Mostly Credited As: Van Williams
Birth Name: Van Zant Jarvis Williams
Date Of Birth: February 27, 1934 (Age 81)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: Fort Worth, Texas
Height: 6' (1.82 m)
Van Williams, in true Texas fashion, had initial plans to become a cattle rancher. The Fort Worth native's family was in the business, and his studies at Texas Christian University (animal husbandry and business) pointed him in that direction.
Williams was not quite ready to head into cattle ranching, so after an early failed marriage he went to Hawaii. He found work as a diving instructor, which proved to be central to the turning point in his life. One of the people who sought him out as a teacher was Nicky Hilton, husband of Elizabeth Taylor. Hilton suggested that Williams should take his good looks to Hollywood, where an era of "beefcake" actors at studios was well underway. Following an injury to his back, Williams took Hilton's advice and went to Hollywood, where he quickly found work as guest stars in a number of television shows.
Warner Brothers Studios produced a number of crime dramas, most modeled after their very successful 77 Sunset Strip show. Williams was cast in one, Bourbon Street Beat with veteran actors Andrew Duggan and Richard Long. The show only lasted one season, but executive producer William Orr took Williams' character, Ken Madison, and moved him from the French Quarter of New Orleans to a Miami Beach houseboat. SurfSide 6 teamed Williams with Lee Patterson and young heartthrob Troy Donahue. While this series only lasted two years, it established Williams as a handsome leading man who could effectively do both drama and comedy.
By this time, Williams was a husband and a father. He and wife Vicki, whom he married on New Year's Eve 1959, had a family to care for. Seeing that the acting profession was unstable, Williams began utilizing his TCU education and investing his earnings in business and real estate.
Williams was not short of acting jobs, as he continued to guest star in a number of comedy and drama programs. His spent a year in a program called The Tycoon, with Walter Brennan.
The role that Williams is best-known for came in 1966, when Batman executive producer William Dozier decided to bring another comic book crime fighter to life. Williams was cast as newspaper publisher Britt Reid, who fought crime under the name the Green Hornet. To play the role of Kato (which Keye Luke had played in two movie serials in the 1940s), Dozier cast an unknown martial arts expert: Bruce Lee.
Unlike Batman, which was almost a campy parody of the comic books, The Green Hornet had a more serious tone with real criminals instead of costumed ones. The show was successful; however, there were problems. Williams felt that the 30-minute format did not allow for character development that would be necessary to expound on facts from the radio show, movie serial, and comic books (including Kato's science degree, his inventions, and how Britt had saved his life). The dissension proved fatal to the series, and it was canceled after only 26 episodes.
Williams continued acting, but his roles were fewer. He starred in a final series -- a Saturday morning kids' show titled Westwind -- and made carefully selected appearances (including the "Thirty a Month and Found" episode of Gunsmoke in 1975, which Williams listed as one of his favorite performances). Disillusioned with the acting profession, Williams focused his energy on his business ventures. Following a small role in The Rockford Files in 1979, Williams quit acting. He made one cameo in a Bruce Lee biopic, playing the director of The Green Hornet.
Van Williams and wife Vicki live in Idaho.