Monday, March 7, 2016

Bruce Lee: the Man Who Was Kato

...Bruce Lee's performance as Kato was, to many, the defining aspect of the Green Hornet TV series.
But who was the "man behind the mask", and how did he end up in the role?
As for who he was, there's a well-done overall bio (with clips) HERE.
As for how he got the Green Hornet gig...
In early 1966, the country went Bat-mad with the mid-season debut of the Adam West-starring tv series...
All three networks jumped on the bandwagon, soliciting ideas for new comic book/strip-themed shows for September 1966.
Batman's producer, William Dozier, came up with several ideas, including...
...whose radio show reruns were getting great ratings with college-age audiences and lp record albums (like the one above) of the old episodes were flying out of stores.
(Note: there was no Green Hornet comic book at that point.)
The character's creator insisted that, unlike Batman, the show be played "straight" rather than "campy", a point Dozier emphasized in his "pitch" to the ABC execs...

Dozier's first (and only) choice for Kato was a guy he had auditioned in 1965 for the role of Number One Son in a Charlie Chan TV pilot that never got off the ground.
Here's a condensed version of how things went after that from Marvel's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #28 (1976), written by Martin Sands, penciled by Joe Staton and inked by Tony DeZuniga's studio...
The 1993 biopic Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story showed an apocryphal scene demonstrating how Bruce would "add" to the stuntwork in a scene to liven-up the action.
BTW, the Director character in the sequence is played by Van Williams, the TV Green Hornet!
Lee went to Hong Kong, immediately found work, and, from his first film, The Big Boss, onward, became a box-office sensation.
Due to that, The Green Hornet was a hit in reruns on Asian TV networks, which advertised it as The Kato Show.
American producers then cast him as the Asian member of a multi-racial cast of protaganists along with Jim Kelly and John Saxon in the kung-fu/spy mashup Enter the Dragon, which resulted in Bruce Lee becaming the genre's first superstar in America and Europe.
Sadly, Lee died under mysterious circumstances shortly before Dragon hit the theatres.
All his Hong Kong films were dubbed and released to theatres, doing extremely well at the box office.
Desperate for new Lee-based product, producer Laurence Joachim licensed the theatrical rights to the Green Hornet and composited episodes together to make two feature films, The Green Hornet...
First release poster
Second release poster (above) and Japanese release poster (below)
...and Fury of the Dragon. both of which gave Lee top billing!
Here's the trailers for both of them.

...And here's the entire Green Hornet feature film...

Be here tomorrow, when we take a look at how Bruce Lee's Kato differed from the previous movie and radio incarnations.
The answers will surprise you!
And have a look at the other participants in...
Please check out the rest of the astounding entries by clicking HERE.


  1. Looking forward to the conclusion - a very exciting look at Lee. Such a dynamic character and man - not to slight anyone else, but he really did go too early, didn't he?

    1. He did, indeed.
      At least we have a (much too small) body of work we can enjoy and share.

  2. He really did have one of the more fascinating Hollywood stories, and as Mitchell said, one that ended far too soon. I am really enjoying (and learning from) this multi-part tribute.