Born: February 27, 1934
Died: November 28, 2016 (at age 82)
Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
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 (1960-62). He teamed for one season with the late Bruce Lee as his partner Kato, in the television series The Green Hornet, broadcast on ABC during the 1966-67 season.
Williams was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of Priscilla Anne (Jarvis) and Bernard Cardwell Williams. 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.
A diving instructor in Hawaii in 1956, Williams was discovered there in 1957 by producer Mike Todd, who urged him to come to Hollywood to try his hand at acting.
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."
Todd, husband of Elizabeth Taylor at the time, 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."
Williams guest starred on episodes of General Electric Theater, Lawman, and Colt .45.
His big break came as co-star of the ABC television series Bourbon Street Beat, 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 the films Tall Story (1960), in which he played a smug jock stepping stark naked out of the men's locker room shower giving a young Jane Fonda quite an eye full of him.
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 called The Leathernecks that was shown as an episode of ABC's The Gallant Men.
Williams had a support role in a film for United Artists, The Caretakers (1963).
Williams was series regular Pat Burns in ABC's 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.
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 lampoon 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).
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."
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."
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.
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 Santa Monica, California communications company 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 Malibu, California, substation.
He turned down the offer of a role in Falcon Crest because it involved too much location shooting.
In 1993, Williams made a cameo in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story as a director of The Green Hornet.
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.
Williams stated he did not care much for acting, citing some reasons being his resentment towards 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 peoples 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 claimed that since 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.
Williams married Vicki Flaxman in 1959. Together they had three children. He had five grandchildren. He had twin daughters from a previous marriage. In 1988, Williams owned houses in Sun Valley, Idaho, Fort Worth, and Hawaii. He said it was the fruits of good investments. Pat Priest (The Munsters), Williams's longtime friend and neighbor, said he was her mentor.
He later worked as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff and was a volunteer fire fighter at the Malibu station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and suffered singed lungs and back injuries as a result. His favorite pastime was hunting geese, duck, elk, and other animals. 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 Batman and The Green Hornet being on a secret case together. 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.