Here’s the first picture released of Johnny Depp as kind of ‘ghost-warrior’ Tonto and a slightly city-fied Armie Hammer as the Masked Man in THE LONE RANGER.
Radio Ranger actor Brace Beemer often wore a black & white outfit in his public appearances as the character, so it’s not entirely without precedence.
Directed by Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN) THE LONE RANGER is due out in 2013 by Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Films.
Continuing in the western theme, DOCTOR WHO will go West in the third episode of the new season of the revived series, Written by Toby Whithouse (BEING HUMAN).
Actually, it’s south, as Spain is subbing for the American West in the BBC production.
Here’s a pic of Matt Smith donning a Stetson once again for the show, in which Ben Browder (FARSCAPE, STARGATE SG-1) will guest star. Saul Metzstein is directing.
Photo via Whovians.net
Variety, Armie Hammer Jr, (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) is being considered to don the mask of The Lone Ranger in Walt Disney Pictures’ feature film adaptation of the radio, comics and television western icon.
Johnny Depp (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN) has been long-signed to play the masked man’s Native American friend and crime-fighting partner in the Jerry Bruckhiemer Production. PIRATES helmer Gore Verbinski (RANGO) is set to direct, from a screenplay by Justin Haythe (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD).
Johnny Depp will first have to complete his role in DARK SHADOWS, due to roll very soon with director Tim Burton. Yet Disney still hopes to ready THE LONE RANGER for release in 2012.
This isn’t the first time Armie Hammer’s been up for a superhero role, he was set to play The Batman in Warner Brothers’ aborted JUSTICE LEAGUE movie.
Part Three: The 4-Color Hornet
In The Golden Age
The Green Hornet is a natural character for comic books. Several radio characters made that leap, including The Shadow, the Lone Ranger, and Captain Midnight.
Green Hornet comic books first appeared with a cover date of December, 1940 — due to the three months in advance dating policy of most publishers, it probably hit the stands in Spetember of that year.
The first series, titled Green Hornet Comics, were published by Helnit/ Holyoke Comics. Unlike most comic book publishers, who were based in New York, they were located in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Stories were credited to Fran Striker, but they were likely freely adapted, possibly directly by the artists from Bert Whitman Associates.
This was one of the many “art shops” put together to supply publishers that did not have full-time comic book staff with product, often churned out in what approached assembly line fashion –- perhaps even sweat-shop conditions under some bosses. Bert Whitman was an editorial and comic strip artist who was also involved in comic books, considered at that time a real step down from newspapers.
Though portrayed with the correct black half-mask on the first issue’s painted cover, the character was soon depicted wearing a green mask with a black hornet on it –- which is much easier to draw and reproduce via rapid printing on cheap newsprint paper.
The Helnit series only lasted six issues, ending in 1942, but was quickly picked up by Harvey Comics. They continued with Helnit’s numbering, their first being #7.
The cover and some of the interior work was by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, creators of Captain America, and veterans of NY art shops, who later started their own shop. On the cover of #7, the Hornet insigna was omitted from the Green Hornet’s mask. This would apparently happen from time to time in the rush to get the work done.
Harvey did well with the series, which trumpeted the fact that The Hornet was a star On the Air and In the Movies, and published 40 issues by mid-1949. (Technically, the comic was renamed The Green Hornet Fights Crime with issue #34, and The Green Hornet, Racket Buster with #44 –- although on the covers it actually read: Radio’s Racket Buster: The Green Hornet.)
It’s unclear who who and/or adapted the stories for the printed page, though possibly artists/writers like Arthur Cazeneuve (who also drew the golden age Blue Beetle, a super-powered, chainmail-wearing riff on the Hornet, with his own, short-lived Mutual Network radio show) did the work themselves.
Artwork was by a number of hands, possibly by the freelance shop run by Cazeneuve and his brother Louis. A large portion of the work is by Al Avison, who did a lot of Captain America art and other heroes for Marvel Comics, often emulating the Simon/Kirby style.
The Green Hornet also appeared in other Harvey comics from time to time, and other Harvey heroes and features shared his title. It was during the Harvey run that the comic book Hornet began to dress mostly all in green, possibly a result of being handled by people who were more familiar with conventional costumed superheroes, who tended to wear distinct and seldom varying “uniforms”, rather than simply slipping on street clothes and a mask as disguise.
I should note that the Harvey series fairly consistently depicted Britt Reid as having blond hair, which was how it was described in the radio series.
After the radio show went off the air in 1952, Dell comics published a single issue with the character (Four Color Comics #486) in 1953. The painted cover artwork was by Frank Thorne, who also did Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim comics. In later years, he would do “good girl art” for Marvel’s Red Sonja, inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.
Whitman Books put out three ‘Better Little Books’, small hard cover books for children, with many comic book style illustrations enlivening the stories. They were The Green Hornet Strikes (1940), The Green Hornet Returns (1941), and The Green Hornet Cracks Down (1942), all credited to Fran Striker.
The Lone Ranger also had books of these variety published, along with a newspaper comic strip, and his own pulp magazine. Despite seeming a natural choice for the blood and thunder single-character pulps, The Green Hornet never cracked that market.
The Lone Ranger made it to television in 1949, and was eventually joined by WXYZ’s Sergeant Preston of The Yukon. However, for various reasons, The Green Hornet did not generate a 1950’s TV series.
George W. Trendle felt that The Hornet could be a big hit on television. Sponsors, on the other hand, were concerned that the grim, violent, often cynical world that Britt Reid lived in would not be as acceptable to parents as the more wholesome and perhaps as importantly, distanced by history adventures of the masked rider of the plains. The adventures of a vigilante in the old West had a nostalgic, fairy tale-like quality, the Hornet lived in uncomfortably relevant modern times.
This had already become a concern on the radio series, with The Green Hornet being eventually cleared of the murders attributed to him, and becoming an ally of Police Commissioner Higgins, a friend of Britt’s father Dan Reid, both of whom now knew Britt’s secret and noble purpose.
Frustrated by a lack of positive response from potential sponsors, George Trendle actually went to the extent of paying for a TV pilot to be made in Hollywood, out of his own pocket (or the company’s). In 1952, LONE RANGER producer Jack Wrather put together a half-hour film, directed by Paul Landres (THE RETURN OF DRACULA), and starring one of radio’s Sam Spade actors and game show host Steve Dunne as the Hornet.
The pilot did not sell the show to advertisers, likely because the pilot’s budget was someting under $30,000 – an insufficient amount to fund an action-adventure show, and the results probably showed onscreen. Shopped around for several years, this reportedly unimpressive production is said to be lost, with no surviving prints, and even still pictures are elusive. The only photo I’ve ever seen is one of the gas gun made for the production, which is a ringer for the one on the cover of the Dell comic. Could that one-shot also have been a back-door attempt to sell sponsors on a series, or other Green Hornet projects?
At one point Trendle had contacted Universal Studios, inquiring if perhaps episodes of the movie serials could be cut together to form an inexpensive TV series, presumably as a sort of trial run for a new program. This did not come to pass, either.
It would not be until the mid-1960’s that the Green Hornet would make the jump to television. When it did, a new take on an old character would change the balance of the Green Hornet and Kato team—probably forever.
Part One: The Hornet Takes Flight
January 31st, 1936 marked the radio debut of Detroit radio station WXYZ’s new masked crime fighter, THE GREEN HORNET. Their previous mystery man THE LONE RANGER had proved a huge hit, and station owner George W. Trendle was determined to catch lightning in a bottle once again.
With Lone Ranger writer/creator Fran (Francis Hamilton) Striker, and director of the Ranger and other XYZ shows James Jewell, he determined to come up with a modern-day paladin who could combat political and corporate corruption, along with racketeers as well as outright mobsters. Rather than bringing “law and order to the early Western United States”, this new champion of justice would also strike at “criminals within the law” in a large city. Such a vigilante would be at odds with the police as well as wrong-doers, so a new angle was needed. The solution: make the masked man a wanted criminal in the eyes of authority, a modern Robin Hood.
Fran Striker provided for that in the first adventures. Britt Reid, a globe-trotting young playboy, was given the job of publisher of The Daily Sentinel by his father Dan Reid, a maverick newsman and wealthy entrepreneur with a social conscience. Perhaps that would sober the young rascal up. Unknown to his hard-driven father, Britt Reid already had that serious side, hidden under a devil-may-care attitude. During his travels in the orient, Britt had saved the life of a man named Kato. This man would become young Reid’s friend and ally, and who despite his inventive genius would pose as a simple manservant.
Together they had built a suped-up car which they called The Black Beauty, since it had been assembled in secret in what used to be the stables of the older building where Reid lived. When the supercharger was cut in, the engine sounded like an angry hornet.
Outraged by a particular criminal, they had ridden out to deal with him in vigilante fashion. However, the miscreant was killed by another wrong-doer, and “The Hornet” was now wanted for murder. This, Reid realized was the perfect cover. He could now pose as a criminal, walk into their dens, and trick, blackmail, and betray them to the police — or set them up to wipe each other out. Rather than carrying a pair of six-shooters, the Hornet would carry a non-lethal gas gun.
As can be seen, The Green Hornet was an admixture of many other fictional heroes. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnston McCulley’s Zorro (the day-time wastrel Don Diego Dela Vega). Some of McCulley’s literary creations, such as The Crimson Clown, The Black Star, and The Bat used gas guns and bombs, rather than bullets. The legend of Robin Hood was mentioned as an inspiration, and I think the ‘bent’ hero Jimmie Dale, alias The Grey Seal had a particular influence, conscious or not.
Beginning in 1910 in Street and Smith’s People’s Magazine, The Grey Seal was named for the diamond-shaped gray paper seal he left as a ‘signature’, and not from emulating in any way a sea-going mammal. James Dale was a bored playboy, an expert on locks and safes due to his father’s business, who turned to safe-cracking as an amusing hobby. If any items were removed, they would either be returned, or if taken from a no-good, donated to a worthy cause. However, his secret was discovered by a young woman, who “blackmailed” him into becoming an active agent of justice.
Donning a black mask, coat, and slouch hat, The Grey Seal would deal with villains in the New York City badlands as well as in the salons of the rich. Author Frank Packard’s Jimmie Dale appeared a number of magazine serials, several novels, and a 16-chapter silent movie serial, ALIAS THE GREY SEAL (1917).
I should note that for the first few episodes (no recordings are known to survive) the Green Hornet was referred to a simply The Hornet. and the program actually called THE ADVENTURES OF THE HORNET, according to researchers Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson. However, it’s been reported in books such as Wyxie Wonderland (a book on the history of WXYZ) that the station’s legal staff raised the issue that the show bore some similarities to the pulp magazine character The Spider, such as the insect-derived name, often being thought a criminal and wanted by the police, leaving a red spider mark as a signature on his work —usually dead criminals, as Richard Wentworth’s alter-ego carried .45 automatics which he used quite liberally— and having an “oriental” aide (Sikh warrior Ram Sing serving as chauffeur and knife-wielding enforcer).
Always a shrewd businessman, George Trendle decided after some discussion to re-christen the character the GREEN Hornet, which seemed sufficient to make the name unique. There are no actual green hornets to be found in nature.
By the way, the radio Green Hornet did NOT dress all in green. He wore a hat, topcoat ( generally tan or camel in offically approved artwork), and often a scarf. To hide his identity, he wore a black mask over the lower part of his face. After a while, he sported a green Hornet insignia on the mask, like the ones emblazoned on the seals he left to mark his involvement in cases.
Britt Reid/The Green Hornet was played by the powerfully-voiced Al Hodge from 1936 to 1943, with another stint in 1945. Hodge would later go on to play science fiction hero CAPTAIN VIDEO on television for the Dumont network in the 1950’s.
Donovan Faust played the part for awhile, followed by Robert Hall, and Jack McCarthy from 1947 to the show’s end in 1952. Known to older New Yorkers as “Captain” Jack McCarthy, he would serve as WPIX-TV’s kids show host (showing mostly Popeye cartoons), staff announcer, and presenter of the Saint Patrick’s Day parades during the 1960’s and 70’s.
The role of Kato was originated by Tokutaro Hayashi, known as Raymond Toyo. The fact that he was of Japanese descent had something to do with Kato intially being identified as Japanese, rather than Chinese or another Asian nationality. (Reid and Kato met in either Hong Kong or Singapore.)
Legend had it that Kato became Filipino after Pearl Harbor, which makes a good story. However, the show had described the character as being from the Philippines as early as 1939. In later years, actors such as Rollon Parker (who often doubled as the Newsboy usually heard at the end of the programs, assuring us that The Green Hornet was Still At Large), Michael Tolland, and others played the role.
One of the characters that would make the Hornet’s life more difficult was former police officer Mike Axford. Axford actually pre-dated the Green Hornet series; he had been in many episodes of WARNER LESTER, MANHUNTER, an offshoot of WXYZ’s MANHUNTERS series, which featured various crime fighters, and also birthed the Lone Ranger. On WARNER LESTER, Axford had begun as a hard-nosed Irish cop, eventually becoming more friendly and avuncular to the hero.
On THE GREEN HORNET, he would begin as a retired police officer, now a bodyguard the elder Reid had afflicted upon his “wild” son, and living in the same home. Soon Britt would give him a job as a reporter for the Sentinel, and gently evict him from his digs. The character would mellow into a largely comedic role, though still often a menace to the Hornet, who he longed to unmask. Jim Irwin originated the role, and played the part until 1938. Gilbert Shea would play Axford from 1939.
Taking the side of the Hornet was Lenore “Casey” Case, who had been Dan Reid’s secretary when he was publisher. The part was played thoughout the entire series by Leonore “Lee” Allman, director Jim Jewell’s sister. Though she may have suspected after a number of years, Casey did not actually learn Britt Reid was the Hornet for a fact until 1948.
Like THE LONE RANGER, one of the things that made THE GREEN HORNET memorable was the music. WXYZ tended to use orchestral recordings of classical works. The theme was Rimsky-Korsokov’s The Flight of the Bumblebee, an apt choice. Igor Stravinsky’s Infernal Dance from The Firebird was also often used. As Russia did not recognize copyright at the time, the piece was effectively in the public domain in the U.S., and fair game. These cues and others from various sources really gave the shows gravitas, as many radio adventure series used no dramatic music or relied upon an organist to provide accompaniment.
Also adding zip was the Hornet buzz, attributed variously to the Black Beauty’s engine, horn, or appearing apropos of nothing, simply as a dramatic device to signify the Green Hornet was present, much as a filtered laugh heralded The Shadow. Various buzzing devices were tried, including humming through a wax paper-covered comb, before the sound crew obtained a theremin, the early Russian-invented electronic musical instrument.
The show went out on WXYZ Detroit, and the stations of the loosely aligned Michigan Radio Network. In 1938, it was picked up by the Mutual Network (flagship station WOR, New York), and in later years by the NBC Blue Network, and it’s successor ABC.
THE GREEN HORNET became a national success, and soon Hollywood would come calling.
To Be Continued…
“A fierey Horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-yo Sil-ver! The Lone Ranger Rides Again!'”
For most people who remember those words, they are indelibly related in the mind with the voice of radio/TV announcer Fred Foy.
Foy passed away yesterday, December 22nd, 2011 at the age of 89.
Begining as an actor/announcer for radio just before World War II, during wich he served in the Army’s Armed Forces Radio, in 1948 Fred Foy was selected as the announcer for THE LONE RANGER radio series. He replaced announcer Harry Golden, and became the voice most associated with the series.
In fact, as Foy related with relish, he actually played the Lone Ranger in a single episode (March 29, 1954). Lead actor Brace Beemer had come down with a bad case of laryngitis, and watched as his announcer played his role. Afterwards, Beemer, who had be one of the announcer/narrators of the series before replacing Earle W. Grasier as the Lone Ranger, said words to the effect of: “Pretty good, Foy. Lets just say, I’ll never miss another show.”
Acting as well as announcing for WXYZ Radio in Detroit, where the syndicated shows originated, Fred Foy also played usually small roles on THE LONE RANGER, THE GREEN HORNET, and SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON. He would play Sgt. Preston a number of times, though I don’t have the details at hand.
When THE LONE RANGER debuted on television, the earliest episodes featured actor Gerald Mohr (ANGRY RED PLANET) as announcer/narrator. Though he possesed a fine voice, his grim delivery was not what people expected, and the producers soon had Fred Foy record the shows opening and needed narration in his trademark high- energy style. These were done from Detroit and sent out to the West Coast, so he never worked with the TV cast.
Fred Foy gave the show a sense of breathless urgency and enthusiasm; you could tell he loved it. Having met him and heard him speak a number of times, I found out he really was a fan of high adventure. He subscribed to relatively recent pulp reprints of The Spider, according to then-publisher Rich Harvey, and delighted in appearing at Old Time Radio conventions, often announcing or playing the leads in THE LONE RANGER and THE GREEN HORNET, his voice having lost nothing of it’s power over the decades.
Fred Foy became an announcer for ABC, and narrated documentaries in later years.
Deadline.com annouced that Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN) has signed on to direct Disney’s THE LONE RANGER.
This will re-unite him with PIRATES star Johnny Depp, who also provides the voice of the starring lizard in Verbinski’s animated film RANGO. Depp, of Native American heritage, is set to play the Ranger’s trusted friend & partner, Tonto.
No start date or title character casting news has been announced as yet. Depp’s next project to go before the lens is likely DARK SHADOWS, with Tim Burton (SLEEPY HOLLOW).
According to Deadline.com, Gore Verbinski (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END) is considering signing up to direct Walt Disney Pictures THE LONE RANGER.
Verbinski worked well with Johnny Depp on the PIRATES films, and Depp (of part Native American background) is signed to play the Ranger’s faithful ally in the new version of the classic Western team of heroes.
THE LONE RANGER, created by Fran Striker for George W. Trendle’s WXYZ first aired January 30, 1933, on the Detroit, Michigan radio station. It soon became a syndicated hit, then went to the Mutal Network. In later years it was carried on NBC’s “Blue Network”, which became ABC. The series ran until 1954.
The Ranger was played by George Seaton (later to direct MIRACLE ON 34th Street), Earle W. Graser, and Brace Beemer. Graser, who was killed in a car accident, was the only actor who could do the Lone Ranger’s cry of “Hi-yo, Silver!” to everyone’s satisfaction, and a recording of his redition was used for the finales of Beemer’s episodes, and later tracked into all the Lone Ranger live action televison series.
Stage actor John Todd played Tonto in most of the radio shows, sometimes “doubling” as another character, often a British gentleman.
THE GREEN HORNET was originally a spin-off of THE LONE RANGER, with Britt Reid being the son of Dan Reid, nephew of the Ranger’s murdered elder brother.
Over the years, the Lone Ranger also appeared in novels, Big Little Books, comic books and newspaper strips.
In 1938, Rebuplic Pictures produced THE LONG RANGER serial, in which “Chief Thundercloud” (Victor Daniels, a Native American actor) played Tonto, while dimunitive but deep-voice actor Billy Bechtler dubbed the voice of the Lone Ranger. Onscreen, the Lone Rager was played by several different actors and stuntman Yakima Canutt, as the identity of the Ranger was a mystery; he was posing as one of a group of Texas Rangers. I won’t spoil that little riddle. The mystery angle worked because the Lone Ranger wore a mask that covered the entire face.
In 1939, they released THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN, in which Robert Livingston played The Lone Ranger, posing as a cowboy named Bill Andrews, Billy Betchler again dubbed the voice of the Ranger, while Duncan Renaldo (THE CISCO KID) played a Mexican ally of the heroes.
THE LONE RANGER was one of the first TV series to be shot entirely on film, begining in 1949, and starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. The show shot five seasons between `49 and `57. The 1952 season saw Moore replaced by John Hart, who had played radio hero Jack Armstrong in a Columbia movie serial. Clayton Moore would return for the fourth and fifth season, the final year shot in color.
Moore and Silverheels also starred in two color feature films, THE LONE RANGER (1956) and THE LONG RANGER AND THE CITY OF GOLD (1958).
Cartoon series Lone Rangers would include Michael Rye, who played Jack Armstrong on radio (and voiced Green Lantern on SUPERFRIENDS), and William Conrad (billed as Jay Darnoc).
THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (1981) starred Klinton Spilsbury and the Ranger, with Michael Horse as Tonto. Christopher Llyod (STAR TREK III) played the villain Butch Cavendish. Spilsbury’s voice was dubbed by James Keach in this ambitous misfire.
The WB Network attempted a reboot of the Lone Ranger in 2003, garnering mostly derision from critics and fans of the character.
Hopefully, Disney’s version will be a respectful update of the hero, perhaps similar to the new comic books from Dynamite Entertainment.
As announcer Fred Foy used to urge on radio and televison: “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear — The Lone Ranger Rides Again!”