of Bruce's career.  I thought it was an interesting idea of making me the director.

22.  The actor that plays the young Van Williams in "Dragon" comes off like a doof.  I know that couldn't be what you were really like.  Why did they portray you in that way?  Was it purely for comic effect?  And do you mind that they did it that way?

I couldn't have cared less.  I think that reflected Linda Lee's feelings about the show, because she didn't like Bruce being portrayed as a servant.  I did what I did on the show as an actor and was proud of what I had done.

23.  It's now been 40 years since "The Green Hornet" came on our TV screens, and it still maintains a loyal fan following.  That's staying power.  To what do you attribute the show's long-lasting appeal?  Obviously, not all shows that last one or even three years are as remembered as well as "The Green Hornet."

I did six series' in the business plus some 400 TV shows and movies and the thing I am remembered for the most is "Green Hornet."  It is still playing and I still get a lot of fan mail from all over the world.  I think it has become a cult of some sort.  It is amazing how the fans remember things about the show that I had totally forgotten.  One of the things I remember most was how many cops would come up to me and say "I became a cop because of what you did with your life."  That is something to be remembered for.

MANY, MANY THANKS TO VAN WILLIAMS FOR HIS TIME AND WONDERFUL RESPONSES!  IT WAS TRULY AN HONOR TO INTERVIEW HIM AND ONE OF THE GREATEST THRILLS OF MY LIFE!  I HOPE ALL OF YOU CONTINUE TO ENJOY THE GREEN HORNET PAGES OF POLAR BLAIR'S DEN!