Claim: The nationality of Kato, the Green Hornet's valet, was abruptly changed after the beginning of World War II.
Origins: That the Green Hornet, who battled crime on the radio airwaves from 1936 to 1952, bore many resemblances to a modern day Lone Ranger was no coincidence. Both programs were created under the aegis of
Unlike the previous century's Lone Ranger, however, the Green Hornet had a crime-fighting companion whose heritage became potentially troublesome in light of current events. Kato, Britt Reid's valet, was an Asian of Japanese descent, a distinction of some consequence when events in the Pacific in the late 1930s and early 1940s, capped by a surprise Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on
Several different explanations have been offered about exactly what took place regarding Kato's nationality after the beginning of World
- Kato had always been described as Japanese, but immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor he was suddenly referred to as Filipino instead.
- Kato had previously been referred to only as an "oriental" (i.e., an Asian of unspecified nationality), but after Pearl Harbor he was specifically identified as Filipino.
- Kato had been explicitly described as Filipino all along, and no change in his nationality took place at all after the outbreak of war in the Pacific.
The real answer is a somewhat confusing mixture of elements from all of these explanations.
Although print ads run before the premiere airing of the Green Hornet on radio described Kato as "the Jap butler," the first two broadcasts simply referred to him as an "oriental"; not until the third episode was he characterized as Japanese (a nationality which matched that of the actor who portrayed him, Tokutaro Hayashi). Kato's nationality became problematic after Japanese military incursions into China escalated into war between those two countries in
The change in nationality was eventually implemented, and starting with the broadcast of
So, to sum up:
- Kato was indeed portrayed as being of Japanese descent during the first two years of the Green Hornet radio program.
- Two years later (long before the attack on Pearl Harbor), due to Japan's political situation, reference to Kato's Japanese background was eliminated, and he became an Asian of unspecified nationality.
- Several months before U.S. entry into World
War II,Kato was initially described as being of Filipino background.
Kato's national origins became even more confused by productions of The Green Hornet in other media. The 1940 Universal Pictures Green Hornet film serial portrayed Kato as Korean, and press material for the short-lived
A similar type of sudden character change took place forty years later, with the 1981 debut of the television series The Greatest American Hero, a superhero parody show featuring a caped, crime-fighting high school teacher named Ralph Hinkley. Just a few weeks later, President Ronald Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt by a man named John Hinckley, and the show's main character was thereafter referred to simply as
Last updated: 7 December 2015
Buxton, Frank and Bill Owen. The Big Broadcast 1920-1950. New York: Avon Books, 1973. ISBN 0-380-01058-5 (pp. 102-103). Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8 (pp. 297-299). Grams, Martin and Terry Salomonson. The Green Hornet. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9825311-0-5 (pp. 72-79).