Question: Everyone knows that Bruce Lee played Kato in the '60s Batman knockoff The Green Hornet. Who played the Green Hornet? Frank V. Costanzo
Televisionary: That would be the fleet-fisted Van Williams, Frank. And the fact that, as you say, everyone remembers the sidekick (no pun intended) as opposed to the title-hero himself is nothing Williams should be ashamed of. After all, Lee's skills and tragic death unleashed a cultural wave and a following which still exists today. Williams, for his part, was fortunate enough to outlive his career.
His later activities include a stint as a reserve deputy for the Malibu Sheriff's Department, though a spokesman there told me he's been gone from that position for some time. His most recent movie appearance? As The Green Hornet director in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. (Hey, you can't fault a guy for jumping at an opportunity.)
Lee, for his part, deserves quite a bit of credit for his discipline and devotion. Winning the role of Kato on the show, which was based on the radio classic of the same name and ran on ABC from 1966-67, Lee experienced a small taste of success and signed on celeb students like James Coburn and Steve McQueen for his Jeet Kune Do classes. Later, when Hollywood proved unreceptive, he went back to Hong Kong to make films.
And it's tough to question that decision, considering the anti-Asian racism he faced in the industry. For example, Lee maintained he won the Kato role because he was "the only Chinese guy in all of California" who could pronounce the Hornet's secret identity, Brit Reid. And before playing Kato he was cast as "Number One Son" to non-Asian actor Ross Martin's Charlie Chan for a show that was never made. "[T]hat's what Chinese actors do in Hollywood, isn't it?" Lee said of the experience. "Charlie himself is always played by a round-eye wearing six pounds of makeup."
Hollywood would soon learn the error of its way. After Lee's movies did well in Hong Kong, the U.S.-produced Enter the Dragon went on to earn more than $200 million. Its star, however, died before its release and in doing so created a mystique unmatched by any actor save for, perhaps, James Dean.