The Amazing Black Beauty
By Dennis Rau
The story of The Black Beauty, famed rolling arsenal of crime fighter "The Green Hornet" is one that has become known to me. A story that a few old fans might enjoy as well. Since Feb.18, 2001 is the 65th birthday of "The Green Hornet's" radio debut, let's celebrate this event by taking a quick spin in the Black Beauty down Memory Lane, with a little detour to see where the cast of 'The Green Hornet' is today on the Green Hornets' 65th birthday.
Our story begins in Detroit, Michigan. Radio station WXYZ, where on Feb. 18, 1936, George Trendle's crimefighter The Green Hornet first aired. It was the Golden Age of radio, but for the rest of America, it was still the Great Depression.
The Green Hornet and Lone Ranger radio programs became very popular, yet the writers and actors who gave life to these heroes were never fairly compensated, it is said.
During those tough depression times, many of the talented people who worked so hard to develop these American legends did so for little or no pay.
How ironic that two such famous heroes for justice were practically robbed from their creators, but ironies are common in the place where this story is told. Few people today remember these two early heroes, or ever knew that Britt Reid (the secret identity of the Green Hornet) was said to be the great grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger, John Reid.
These early radio programs lasted until 1952.
Flash forward to Sept. 9, 1966 when the TV show 'The Green Hornet' first aired.
September 9, 2001 is the 35th anniversary of the first airing of the TV show. In the case of the Lone Ranger, Tonto saved his life and became his partner. In the case of The Green Hornet, Britt Reid saved Kato's life and Kato became his lifelong servant. The Lone Ranger had Silver, and the call went out : "Hi Ho Silver; "The Green Hornet has The Black Beauty, and the call goes out :"Let's roll, Kato".
Fans of The Green Hornet followed his exploits fighting various gangsters and evildoers in his historically unnamed fair city, protecting "the rights and lives of decent citizens". His common perception as a criminal was a blessing and a curse.
A crime fighter rides the night with his aide, risking his life and righting wrongs. When the police sirens are heard, the crime fighter must flee into the night, so like a criminal himself.
Yet, the District Attorney is a trusted confidant. Irony is seen clearly, even on the darkest nights.
Whether it was irony or an old-fashioned tough break, The Green Hornet was cancelled, the last episode aired July 14, 1967. Next year, July 14, 2002 will be the 35th anniversary of the last show. That's another time. Tonight, we remember the show, the actors and the Black Beauty.
After the show was cancelled, the car sat neglected on a back lot for many years. It was then restored by its creator, Dean Jeffries, to its proper glory. I spoke to Dean Jeffries about his creation, and learned a lot about this amazing car.
Initially, Dean Jeffries was to build the Batmobile, but that project never came together.
Dean was contracted to build two Black Beauties for the Green Hornet TV show, and did it in 30 days. These two cars, both Chrysler Crown Imperials were hand-fashioned by Mr. Jeffries. These two cars, known as #1 or the 'working prop car' and #2 are alive and well today. They are the only two Black Beauties with a real TV show heritage.
A full detailed look at this amazing car is something any action/TV/sci-fi fan would love. The design of this machine and the many devices it carries will delight fans, things like:
rocket launchers, front and rear; smoke guns, front and rear; oil gun in the rear; headlights that flip from regular lights to "infra-green"; a mortar; an external loudspeaker; a flying deployable scanner with a closed circuit TV monitor inside; a flipping rear license plate; even a 'tack sweeper' to sweep away sharp objects from the tires in the front and a 'broom' in the rear to cover the Beauty's tracks. I was told the sweepers were a later add-on not done by Dean.
The door handles are absent. Instead, Dean incorporated buttons that were flush to the surface, one press down on this button and the door opens.
What may be the first electric door locks were installed by Dean, operated by an early version of the remote electronic 'clicker' used in many cars today. Inside the Beauty, more surprises await. Dean told me the Black Beauty has the standard block engine, the standard black leather upholstery, power windows and an automatic, column-mounted transmission. The flat black paint job was a standard when bright lights and cameras are used.
Kato's arsenal was on the front passenger seat, and included a change of clothes, spare darts, mask, you know, crime-fighter stuff.
In the rear compartment is revealed the hiding places of the Hornet Sting and non-lethal gas gun, in what are known as the 'C' pillars. Also built into the rear seat is a small desk or writing area, a storage place for a complete change of clothes for the Hornet, there are telephones in the front and the rear. Oddly, there is no regular radio, and seat belts are absent. I was surprised to discover no spare tire. Lucky for TV crime fighters, flat tires never happen. After a long night of crime fighting, the Black Beauty utilized 1"x2" steel tubes that flipped down in the front and rear, to be met by matching fitted clamps in the floor , permitting the Beauty to be flipped upside down and stored under the floor of Britt Reids' garage.
Next item on our little tour is an update on the stars of the show. Today, Van Williams (Britt Reid and The Green Hornet) still makes appearances, he's scheduled to do a Sci-fi Expo in Plano, Texas on Oct 20-21, 2001, along with Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin) and many others.
After his role as Kato, Bruce Lee went on to stun the martial arts world with a flurry of kicks and punches so fast that he was actually asked to 'slow it down' so the cameras could see the movements. Bruce has many movies to his credit, going back to his childhood. His 'Enter The Dragon' is considered by martial artists to be the Ben Hur of martial arts movies. Bruce left us all at the peak of his popularity, his appeal so strong that you could say he amazed the world -then saddened the world- with his passing. Bruce's ideals and concepts happily live on in the hearts and minds of his students and fans around the world. His spirit is very much alive today.
Wende Wagner, the sharp and classy Lenore Case, secretary of Britt Reid, graced the show immensely. Her extraordinary character not only helped the Hornet win many battles, she also helped keep the Hornet's secret identity a secret. Sadly, Miss Wagner lost her battle with cancer on Feb. 26, 1997. She is missed and loved very much. There is a site dedicated to her at: http://www.wende-wagner.org/
Lloyd Gough, the tough-talking yet tender-hearted Daily Sentinel reporter Mike Axford, was once on Hollywood's blacklist. His role on 'Green Hornet' was his reentry into acting. Some of his great movies included 'Sunset Boulevard', 'Rancho Notorious' and 'The Fugitive'.
Not to overlook his role in the movie, 'The Green Hornet'. He was one heck of an actor and an ace reporter. A few present-day writers learned a thing or two from him.
Mr. Gough passed away in July, 1984 in Sherman Oaks, California.
Walter Brooke, the rock-solid District Attorney Frank Scanlon, went on after 'Hornet' to make several movies. He's the guy who says "plastics!" to Dustin Hoffman in 'The Graduate'. Everybody who has seen the movie remembers that line. 'Conquest of Space', 'The New Adventures of Heidi' and 'The Green Hornet Vol.1' are some of his other movies. During his career, he made a meaningful contribution to American film.
Mr. Brooke passed away in Aug. 1986 in Studio City, California.
The Black Beauty #1 is alive and well, cared for by my friend Louis Ringe .
http://www.theblackbeauty.com/ is his website, a great stop for fans. The Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles displays Black Beauty #1 and other famous cars.
The Black Beauty #2 is also alive and well, my friend Karl Kirchner in South Carolina is the lucky owner. See here for Karl's history of the #2 car, in his own words. His e-mail address: Kirchner@upstate.net Both Karl and Louis have helped so much to get this story to the fans. You might say it took two Black Beauties to make the TV show what it was, and it takes two owners like Louis and Karl to make the story what it is today.
Dean Jeffries still has his Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling, 3077 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90068. His favorite, among the cars he's built, is the 'Manta Ray', seen in movies like "Bikini Beach Party". The Manta Ray is also on display at The Petersen Automotive Museum.
Today, Dean drives either a customized van, a VW, or a pickup truck around Hollywood.
My learning experience with Dean took me there through the eyes of a true innovator, creator of some automotive Hollywood film classics.
Dennis Rau is just a regular guy and fan of "The Green Hornet" TV show. To him, the vehicle seen on that TV show seemed different. He felt some kind of strange connection to the Black Beauty, but never understood it until 35 years later. Due to family connections in the martial arts world, he once had an opportunity to go see Bruce Lee perform at a martial arts show in NY's Madison Square Garden: however, on the day of the show, he forgot and went fishing instead. " I later explained that I was sorry I missed that show, but I'll be sure to see him next time. Sadly, though there would be no next time." He is quoted: " I always wanted to thank Bruce for a small autographed picture he sent me. Somehow, I think he knows."
The fact that 35 years later Dennis would be the one to tell the tale is just one more example of the irony we promised you in this story.
The people met along the way, each different in many wonderful ways, all were a piece of a big picture. A picture that has taken 35 years to develop. In love and honor and respect we toast that big picture, all the people the made "The Green Hornet" a reality- all the writers, actors, and fans on this, the 65th radio birthday and ironically also the 35th TV anniversary of George Trendle's 'The Green Hornet'.
"Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.
That is all ye know on Earth, and all you need to know" -Keats