TV crime fighter Van Williams passed away last week in a from renal failure near his home in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 82.
Growing up in Texas on a ranch and participating in rodeos, he rarely was cast in Westerns. Instead, he made his mark on the screen as crime fighters. Williams played detective Kenny Madison on two ABC series, Bourbon Street Beat from the 1959-60 season and then Surfside 6 until 1962. However, he will best be remembered for his role as Britt Reid, the rich newspaper publisher who fights crime as a masked vigilante, in 1966’s The Green Hornet.
When I was a kid, I had actually been a fan of The Green Hornet when it was on the radio and in those serials at the theater, but I didn’t know if I wanted to star in a TV series like that. I was very similar to Adam West’s show…and seemed like something that would probably be the kiss of death to my career. You do that type of show and become so identified with it, like Superman’s George Reeves was, and you can never get away from it. But, my agency, William Morris, really wanted me to do The Green Hornet, so that is what I did.
In an interview with the Toronto Star in 1997, he stated his reluctance take the role because he was afraid the series would be silly. He insisted on playing it straight, none of this ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ stuff that was going on with Batman, the series, the success of which ABC hoped to match. The villains were slightly more realistic and the costumes less ridiculous than on Batman, but even the amazing action sequences by martial artist Bruce Lee, who played his vale Kato, could not keep the show on for a second season. Fortunately for Lee, it became a hit in Hong Kong, where he grew up, and it helped him begin his film career.
Vanzandt Jarvis Williams was born in Fort Worth Texas in 1934 and graduated from Texas Christian University. He was discovered in 1957 by producer Mike Todd and persuaded to come to Hollywood. His onscreen debut was on a 1958 installment of General Electric Theater that also featured Ronald Reagan.
After Williams acting career slowed in the late 1970s, he became a reserve deputy sheriff and volunteer fire fighter in Malibu with the LA County Sheriff’s Department and later ran a communications company. His last acting credit was for the 1993 biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.
The end of his acting career did not hang heavy on Williams, stating in his 1997 interview, that he did not care much for the business, the backstabbing and phoniness, “not a very pleasant education for a guy from Texas whose handshake was his word.”
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, three children, and five grandchildren.