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Comic Book Legends Revealed #295

Welcome to the two-hundred and ninety-fifth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and ninety-four.

Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this new installment of TV Legends Revealed to learn what classic multi-Emmy-Award winning 80s sitcom started due to a joke about another 80s TV series!

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In honor of the opening of the Green Hornet movie, this week is all legends involving the Green Hornet!

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: The Green part of the Green Hornet’s name came about because they could not trademark the name “The Hornet.”

STATUS: I’m Going With False

In 1935, George W. Trendle, the owner of WXYZ, the same Detroit radio station that had debuted The Lone Ranger to great acclaim a few years earlier, decided he wanted to have a companion show to the Lone Ranger, only instead of being set in the Wild West like the Lone Ranger, this series would be set in the present day.

Lone Ranger head writer Fran Striker was given the task of developing the character who ultimately became known as the Green Hornet, and the show debuted in 1936.

(The first comic book series came out in 1940…

they did not have him dressed all in green, though, until 1942…

)

When it originally debuted, though, the first couple of episodes were titled “The Adventures of the Hornet” before changing the name of the show to the now familiar Green Hornet.

It is clear that Trendle was very interested in having the character be “bee-themed” (because he wanted to use the sound of a bee, as he thought it sounded really striking over the radio), so The Hornet’s origins are evident, but the reasons behind the change from The Hornet to the Green Hornet is a bit cloudier.

First off, to be clear, you can get a trademark for “The Hornet.” So the statement (which you see quite often in histories of the Green Hornet) “Trendle discovered that he couldn’t trademark the generic word ‘hornet’” is false on its face. You most certainly can trademark the generic term “The Hornet.”

So if that is your reasoning, you’d be incorrect.

However, that is not to say that Trendle was not under the IMPRESSION that you could not trademark “The Hornet.” That’s a possibility (although Trendle was a pretty sophisticated businessman, so I don’t know if it is likely).

Secondly, it is worth noting that, especially during the 1930s (when trademark law was a lot weaker than it is now), that a mark like “The Green Hornet” certainly would be a STRONGER trademark than “The Hornet,” if only because it would be more distinguishable. So if the statement were “they felt that the Green Hornet would be a BETTER trademark than the Hornet,” then I might be more willing to believe it.

Then again, heck, “The Shadow” was trademarked, and that’s obviously a “generic” term, as well!

It is worth noting that there was a pulp character known as the Hornet, created by Samuel Merwin, that appeared in a few issues of the pulp magazine World Adventurer in 1934.

While perhaps not likely, it is at least possible that Trendle was concerned about this previous creation. In his seminal book on the old days of radio, “On the air: the encyclopedia of old-time radio,” John Dunning claims that Trendle was concerned with another character by the name the Hornet.

The fact that Trendle let the character go to air with the name Hornet lends credence to either Dunning’s belief that he changed it because he was worried about another character (because you’d almost certainly check to see if your character is trademarkable BEFORE you put him on to the airwaves, but it is believable that you could have missed another character out there – it is not like they had name searches in 1936 like they do these days). Or, perhaps most likely, he just thought that The Green Hornet sounded better than The Hornet.

Whatever the motivation, after a couple of epsidoes, the name was changed.

And it was not because they found they could not trademark the name “The Hornet” (heck, a quick check shows nearly 100 trademarks for “Hornet” at the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office).

COMIC LEGEND: Dan Reid debuted on the Green Hornet radio series before there ever was a Reid on the Lone Ranger radio series.

STATUS: True

One of the interesting aspects of the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet’s relationship was that they did not only share the same radio station (and most of their creators), but they also had a familial bond.

Eventually, it was revealed that Britt Reid, the Green Hornet, was the grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger.

Years after the radio show ended, while promoting the short-lived Green Hornet TV series, Trendle noted that he always intended for his new character, the Green Hornet, to be related to the Lone Ranger.

That might very well be true (I don’t know how you could exactly disprove something like “I meant to do that”), but what we CAN see is that in the shows themselves, they were not connected for years.

In fact, when Britt Reid was named in 1936, the Lone Ranger had not yet been given a last name. Heck, his origin was not even really pinned down!

It was not until the 1938 Lone Ranger serial that the origin of the Lone Ranger was determine, which is that he was the surviving member of a group of rangers who were ambushed and killed. The serial kept things pretty basic (and as you can see from his outfit, the serial had some other ideas that were not adopted, like the full face mask for the Ranger)…

Soon after, around 1942, we got the first really official telling of the origin story on the radio show, and this is where we learn the “Reid” connection, as we learn that the Lone Ranger’s brother died in the ambush, and his brother’s name was Dan Reid.

It is then that we meet the Lone Ranger’s nephew, the son of his slain brother, also named Dan Reid.

However, years earlier, we had met Britt Reid’s father on the Green Hornet. He was not a major character, but he was mentioned, and his name was Dan Reid.

Soon after the introduction of Lone Ranger’s nephew, THEN the connection was first implied (I mean, come on, once you name the family “Reid,” you’re basically implying a connection right off the bat!).

It was not confirmed until 1947, when Britt revealed his identity to his father, who then informed Britt that his great-uncle was the Lone Ranger (I don’t believe he actually uses the name, just that he was a masked do-gooder and then The William Tell Overture begins playing in the background).

So amazingly, the character of Dan Reid appeared as an old man years before he appeared as a boy. So was there meant to be a blood connection right from the beginning? It is hard to say what the intent was, but from what actually made its way into the radio show, there was no connection, and certainly not the way that the connection is repeated nowadays, where it is noted as though Dan Reid was a supporting character in the Lone Ranger BEFORE the Green Hornet showed up.

And that is not the case.

In 1954, right in the midst of the success of the Lone Ranger TV series, Jack Wrather purchased the rights to the character. Ever since then, the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet have been owned by different people, so it is unlikely that their familial relationship will get much play (although the Now Green Hornet series slyly alluded to the family past through reference to a “masked man,” dressed like the full-masked Lone Ranger of the 1938 serial shown above).

COMIC LEGEND: J. Edgar Hoover compelled the Green Hornet show to change their opening because it was disrespectful to the FBI.

STATUS: False

J. Edgar Hoover was very much interested in public opinion when it came to the FBI. Heck, as I’ve detailed in a past Movie Legends Revealed, Hoover even was involved in casting (and MORE!) of the film adaptation of the FBI story.

Likewise, he was involved in the creation of a radio series called G-Men, which featured heroic portrayals of the FBI.

Eventually, that series became the extremely popular Gang Busters series (which spun off a DC comic book)…

Well, originally, the Green Hornet’s tagline was “The Green Hornet! He hunts the biggest of all game. Public enemies that even the G-Men cannot reach!”

It eventually changed to “He hunts the biggest of all game…public enemies who try to destroy our America!”

So, as you might imagine, people presume that Hoover was involved in making them change this.

However, in their amazing new book, THE GREEN HORNET: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television, Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson totally debunk this theory. They reprint a letter from Hoover to the Green Hornet show praising the series, with no mention of any problem with the tagline.

The tagline did not change until after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and that’s when, well, pretty much EVERYone changed their taglines to reflect the then-current involvement of the United States in World War II.

So it was the war that changed things, not any problems J. Edgar Hoover had with the G-Men getting “dissed.”

Thanks to Grams and Salomonson for the great info! If you’re interested in the Green Hornet at all, you owe it to yourself to pick up their informative tome (and it is a TOME – it is BIG!).

Also, Snopes dealt with the interesting debate over Kato’s ethnicity in a piece years ago here (if Snopes beats me to something, I’m not going to re-do it) which is worth giving a read (Grams and Salomonson, of course, go into even greater detail in their book on the topic).

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

38 Comments

Nice for the opening!

Great installment this week Brian!

COMIC LEGEND: G. Edgar Hoover compelled the Green Hornet show to change their opening because it was disrespectful to the FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover’s brother?

Hehe…thanks, Philip, I’ll fix it! I fixed it!

Right up there with Barack Q. Obama.

I can see how you got to that particular typo reading the article !

@ Philip Ayres

Yes, G. Edgar Hoover was the ‘Good’ brother, whereas J. Edgar Hoover was the ‘Jerk’. You don’t even want to know what X. Edgar Hoover was.

Very interesting set of facts re: The Hornet and The Ranger. In particular I’m surprised to see that Hornet actually came before Batman. Thanks Brian.

The full-face Ranger mask (which, you know, makes more sense if you’re trying to hide your identity) also shows up in an animated parody from around those times (“The Lonesome Stranger” I think).

Btw, the Ranger’s origin never made much sense to me. OK so he was believed dead so he chose to let people think that- but why? To protect his living relatives from vengeful criminals? I hope they explain it better in the (rumored) new movie with Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Also, I suspect that Mexico’s most famous humorous superhero, El Chapulin Colorado, (“The Red Grasshopper”) was named after the Green Hornet (though otherwise he has nothing in common with him.)

*trips and falls down*

I MEANT to do that! ;)

Sijo,

Sorry to be nitpicky but a chapulín is a locust while a saltamontes is a grasshopper. Yes, I’m a Spanish grammar/language nerd.

Indeed, the Lone Ranger name was not mentioned in that Green Hornet episode (“Too Hot To Handle” Nov 11, 1947). Britt’s father mentions a portrait on the wall of a “masked man on a white horse” and that he rode with that man. The Now comics included that portrait using the full face mask from the serial, as you mentioned.

@Sijo – In the original telling it took the Lone Ranger years to track down all the members of the Cavendish Gang. He did not want Cavendish to know any Ranger had survived, making him more of a “ghost story” that would put fear in the outlaws.

Did anyone ever track down whether it was real or not that Kato’s nationality got changed from Japanese to Philipino because of WW II? I’ve listened to some of the early radio stories and Kato is clearly said to be Japanese but later episodes have this changed.

[...] Comic Book Legends Revealed #295 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic … [...]

This is the one column i look foward to. Love all the old cover/pics. Keep ‘em comin!!!

hey Brian,

I would love to order some copies of your book for my comic book store, but Dianmond does not have it in stock anymore. Do ou know if they ever will?

“Very interesting set of facts re: The Hornet and The Ranger. In particular I’m surprised to see that Hornet actually came before Batman. Thanks Brian.”

Why does that surprise you? If he came after, wouldn’t he have a spandex costume and dress up as an animal instead of a conservative suite and raincoat?

Interesting background on the Ranger–so it was actually the movie serial that first gave the origin?

“And it was not because they found they could not trademark the name “The Hornet” (heck, a quick check shows nearly 100 trademarks for “Hornet” at the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office). ”

Actually, it shows over 100 trademarks in the “word and design” category, most in conjunction with other words like “Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”. All have graphics. Did you look to see how many were just the word “Hornet” without supporting graphics?

In fact, there are only 10 in the “word” (without design) category.
Only two “Green Hornet” and one “Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” tms are ‘live”

Since radio is an audio medium, only a word mark would be applicable for the initial tm.
(The comics and movie serials were several years away at that point)

Without a distinctive visual, Trendle could only apply for a word mark.

So, it’s feasable that Trendle needed to add a prefix to “Hornet” to trademark it, at least until he could get licensing under way.

BTW, the original Green Hornet seal, as seen on the comics covers and other products, had a copyright notice of 1940, even in later uses, since the copyright was good for 28 years at that point.

So nothing in The Green Hornet’s origin makes him seem like he was in any way, shape or form, some kind of womanizing imbecile? Or an unskilled incompetent whose weight is being carried by his sidekick? Or that he is a dumb pothead? Didnt think so.

Hear that, Seth Rogen?

My intro to the Green Hornet was on the old 1960′s Batman TV show. Wasn’t the Green Hornet supposed to get is own show after his appearance on Batman???

[...] Comic Book Legends Revealed #295 | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic … [...]

Oy, the Green Hornet did get his own show. Kind of dull, comparatively–straight crooks rather than super-villains. But hey, Bruce Lee.

The Green Hornet did NOT get his own show after his appearance on BATMAN. He got his own show BEFORE his appearance on BATMAN, but guest-starred in a two-part episode of the more highly viewed Batman show in an attempt to boost the ratings of THE GREEN HORNET, which was nowhere near as popular as BATMAN. The attempt was unsuccessful, however, as THE GREEN HORNET was cancelled after only one season. Which was too bad, because the Hornet show was MUCH better and more watchable than BATMAN. And if anyone doesn’t believe that, just try watching the two shows now. I hate to say this, but the Adam West BATMAN shows are completely unwatchable. The Hornet episodes are tight, gritty, well-plotted action-mystery adventures.

Forget about the Green Hornet, I want to hear about the Mighty Midgets!
Seriously, one thing I often wondered about the Green Hornet is if he always started as a crimefighter whom everyone else thought was a crimelord. It was an interesting hook, but it always seemed like an idea fraught with difficulties, like the fact that he’d be fighting the police as much as he’d be fighting crime. That, and the fact that I could see J. Edgar Hoover having a real problem with a crime fighter like that.
And, to the poster that complained about how Seth Rogen is portraying Green Hornet: Did you even care about the character before the movie was announced? I just hear all this hand ringing over how Seth Rogen is ‘destroying the original intent of the character’, when, lets face it, many of us, including myself, only had vague recollections of the charater before this. Did Adam West’s portrayal of Batman bother you so much?

The comment above from IAMFeAR is correct, in my view. Truthfully, if there is anything wrong even with the ’60s TV show, it’s the fact that The Green Hornet, as capable as he is, is still overshadowed a little bit by Kato. In that case, though, it’s understandable and forgivable, since Kato was, after all, played by Bruce Lee. But in the new movie, they had a chance to rectify this problem by making the lead character more capable than his sidekick–a chance they completely wasted. In fact, they went the other way entirely, which is ridiculous–like making Robin better than Batman.

I’ve always heard that in the original script, Robin was supposed to beat up Kato but that Bruce Lee refused so it was shot as a tie. That’s still giving a lot of credit to Burt Ward.

Hey, what is the publisher of Green Hornet #8?

I notice that in the corner there an ad for a Spirit of ’76 story. I assume that to be the same character that Marvel eventually featured in Invaders and had become Captain America the second in What If?

Spirit of ’76 is one of those Golden Age characters that went out of print that Marvel used the names of for their characters. Same thing for Daredevil, Doc Strange, Black Panther, Ghost Rider, Captain Marvel, and on and on…

Mark: Yeah, that is giving a lot of credit to Burt Ward, although supposedly he was a black belt in karate who was hired for the Robin role at least partially for his athletic abilities. But I don’t think it was about Burt Ward losing to Bruce Lee (or vice versa); I think it was about Robin losing to Kato (or vice versa). Reportedly, the producers decided to call it a draw so as not to offend the fans of either show (even though it was pretty obvious from watching it that Bruce could probably have single-handedly whupped EVERYONE in that room!

“Seriously, one thing I often wondered about the Green Hornet is if he always started as a crimefighter whom everyone else thought was a crimelord. It was an interesting hook, but it always seemed like an idea fraught with difficulties, like the fact that he’d be fighting the police as much as he’d be fighting crime.”

Lyle, in those days The Spider, The Shadow, and numerous literary adventurers of the pre-World War II era adopted secret identities due to the fact that they knew that they police would arrest them for their sudden justice. Other than Doc Savage (who didn’t kill his opponents except when it was completely unavoidable — he just shipped them off to be lobotomized or the equivalent) and the 1939 introduced The Avenger, relatively few of the serial magazine protagonists of this era worked with the open approval and admiration of the police.

Steve Rotterdam

January 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Excellent posting, Brian. Now I really have to go get your book as well as the Grams/Salomonson one!

“I hate to say this, but the Adam West BATMAN shows are completely unwatchable.”

You sir, have no sense of humor. Those shows are genius!

Any particular reason my previous comment has been in the moderation queue for three days?

joe young: SOME of them are genius, but certainly not all of them. Some of them have only brief flashes of genius. And some of them are downright silly. All in all, they were very inconsistent in their quality. For example, having Batman reach behind his back and pull out (supposedly from his utility belt) an “alphabet soup bat-container” (as he did in one of the Green Hornet episodes) is not genius; it’s just nauseating stupidity. Sorry.

Man, I’d forgotten that the Hornet was involved in that episode.

The bat alphabet soup container was ‘so bad it’s good’, IMO. So was the silly stamp press death trap.

John S.:

“For example, having Batman reach behind his back and pull out (supposedly from his utility belt) an “alphabet soup bat-container” (as he did in one of the Green Hornet episodes) is not genius; it’s just nauseating stupidity.”

We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

joe young: Agreed.

A nice column, but sadly (not too sound pedantic), formally outside of the ambit of this column.

As Ed Love said:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/09/29/the-line-it-is-drawn-59-comic-book-characterspulp-novel-characters/

“If you said “comic strip heroes” you wouldn’t suddenly expect to see the Spider or Phantom Detective and “movie serial heroes” wouldn’t include Doc Savage or Sherlock Holmes who appeared in various other popular media of the time. It has a specific meaning. Don’t dilute it”.

In the same vein, sadly this column did not actually feature any legends about the Green Hornet comic books. While I can allow columns about media adaptations of properties that started in comic books (since even successful adaptations of properties such as Wonder Woman will feature shout-outs to the original medium by featuring animated openings in the credits, superimposed sound-effects in live action, etc.), to do a column on a property that started in another medium seems a little off.

Would you do a column about Luke Skywalker, who actually owes more to comic strips (e.g. Flash Gordon inspiring Star Wars, Darth Vader resembling Doctor Doom) than the Green Hornet (who predates the Phantom by 17 days) does? Luke Skywalker/Star Wars actually has a longer continuous run in comic books than the Green Hornet ever has (Star Wars comic books have appeared regularly since 1977; I found many of them in a local convenience store spinner rack which had not one Moonstone, Now or Dynamite Green Hornet comic book) , Luke Skywalker has super powers, Luke Skywalker battles foes who more resemble stereotypical comic book villains (I pointed to Darth Vader resembling Doctor Doom) than the Green Hornet usually does, etc. (You often hear space adventure stories called “Buck Rogers stuff”-of course, Buck Rogers started in prose, but as Anthony Rogers).

Was there anything in the research that said why he picked GREEN for the Hornet? I guess you could ask that about a lot of comic book characters, but it’s a visual medium, so there’s things that work and don’t. On radio, you could pick anything, because it’s all in the imagination. Is Green Hornet way better sounding than Blue Hornet? Or Red? Just curious if there was any reasoning to tacking on that color.

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