Birth Date: February 27, 1934 / Age: 82
Birth Place: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Biography: Van Williams' family business was cattle ranching, and that was what he initially intended to do. Born in Fort Worth, he studied animal husbandry and business administration at Texas Christian University.
In the mid-1950s he went to Hawaii and found work as a diving instructor. While working there he had a very famous student: Elizabeth Taylor. Her husband, Mike Todd, suggested that Williams would be a sure-fire success in Hollywood because of his good looks and athletic build. After he injured his back he took Todd's advice and went to Hollywood.
Williams quickly found work at Warner Brothers studios as one of numerous "beefcake" actors of the era. After a few minor roles he landed a co-starring role on Bourbon Street Beat as Kenny Madison, a young understudy in a New Orleans private investigator firm. The series, one of many "clones" of the phenominally successful 77 Sunset Strip (all created by William T. Orr), only lasted a year on ABC.
Orr kept the Ken Madison character and moved him from New Orleans to a Miami houseboat. Teaming with young heartthrob Troy Donahue (fresh off success in the 1959 film A Summer Place) and Lee Patterson, SurfSide 6 was launched in October, 1960. The series, one of the better detective shows of the era, had a measure of success, lasting for two seasons and a two-part "cross-over" episode with 77 Sunset Strip before being cancelled by ABC in 1962.
By then Williams was a husband and a father. He used his college education in business wisely and became a successful investor. He continued acting as well, landing both comedic (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and dramatic (The Gallant Men) roles. He landed another starring role, in a short-lived series with Walter Brennan called The Tycoon.
In 1966 William Dozier, basking in the success of the ABC series Batman, decided to create another "super-hero" series based on a crimefighter from the past. He chose George Trendle's creation, the Green Hornet. Williams won the lead role as Britt Reid, the newspaper publisher who donned the mask to become the Green Hornet. For the role of valet Kato (a role played by Keye Luke in the movie serials of the 1940s), Dozier chose a young unknown martial arts expert. The man's name: Bruce Lee.
The Green Hornet was the opposite of Batman. Instead of campy fun with costumed criminals, The Green Hornet featured more realistic, serious situations. While the show was successful, there were problems. Williams wanted Bruce Lee to be portrayed more the way Kato was in the movies (a scientist and inventor of the Hornet's gadgets) than just as a house servant. He also wanted the show to be longer than the 30-minute format, which would have allowed for further development of the complex characters in the show. ABC refused, and as a result the series was cancelled after one year.
Williams had one final starring role in his career, in a 1975 Saturday morning children's series Westwind, which aired on NBC. He grew more and more disillusioned with the Hollywood lifestyle, finally retiring from acting in 1979 after an appearance in an episode of The Rockford Files.
Williams maintained the communications business he had started while still working as an actor. He also took on the real-life role of crimefighter, serving for many years as a sheriff's deputy. (One of the residents on his beat was his former Green Hornet co-star, the late Wende Wagner.)
Van Williams met his wife, Vicki, in Hawaii. She was a surfer pro. They wed on New Year's Eve, 1959. They have three daughters. Van also has twin daughters from an early first marriage. Van and Vicki now reside in Idaho.