Van Williams

Van Zandt Jarvis Williams (February 27, 1934 – November 28, 2016) was an actor best known for his leading role as Kenny Madison in both Warner Bros. television detective series Bourbon Street Beat (1959–60) and its sequel, Surfside 6 (1960–1962). He teamed for one season with the late Bruce Lee as his partner Kato, in the television series The Green Hornet, which broadcast during the 196667 season.[1]

Van Williams
Williams in 1959.
Van Zandt Jarvis Williams

(1934-02-27)February 27, 1934
DiedNovember 28, 2016(2016-11-28) (aged 82)
Years active1954-1993
Vicki Flaxman
(m. 1959; his death 2016)

Early life

Williams was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Priscilla Anne (Jarvis) and Bernard Cardwell Williams.[2] 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.[3]


A diving instructor in Hawaii in 1956, Williams was discovered there in 1957 by producer Mike Todd, who urged him to come to Hollywood.[4][5] 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."[6]

Todd died in a plane crash, 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."[6]

Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside Six

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

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; his co-stars were Andrew Duggan, Richard Long, and Arlene Howell.

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

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

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 television pilot titled The Leathernecks that was shown as an episode of The Gallant Men.

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

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.[7]

The Green Hornet

In 1966, ABC-TV revived 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, aka The Lone Ranger although The Lone Ranger was not given that as his official true identity name).

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).[8]

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."[9][10][11]

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."[6]

Post-Green Hornet

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.[12]

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.


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.[6]

In 1993, Williams made a cameo in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story as a director of The Green Hornet.[13][14]

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.[15][16]

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 and Robin, 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 upon it as a business rather than gaining celebrity status.[16]

Personal life and death

Williams married Vicki Flaxman in 1959.[17] Together they had two children, and one from Vicki's prior marriage. He had nine grandchildren.[5] He had twin daughters from a previous marriage, which also included 4 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.[3] Pat Priest (The Munsters), Williams's longtime friend and neighbor, said he was her mentor.[5]

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 renal failure at the age of 82 in Scottsdale, Arizona.[5][19]





  1. Pool, Bob (May 27, 1992). "The Green Hornet Returns to Sting a Radio Pirate". Los Angeles Times. United States: Tronc Inc. Archived from the original on January 1, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  3. Allis, Tim; Donloe, Darlene (May 9, 1988). "Van Williams, Television's Green Hornet, Succumbs to a Real Crime-Fighting Bug". People. United States: Time Inc. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  4. p. 6 Thompson, Ruth Van Williams Says "Green Hornet" Not Like "Batman" Gettysburg Times Jul 30, 1966
  5. Thorne, Will; Khatchatourian, Maane (December 5, 2016). "'Green Hornet' Star Van Williams Dies at 82". Variety. United States: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  6. Mitchell Smyth, T.S. (1986, Jul 27). Green hornet's a rich businessman whatever happened to...van williams? Toronto Star Retrieved from
  7. Zylstra, F. (1965, Feb 19). Van barbecues steaks his way--ranch style. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. "CTVA US Anthology - "Tales of the Unexpected" (Quinn Martin/NBC)(1977)".
  9. the "friendly neighborhood tycoon" wording is part of the subhead on the TV guide article titled Banker with a Sting: "Banker With A Sting".
  10. "Van Zandt Jarvis Williams (February 27, 1934 - November 28, 2016)". Martial Arts Illustrated - Vol. 29 No. 9. February 2017. pp. 74–75.
  11. The Tycoon wording refers to his having played "series regular Pat Burns in ABC’s The Tycoon with Walter Brennan."
  12. Smith, C. (1975, May 09). BLOWING BACK FROM HAWAII. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  13. Galbraith, Jane (May 16, 1993). "A Look inside Hollywood and the movies : Cameo Corner : Green Hornet Pays Homage to His Kato". Los Angeles Times. United States: Tonc Inc. Archived from the original on January 1, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  14. Galbraith, J. (1993, May 16). A look inside hollywood and the movies CAMEO CORNER green hornet pays homage to his kato. Los Angeles Times (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from
  15. "New York Daily News". p. 26.
  16. Mike Barnes. "Van Williams, TV's Green Hornet, Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter.
  17. Barns, Mike (December 5, 2016). "Van Williams, TV's Green Hornet, Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter. United States: Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  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.
  20. "Colt .45". Retrieved December 22, 2012.
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