Friday, August 10, 2012

The Green Hornet: The Lost Radio Adventures

Fran Striker wrote in a number of inside jokes throughout The Green Hornet radio program, with characters on rare occasion making reference to The Lone Ranger. One of these jokes can also be credited as the most important and influential factor in the expansion of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

During the broadcast of January 13, 1938, The Green Hornet pays a late-night visit to the house of Judge Woodbury, known for being strict in his courtroom and in need of a little push to set a trap and expose a crooked attorney. The Green Hornet climbs through the window of the judge’s bedroom. As the announcer describes ...


ANNOUNCER: The slick black car of The Green Hornet with its super-powered motor was parked in the drive of Judge Woodbury’s home a few minutes later. The Judge was listening to The Lone Ranger, one of his favorite radio programs, half dozing in his chair.

To accomplish this trick, Striker’s notes on the script suggested playing back a recording of The Lone Ranger. But to date, Trendle had never recorded any of the Ranger broadcasts. The series had always been broadcast live on a coast-to-coast hookup. So the Ranger broadcast of December 17, 1937, was recorded solely for the purpose of this Green Hornet scene and was the spark that launched Trendle into the transcription business, leading to a transcription of every episode of The Lone Ranger beginning with the broadcast of January 17, 1938.  

The earliest announcement came on Monday, January 10, 1938, when King-Trendle released a public statement that The Lone Ranger was riding cross country and not just the western plains. Coincident with the Republic Pictures movie serial in February, King-Trendle announced it would market transcriptions of the radio series for February 1 assignments. The strong growth of the series since it premiered four years previous showed promise and broke all records for mail response for WXYZ. Then heard over 27 stations, Trendle wanted to expand his empire with transcription discs and began advertising the series, claiming the discs would be available for broadcast starting February 15. Sales were certainly impressive and profitable, leading to Trendle’s second transcribed series, Ann Worth, Housewife

Advertisement for renting transcription discs.
By August 1938, King-Trendle Broadcasting was still feeding The Green Hornet live to Mutual stations and it was not transcribed. A business meeting in July 1938 discussed the possibility of expansion. Sponsor interest was growing in various sections of the country, giving them guide to how many transcriptions would need to be produced to meet the demand. On August 16, Richard O. Lewis, general manager of KTAR in Phoenix, Arizona, wrote to WXYZ. The station was featuring The Lone Ranger and Lewis wanted pricing information about The Green Hornet, as well as a sample transcription. Lewis asked that the material be sent to J.R. Heath, KTAR’s commercial manager. Charles Hicks sent a case history of The Green Hornet program, which featured a brief background of the premise, the characters, statistics in ratings, reviews from nationwide periodicals and the success of the Detroit and Ebling creameries as sponsors. Hicks also said the cost for an audition transcription was $10, which would be refunded if the recording were returned in good condition or if the station contracted for The Green Hornet.

At least three transcriptions were made during the month of May 1938, possibly copied for stations out of range of network outlets carrying it live which expressed an interest in reviewing the show. J.R. Heath wrote to Hicks on September 6, requesting the audition record so that “after auditioning the show we will then be in a position to advise you as to the account’s interest.” Hicks replied with hesitation, stating: “Before we send the audition recording in accordance with your request, it might be proper for you to consider this one angle. The date of producing Green Hornet transcriptions for a nationwide market is still to be decided upon and how soon it will be known is dependent upon just such requests as yours. The more requests we receive the better we will be able to judge the importance of an earlier date than what has been planned. Therefore, at the present time the indefiniteness of the production date may cause you a problem if your client became interested as a result of hearing the audition recording and ordered the program to start earlier than what it could be made available in transcription form.”

KTAR was not the only station to submit an inquiry. On August 18, Dale Robertson, general manager of WBAX in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, asked for sales materials regarding The Green Hornet. In late September, Fred A. Palmer of KOY, another Phoenix station, submitted a similar request. In early January 1939, James M. Kennedy of WBAL in Baltimore requested via telegram a sample Green Hornet transcription. By the fall of 1938, Trendle decided to expand The Green Hornet via transcriptions in the same manner as the masked rider of the plains. Through special arrangement with NBC’s Chicago office, Trendle agreed to foot the bill for the series to be transcribed to disc. While transportation charges on test pressings for 18 of the first 24 broadcasts cost Trendle $3.55, the cost to have each episode transcribed was much more — $90 per program. By August 1938, Striker had begun assigning a title for each of the radio scripts. Prior episodes had no title assigned by Striker, Trendle, or any member of the production crew. Beginning with the broadcast of April 6, 1939, every episode of The Green Hornet was recorded and King-Trendle was already making preparations for the series to be available to local station managers. 

Green Hornet transcription discs at Audio Archives.
The transcription of the May 26, 1938 broadcast was assigned the title of “Frame Up That Misfired” and transcription No. 1. The transcription of the May 24, 1938 broadcast was assigned the title of “There Was A Crooked Man” and transcription No. 2. For the remainder of the transcription discs offered to radio stations, the April 6, 1939 broadcast began as transcription No. 3. (None of the other May 1938 transcriptions were included with the discs when the series was syndicated across the country, including the broadcast of May 5, 1938, which today circulates among collector hands.) 

Transcriptions may have been costly, but The Green Hornet, Inc. saw a much larger profit when it rented the discs to various stations at various prices, which more than made up for the investment. The cost for each station was adjusted according to station size and number of listeners. A smaller station in the Midwest paid much less for renting the discs than a larger station in the East. In anticipation of using artwork and photographs of the title character in advertisements, Al Hodge signed a release granting use of his likeness in photos and images for promotional purposes on November 18, 1938. This was primarily to please the executives at NBC, who wanted to cover all the bases. Other cast members appeared in similar photographs and it can be assumed they, too, signed similar releases.

With the advent of transcription discs, Fran Striker had to exercise extra caution, avoiding any specific reference to prior Hornet adventures unless it was absolutely necessary. Episodes such as the broadcast of September 9, 1937, had Kato returning from vacation and Fawcett, the special investigator from the State Attorney office, mentioning the drug ring smashed a few weeks ago and “the blackmail ring last week.”

Striker had written a number of two-part and three-part stories, with each episode featuring a resolution for that particular broadcast, but generally, he maintained single-adventure plots for the series. A press release with a brief plot summary which could be used as a local newspaper promotional piece accompanied the transcription discs. Reprinted below are a few of those summaries. 

(“The Trapped Witness,” originally broadcast February 26, 1940)
Transcription No. 422-B9
A murder in a Chinese restaurant prompts Britt Reid, youthful publisher, to assume the role of the Hornet to unearth a cigar store racket and discover the slayer.

(“The Tricky Tankers,” originally broadcast February 28, 1940)
Transcription No. 423-B10
When a high pressure promoter goes into the gasoline business to undersell his competitors, Britt Reid, crusading young publisher, assumes the role of The Green Hornet to expose a plot to swindle thousands of motorists. 

(“Income From Immigrants,” originally broadcast March 4, 1940)
Transcription No. 424-B11
Reid dons the mask of the Hornet to uncover a scheme whereby racketeers provide “doubles” to take final citizenship examinations for foreigners, and then blackmail them later.

© The Green Hornet, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
The transcription discs contained a second series of numbers with the letter “B” before the number as a procedure ordered by Charles Hicks to straighten the numbering system. As of April 1, 1940, it became apparent that The Green Hornet synopses provided to NBC-Blue did not help with keeping the recordings consistent, because the network was using different program numbers than what the sheets revealed.

Another problem was that someone in the recording department was putting a Hornet seal over the program numbers. The stations had to listen to the programs in order to find out which episode number it was. This was specifically an issue with KTAR in Phoenix, which decided not to bother with verifying the sequential numbers and chose to broadcast the episodes out of sequence.

On the evening of Thursday, August 25, 1944, a number of radio listeners expressed curiosity when WMAQ in Chicago started in at 10:30 with a fascinating, but unscheduled, episode of The Green Hornet, ran it for nine minutes, then switched into Everything for the Boys, normally heard at that time. An announcer explained briefly that it had all been a mistake. The boys at WMAQ recorded both programs earlier in the evening as network features, at which time they were recorded as transcriptions for broadcast at a later time. Apparently an employee typed out labels for both transcriptions, then put the Hornet label on the Everything for the Boys record, and vice versa. The Green Hornet boiled merrily till 10:39 until it was verified that the traffic department hadn’t scheduled a last minute change. Then the announcer broke in while the engineer put on the right record, measuring off approximately nine minutes from the beginning so Everything for the Boys would end at the proper time. 

The system was not foolproof, causing confusion not just with the station operators, but with the listeners as well. KFMB in San Diego, California, part of the Worchester Broadcasting Corporation, paid Trendle $28 for each episode played over their network. On March 5, 12, 19 and 26, 1945, episodes 688 through 691 were played in sequence. For the broadcast of April 2, however, an error occurred. Half of each episode was featured on one side of two separate discs. When the first half of an episode concluded on one disc, the second half picked up almost instantly from the other disc. The opposite side of those two discs featured the two halves of the next episode. Due to an error in labeling before the transcriptions were received by KFMB, the network broadcast the first part of episode No. 692 titled “Load of Cigarettes,” and the second part of No. 693 titled “The Bigger They Are.” The mistake was not caught until the recording was being played over the air, and the network began receiving phone calls from listeners asking for an explanation. KFMB could not charge its sponsor for the broadcast because of the error, and the network applied for a credit with King-Trendle to compensate for the mistake. (On April 9, the network continued with the next sequential episode, No. 694.) KFMB’s request for a credit was approved by Trendle, but not until eight months later because he insisted the source of the error had to be verified first. 

© The Green Hornet, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

With this explained, radio broadcasts pre-May 1938 of The Green Hornet do not exist in recorded form. They simply were not recorded. What follows is a list of 15 "lost" episodes with plot summaries.

Episode #126 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Thursday, April 22, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49456, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Britt Reid, through various connections, has learned much of the plans of Hymie Lobell, a racketeer and smuggler of illegal aliens who worked with Big Batten, another gangster. When the Feds crack down, the criminals push the human cargo overboard with heavy chains, drowning men, women and children. The Green Hornet creates a set-up that allows the latest shipment of immigrants along the Jersey coast to be armed, thus preventing them from being drowned. Using his private plane, Reid witnesses the transaction and phones the Coast Guard via wireless, which rushes to the scene to find the criminals red-handed with cargo they cannot dispose of. 

Episode #127 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Tuesday, April 27, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49613, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Laundry owner Boswell attempts to defy a protection racket, only to have his store bombed. The Green Hornet pays a late night visit to Boswell to ask him to help in a ruse that might overthrow the racketeers. Boswell gives the masked man the benefit of a doubt and agrees to hide out and allow people to believe that he was killed when the bomb was thrown from a car. Inspector Beasley investigates the disappearance, and Reid discovers Beasley is a crooked cop who schemes for two gunmen to eliminate Boswell — if they can find him. The Green Hornet forces Beasley to remain in the same room intended for the next bombing. Unable to escape, the crooked cop confesses, unaware that police are listening.

Episode #128 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Thursday, April 29, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49614, copyrighted under King-Trendle.

Plot: Jonothan Adsit’s body is found in the river and Mike Axford follows a lead involving two crooks who were responsible. Britt Reid, however, investigates the motive behind the crime. Kato finds the ferry on which Adsit was murdered and a suitcase containing vital papers owned by Adsit. After learning the crooks are being released for lack of evidence, Reid sends a letter to one of them, offering to sell him the contents. Tailing the crooks to Lawrence Sprague, Adsit’s nephew, the truth becomes known — a crooked $2 million deal involving the purchase of swamp land to be made into beaches, a project that never would have worked, according to Adsit’s figures. But Sprague didn’t intend on spending the money for the project. Sprague murdered his uncle so the deal could go through and he could profit from the wasted public money. The Green Hornet gasses one of the crooks unconscious and punches the other to the ground so police will find their job easier when they arrive.

Trivia: The spelling of Jonothan is taken directly from the script. That is not a mis-spelling.

Episode #129 [NO TITLE LISTED, PART ONE OF TWO]
Broadcast on Tuesday, May 4, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49736, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Britt Reid organizes a stock racket-smashing campaign when he learns that Axford and his friends have been duped into buying worthless gold mines. The editorial makes front page headlines, forcing Jason Larriby and his colleague in crime, White, off the streets. In an act of vengeance, Larriby makes arrangements for Reid to be kidnapped, but his goons pick up Kato instead and take him to a secluded boat. Meanwhile, The Green Hornet creates a clever scenario, making the con artists believe the stock is actually valuable and forcing them to buy back the stock from their victims — and on a number of occasions, paying more than they sold it for. When The Green Hornet visits, he laughs as the truth is revealed. Ordering the men to leave town, The Green Hornet fixes a Hornet seal to the fake telegram as a memento for the crooks. Only later that evening, pre-occupied with the thought of Kato’s disappearance, does Reid realize he accidentally left his fingerprint on the Hornet seal.

Episode #130 [NO TITLE LISTED, PART ONE OF TWO]
Broadcast on Thursday, May 6, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49737, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Two weeks after the kidnapping of Kato, police still scour the nation in search off the missing Oriental. Larriby and White, in the meantime, operate a crooked appliance racket, forcing people to pay installments on appliances that break soon after the owners take possession. Larriby sends a $100,000 ransom note to Britt Reid and signs it with the seal of The Green Hornet. This tips Reid as to who is responsible for the kidnapping. While police are busy seeking The Green Hornet, Reid gets the ransom money ready. Through a clever ruse, he allows the police to trail the cash to Larriby and White, and he discovers the whereabouts of
the Japanese valet. Kato is rescued and rushed to the hospital.

Episode #131 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Tuesday, May 11, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49809, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Britt Reid spent more than 30 hours waiting for the call that a tramp steamer was located so he could join the law in the rescue of Kato. The operation was a success, but Kato had taken a severe beating from the crooks. While Kato recovers from his wounds in the hospital, Ed Lowry follows a lead on a gangster who needs an operation but won’t have it, afraid that under anesthesia he’ll talk too much. The trail leads to C. Archibald Mercedes, a wealthy man, once the target of Uncle Sam over back income taxes. The Green Hornet pays Mercedes a late-night visit, moments before a secret one from a professional counterfeiter working for the mob. He discovers Mercedes was unloading hidden gold for cash, since the government went off the gold standard. Thanks to The Hornet, the men are gassed unconscious so police can uncover the scheme and assist the Feds in their recent investigation of a counterfeiting racket.

Episode #132 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Thursday, May 13, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#49810, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Millionaire Adolph Vickers is found murdered in his luxurious home office. Margory Dryden and her father, Harry Dryden, of the meat packer Dryden family, separately confess to the crime, but when the police discover the time of the murder, they rule out both Drydens. Reid soon learns that Vickers made his living blackmailing millionaires, and Dryden was among the victims. The Green Hornet temporarily accepts the murder rap in order to lure the real killers to Dryden’s residence, where evidence planted by Reid leads Rollins and his goon to suspect Dryden is The Green Hornet. When the men attempt to blackmail the millionaire, they discover they are not alone in the house. The Green Hornet gasses the crooks unconscious and orders Dryden to phone the police.

Trivia, etc. Kato is not heard in this episode, but Reid pays him a visit at the hospital. The script calls for Kato’s few lines to be “whispered unintelligibly” since the actor is still on vacation.

Episode #133 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Tuesday, May 18, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50087, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: The police plan an elaborate scheme to infiltrate the biggest blackmail ring operated by the syndicate, headed by Harvey Riggs. The plan includes a policeman infiltrating the operation, but Riggs is too smart for that. The police, believing they know the whereabouts of the books and records Riggs keeps, intend to raid the nightclub. Riggs, however, gave the wrong information and knows the police will have an embarrassing time explaining their mistake. The Green Hornet tricks Riggs into believing the police are not duped and discovers the real whereabouts of the valuable papers. After gassing Riggs and his gun moll unconscious, The Green Hornet steals the papers and leaves. Angry, Riggs sets out to murder the undercover police officer. Mike Axford and Britt Reid inadvertently foil the murder with Axford’s quick draw of a gun, and the crooks are arrested and jailed. The papers, enough evidence to send Riggs and his whole gang to prison, are delivered to police via special delivery the next morning.

Episode #134 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Thursday, May 20, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50088, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: A revolutionary leader in a small Central American republic known as San Sabino is paying for guns and ammunition to be shipped to him. The receivers of the cash are in the The Green Hornet’s city, and Britt Reid stumbles on the scheme when Miss Case accidentally receives the wrong mail from a classified ad in the newspaper. The mail was returned to the post office, and Kato trailed the woman who picked up the correct mail to learn the location of the gun runners. The Green Hornet fools the crooks into believing the female has double-crossed them, including stealing the money. Realizing the police are safer to deal with than members of
her gang, she agrees to confess; The Green Hornet drops her off at the police station.

Episode #135 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast Tuesday, May 25, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50089, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: When Mike Axford finds himself chasing down a stolen car while riding on patrol, he discovers his own vehicle is the stolen property. The youngster hired to steal the car leads police to the joint where hot cars are fixed up with new paint jobs and registration numbers. A raid reveals nothing. When the kid gets bailed out by an expensive mouthpiece and a man named Dornigan is killed when trying to get out of the racket, The Green Hornet visits the high-priced lawyer named Mercer. Convincing Mercer that he was hired by Pritchard, the head of the stolen auto racket, to eliminate the attorney, he finds Mercer willing to take him to a hidden section of the garage that police are unaware of. At the point of his gas gun, The Green Hornet forces Pritchard to empty his safe of cash and when the police arrive, courtesy of Kato’s tip, the masked man makes a quick getaway, while revealing the workshop in the garage. Back home, Reid hands the money to Kato and asks that it go to the mother and widow of Dornigan.

Episode #136 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Thursday, May 27, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50090, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Aaron Bostwick is a lieutenant in a shrewd loan shark operation in which his clients are forced to pay only the interest, but never the principal. When Jack Forbes, one of his clients, decides to inform the law, he is beaten up and urged to remain silent for the sake of his wife and child. Seeking the big boss behind the crooked practice, The Green Hornet has Kato tap the phone lines so they can hear the conversations. After rigging an envelope in the mail so the police will receive a tip-off, Reid orders Forbes’ name to appear in the papers so the man will be used as bait. The masked man visits Forbes to save him from a murder, forcing Bostwick to leave the premises under the guise of Forbes. Bostwick pleads for his life, but the shooting is a near-miss and the police arrive to take control of the situation — even tracking the letter signed by the Hornet to the post office box and leading to the big boss himself, smashing the racket.

Episode #137 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Tuesday, June 1, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50256, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Arnold Metcalf and wife Mona operate a matrimonial agency in which their classified ads attract gullible singles into sending money for transportation so the mail-order bride can visit them. When a man named Massey arrives from Oklahoma, threatening action because The Daily Sentinel allowed the ad to continue, Britt Reid sets out as The Green Hornet to smash the racket. The Feds are closing in, but The Green Hornet visits late-night at the Metcalf’s, gasses Massey unconscious and steals the papers the out-of-state visitor had that would send them to prison. The Green Hornet threatens to give the papers to the Feds unless Metcalf sends refunds to all he cheated. Metcalf agrees. While the masked man is accused of being involved, Reid tells Kato to make sure the papers are mailed to federal authorities as soon as it is verified Metcalf’s checks have cleared the bank.

Trivia, etc. It is revealed in this episode that Miss Case has a male cousin named Jack.

Episode #138 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast Thursday, June 3, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50257, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Colonel Brookfield and his wife are fakes, attempting to borrow cash from the wealthy and having left Montreal some time ago for not being able to pay back the loans. With the help of a professional engraver, Brookfield arranged for fake bonds to be printed and now uses them as collateral for more loans, intending to sail for parts unknown after the cash is delivered. The Green Hornet shows up and steals some of the bonds, and Brookfield phones the police to claim the masked man tried to sell him fake bonds. Overhearing the story outside a window, The Green Hornet returns and threatens Brookfield in front of the inspectors — claiming the bonds he stole were fake and the murder of the engraver last night was part of Brookfield’s doing. The masked man escapes and the inspectors take Brookfield and his wife in to investigate further.

Episode #139 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Tuesday, June 8, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50356, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Big-time racketeer Fletcher tries to push a monopoly through the board of aldermen. The scheme will profit at least $1 million, because the Blake ordinance would require all landlords to put the Fletcher patented number plate on their property. The special plate is designed to light at night, and Fletcher knows the bulbs are inferior, guaranteeing a larger profit when people are forced to buy replacements. Britt Reid finds out about the situation, Kato taps Blake and Fletcher’s phone to keep informed and discover Alderman Rollin is also involved. The Green Hornet maneuvers events, including gassing Rollins and planting a check signed by Fletcher for $2,000 so that police get him for bribery. News reporters will break the story, so the proposed law will not pass.

Episode #140 [NO TITLE LISTED] 
Broadcast on Thursday, June 10, 1937
Copyright Registration D-2-#50357, copyrighted under The Green Hornet, Inc.

Plot: Britt Reid pulls strings to have Muggs released from jail so the little fellow with underworld contacts can seek information about the death of John Edwards, a prominent banker. Britt dates the banker’s daughter the night before and returned to find her father dead, and Reid suspects it was murder. The trail leads to Morrie Clarke, a former bank examiner. Kato taps his phone and learns from Clarke’s nervous call the identity of the murderer and the motive. After gassing five bank examiners unconscious, The Green Hornet flees the scene so when the police arrive, one of the men wakes from his slumber to explain how Clarke knew that after a suicide an audit is required. So Clark arranged for fake bank examiners to perform an audit, but also quietly alter the books in order to steal money from the bank.

The information contained in this article contains excerpts from The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television, by Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson. The book was published in 2009 by OTR Publishing and is the official 800 page guide to all things involving The Green Hornet, Kato and the Black Beauty.

For more information about this book, please visit www.MartinGrams.com.

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