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!"?)
Williams left acting long ago to run a communications business in Santa Monica, but said he eagerly accepted an offer from the producers to play a minor role in the biopic. So why not in a segment re-creating Lee's debut as the TV Hornet's very physical ally, as he blasts his way onto the sound stage to a stunned reaction? they suggested.
"Of course, I wanted to be in (the movie)," Williams said. "Bruce was a good friend then. We had a lot of fun on the show. I knew after it was canceled he would go on and become big. He wasn't an actor, he was a martial arts wizard."
Lee is played by Jason Scott Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee) in the Universal Pictures release.
Although "The Green Hornet" series ran only one season, Williams' career continued for another 10 years. There was a recurring role on "How the West Was Won" starring James Arness and another in the lead of "Westwind" that was filmed in Hawaii.
In the early '70s, Williams "got out of the acting business," he said. "It wasn't a good profession then. Now, you make one hit series and you never have to work again."
His company rents pagers, walkie-talkies and other communications devices, including some to studios where he once worked. And, as far as his identity as the Green Hornet, he gets to revisit the persona at comic book conventions where the masked man--like the caped crusader--has developed a cult following.
Making "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" was delightful, Williams recounted. The picture is based upon the book "Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew" written by Lee's widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, also a friend of the former actor.
The death of Lee's son, Brandon, however, has colored his experience.
Bruce Lee died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 32 in 1973; his son died at age 28 five weeks ago on the the set of his own movie.
"It brought back a lot of memories . . . about the show, about Bruce. We had a good time making ("Dragon") . . . now it's just all so sad," he said.
So, not unexpectedly, the premiere of the movie that Williams attended a few weeks back was nothing if not bittersweet. While the audience loved it, at least two found it painful.
"(Linda and I) both burst into tears about Brandon. It should have been a happier occasion."