Van Williams
Van Williams Green Hornet 1966.jpg
Williams as Britt Reid in The Green Hornet (1966).
Van Zandt Jarvis Williams

(1934-02-27)February 27, 1934
DiedNovember 28, 2016(2016-11-28) (aged 82)
Years active1954–1993
Drucilla Greenhaw
(m. 1953)
Vicki Flaxman
(m. 1959)

Van Zandt Jarvis Williams (February 27, 1934 – November 28, 2016) was an American actor best known for his leading role as Kenny Madison in both Warner Bros. television detective series Bourbon Street Beat (1959–1960) and its sequel, Surfside 6 (1960–1962). He teamed for one season with Bruce Lee as his partner Kato, in the television series The Green Hornet, which was broadcast during the 1966–1967 season.[1]

Early life

Williams was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Priscilla Anne (Jarvis) and Bernard Cardwell Williams.[citation needed] He grew up on a ranch outside Fort Worth and later studied animal husbandry and business at Texas Christian University. He moved to Hawaii in 1956 after differences with his father on how the ranch should be run.[2]


A diving instructor in Hawaii in 1956, Williams was discovered there in 1957 by producer Mike Todd, who urged him to come to Hollywood.[3][4] Williams recalled, "Todd liked the look of me and said I should try the acting business, but added, 'First, boy, go back to college and get your degree.' I followed his advice, took my degree in business administration and then wandered into Hollywood."[5]

Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, but Williams took vocal and acting lessons. He managed to get cast in an episode of General Electric Theatre and was seen by executives from Warner Bros., who signed him to a contract in 1959. "I stumbled into the business, unknown and untrained," he says. "I was really lucky."[5]

Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside Six

Margarita Sierra, Troy Donahue, Lee Patterson, Diane McBain and Williams in Surfside 6

Williams guest starred on episodes of General Electric Theater, Lawman, and Colt .45.[6]

His big break came as co-star of the television series Bourbon Street Beat, which was set in New Orleans. The show aired during the 1959–1960 season;[7] his co-stars were Andrew Duggan, Richard Long,[8] and Arlene Howell.

Williams appeared in Tall Story (1960), in which he stepped naked out of the men's locker room shower.[8]

Bourbon Street Beat was axed after one season, but Williams' character, Kenny Madison, was recycled into the new Surfside 6 television series in the same time slot, with Miami Beach colleagues played by top-billed Troy Donahue, Lee Patterson, Diane McBain, and Margarita Sierra.[7] The series lasted until 1962.[8]

During the run of these series, Williams occasionally guest-starred on other Warners shows, such as Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, and Hawaiian Eye. He appeared in a Warners anti-communist propaganda short Red Nightmare (1962). Williams also starred in a World War II television pilot titled The Leathernecks that was shown as an episode of The Gallant Men.[7]

Williams had a supporting role in The Caretakers (1963).[8]

The Tycoon

Williams was series regular Pat Burns in The Tycoon with Walter Brennan. After his Warner Brothers contract lapsed in 1964, Williams worked in television commercials and guest appearances on various television series such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Preview Tonight, and The Milton Berle Show.[9]

The Green Hornet

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet
Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet

In 1966, ABC-TV had William Dozier revive George W. Trendle's famous radio character in a new series, The Green Hornet. Van Williams signed with 20th Century-Fox to portray the mysterious masked hero and his alter ego, newspaper editor Britt Reid (son of Dan Reid, Jr. who was the nephew of John Reid, a.k.a. The Lone Ranger although The Lone Ranger was not given that as his official true identity name).[10]

Williams played the role straight, unlike the comedy approach of the same producer's Batman show. He and co-star Bruce Lee also made three guest appearances, in character, on Batman, first in a "batclimb" cameo, ("The Spell of Tut", 9/28/1966), and later in a two-part episode ("A Piece of the Action", 3/1/1967 and "Batman's Satisfaction", 3/2/1967).[11]

By the time he starred in The Green Hornet, Williams had become successful investing in various commercial ventures; a TV Guide profile of 1966, titled "Banker with a Sting", characterized him as "your friendly neighborhood tycoon."[12][13][14]

Williams later said "By the time The Green Hornet came along, I had pretty well decided to get out of the television business. About the only thing I enjoyed about those years was the location work. Basically I'm a shy person. I know that public appearances and autographs and all that are a necessary part of the business, but it wasn't for me."[5]

Post-Green Hornet

Surfside 6 cast: Troy Donahue, Lee Patterson, Van Williams and Diane McBain
Surfside 6 cast: Troy Donahue, Lee Patterson, Van Williams and Diane McBain

After The Green Hornet ended, Williams guest starred on shows such as The Big Valley, Mannix, Love, American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Ironside, Mission: Impossible, Apple's Way, Gunsmoke, and The Manhunter.

Williams returned to the lead in a regular series with Westwind (1975), a children's adventure series.[15]

He was in a TV movie The Runaways (1975), and guest-starred on Bert D'Angelo/Superstar, The Red Hand Gang , Barnaby Jones, A Twist in the Tale, The Streets of San Francisco, How the West Was Won, Colorado C.I., Centennial, The Night Rider, Mrs. Columbo and The Rockford Files.[6]


Williams retired from acting in 1982 to open a communications company in Santa Monica, California that leases time on six two-way radio repeater stations. Williams was also a longtime reserve deputy sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and worked at the substation in Malibu, California.[1]

He turned down the offer of a role in Falcon Crest, because it involved too much location shooting.[5]

In 1993, Williams made a cameo in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story as a director of The Green Hornet.[16]

In 2010, the filmmakers of the 2011 Green Hornet film adaptation had wanted him to make a cameo appearance as a cemetery guard, but Williams turned it down.[17][6]

Williams stated he did not care much for acting, citing some reasons being his resentment toward the people in the industry and their unfair method of going about things. He was also wary of typecasting, pointing to examples of failures it caused in people's acting careers, such as the case of George Reeves when he became too affiliated with his portrayal of Superman. This also became one of his concerns when playing The Green Hornet. Another concern was its strong similarity to Batman, but he claimed that because William Morris, his agent, wanted him to do it, he did it. He also stated that his only interest in acting was taking it up as a business rather than to gain celebrity status.[6]

Personal life and death

Williams married Vicki Flaxman in 1959.[6] Together they had two children, and one from Vicki's prior marriage. He had nine grandchildren.[4] He had twin daughters from a previous marriage to Drucilla Greenhaw, which also included four grandchildren. In 1988, Williams owned houses in Sun Valley, Idaho, Fort Worth (which included a ranch he inherited from his parents), and Hawaii. He said it was the fruits of good investments.[2] Pat Priest (The Munsters), Williams's longtime friend and neighbor, said he was her mentor.[4]

Outside his acting career, Williams was also closely affiliated with co-star Adam West. The two of them were neighbors in Sun Valley and spent much leisure time together. West also claimed when people saw them together outdoors, they would comment about Batman and The Green Hornet being on a secret case together.[18] Producer Kevin Burns revealed on December 5, 2016, that Williams died on November 28, 2016, from kidney failure at the age of 82 in Scottsdale, Arizona.[4][19]



Year Title Role Notes
1960 Tall Story Young Man in Shower Uncredited
1962 Red Nightmare Air Force Sergeant Short film / Uncredited
1963 The Caretakers Dr. Larry Denning
1966 Our Man Flint President Lyndon B. Johnson (voice) Uncredited
1993 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story Green Hornet Director


Year Title Role Notes
1954 King Richard II Exton's Servant Television film
1958–1959 General Electric Theater Charlie / Ben 2 episodes
1959 Lawman Zachary Morgan Episode: "The Young Toughs"
1959 Colt .45 Tom Rucker Episode: "The Sanctuary"
1959–1960 Bourbon Street Beat Kenny Madison 36 episodes
1960–1962 Surfside 6 Ken Madison 69 episodes
1961–1963 77 Sunset Strip Wade Saunders / Ken Madison 2 episodes
1962 Cheyenne Ray Masters Episode: "Vengeance Is Mine"
1963 The Gallant Men Lt. Dave Cameron Episode: "The Leathernecks"
1963 Hawaiian Eye Don Munroe Episode: "Two Million Too Much"
1964 Temple Houston Joey Baker Episode: "Ten Rounds for Baby"
1964–1965 The Tycoon Pat Burns 32 episodes
1965 The Dick Van Dyke Show Clark Rice Episode: "No Rice at My Wedding"
1965 The Beverly Hillbillies Dean Peters Episode: "The Courtship of Elly"
1966 Preview Tonight Commander Russ Enright Episode: "Pursue and Destroy"
1966 The Milton Berle Show The Green Hornet / Britt Reid Episode: #1.2
1966–1967 The Green Hornet 26 episodes
1966–1967 Batman 3 episodes
1968 The Big Valley Sheriff Dave Barrett Episode: "Rimfire"
1970 Mannix Executive #1 Episode: "The Search for Darrell Andrews"
1970 Love, American Style Bill Segment: "Love and the Minister"
1970 Nanny and the Professor Mr. Parsons Episode: "The Visitor"
1971 Ironside Sgt. Artie Hawkins Episode: "The Gambling Game"
1972 Mission: Impossible Arnold Sanders Episode: "The Deal"
1974 Apple's Way Ritchie Case Episode: "The Lamb"
1974 Gunsmoke Quincy Episode: "Thirty a Month and Found"
1975 The Manhunter Episode: "To Kill a Tiger"
1975 The Runaways Joe Ringer Television film
1975 Westwind Steve Andrews 13 episodes
1976 Bert D'Angelo/Superstar Junior Danvers Episode: "Scag"
1976 The Streets of San Francisco Officer Morton 2 episodes
1977 Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected Sheriff Episode: "Devil Pack"
1977 Barnaby Jones Munson Episode: "Circle of Treachery"
1977 The Red Hand Gang OK Okins 4 episodes
1977 You Gotta Start Somewhere Television film
1978 How the West Was Won Captain MacAllister 3 episodes
1978 Colorado C.I. Captain Cochran Television film
1979 Centennial George Episode: "The Scream of Eagles"
1979 The Night Rider Jim Hollister Television film
1979 Mrs. Columbo Fielding Episode: "The Valley Strangler"
1979 The Rockford Files Lt. Dwayne Kefir Episode: "Love Is the Word"


  1. ^ a b Pool, Bob (May 27, 1992). "The Green Hornet Returns to Sting a Radio Pirate". Los Angeles Times. United States. Archived from the original on January 30, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Allis, Tim; Donloe, Darlene (9 May 1988). "Van Williams, Television's Green Hornet, Succumbs to a Real Crime-Fighting Bug". People. Vol. 29, no. 18. United States: Time Inc. Archived from the original on 5 December 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  3. ^ Thompson, Ruth (July 30, 1966). "Van Williams Says "Green Hornet" Not Like "Batman"". Gettysburg Times. p. 6.
  4. ^ a b c d Thorne, Will; Khatchatourian, Maane (December 5, 2016). "'Green Hornet' Star Van Williams Dies at 82". Variety. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Mitchell Smyth, T.S. (July 27, 1986). "Green hornet's a rich businessman whatever happened to...van williams?". Toronto Star. ProQuest 435462699.
  6. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Mike (5 December 2016). "Van Williams, TV's Green Hornet, Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter. ISSN 0018-3660. Archived from the original on 3 September 2021. Retrieved 3 September 2021. Contrary to some reports, he did not have a cameo in the 2011 Green Hornet movie that starred Seth Rogen. “He wanted nothing to do with that movie,” his wife said.
  7. ^ a b c Petski, Denise (December 5, 2016). "Van Williams Dies: TV's 'Green Hornet' Was 82". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d Slotnik, Daniel E. (December 5, 2016). "Van Williams, TV's Green Hornet, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  9. ^ Zylstra, F. (February 19, 1965). "Van barbecues steaks his way--ranch style". Chicago Tribune. ProQuest 179846460.
  10. ^ Price, Matthew (December 14, 2012). "More than 75 years later, Green Hornet 'still at large'". The Oklahoman. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  11. ^ "When Bruce Lee met Batman: Remembering the great Green Hornet crossover of 1967". MeTV. October 16, 2015. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  12. ^ the "friendly neighborhood tycoon" wording is part of the subhead on the TV guide article titled Banker with a Sting: "Banker With A Sting".
  13. ^ "Van Zandt Jarvis Williams (February 27, 1934 – November 28, 2016)". Martial Arts Illustrated. Vol. 29, no. 9. February 2017. pp. 74–75.
  14. ^ The Tycoon wording refers to his having played "series regular Pat Burns in ABC's The Tycoon with Walter Brennan."
  15. ^ Smith, C. (May 9, 1975). "BLOWING BACK FROM HAWAII". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 157631056.
  16. ^ Galbraith, Jane (16 May 1993). "A Look inside Hollywood and the movies | Cameo Corner | Green Hornet Pays Homage to His Kato". Los Angeles Times. eISSN 2165-1736. ISSN 0458-3035. OCLC 3638237. ProQuest 281985246. Archived from the original on 15 January 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2021 – via Internet Archive. Here's the cameo surprise of the big screen. The Green Hornet is back--directing the action in a scene-within-a-scene from "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story." That's right, trivia fans, it's Van Williams, the original Green Hornet from the 1966 television series that co-starred martial arts expert Lee as his sidekick, Kato. (How could we forget, "Faster, Kato!"?)
  17. ^ Sacks, Ethan (6 December 2016). "Van Williams, star of 'The Green Hornet' television series, dead at 82". New York Daily News. OCLC 9541172. Archived from the original on 7 December 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2021. Never a huge fan of the business, Williams turned down the chance to have a cameo in Seth Rogen's recent film version of "The Green Hornet."
  18. ^ "Van Williams, Television's Green Hornet, Succumbs to a Real Crime-Fighting Bug". Tim Allis and Darlene Donloe.
  19. ^ "Van Williams, TV's Green Hornet, Dies at 82". The New York Times. 6 December 2016.