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!
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.
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.
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!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.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…
See you all next week!