Zorro First Episode: Presenting Senor Zorro
Zorro, a Walt Disney-produced half-hour television series, running from 1957 to 1959, and starring Guy Williams as Zorro. The two Guy Williams-starred features above were episode compilations, and there were four one-hour follow-ups on the Walt Disney anthology television series in the 1960–1961 TV season.
Zorro’s debut: The Curse of Capistrano
Zorro (/ˈzɔːroʊ/; Spanish: [ˈθoro], American Spanish: [ˈsoro]) is a fictional charactercreated in 1919 by New York–based pulp writer Johnston McCulley. The character has been featured in numerous books, films, television series, and other media. Zorro (Spanish for “fox“) is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, a Californio nobleman and master living in the Spanish colonial era. The character has undergone changes through the years, but the typical image of him is a dashing black-clad masked outlaw who defends the people of the land against tyrannical officials and other villains. Not only is he too cunning and foxlike for the bumbling authorities to catch, but he delights in publicly humiliating them.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, on their honeymoon, selected the story as the inaugural picture for their new studio, United Artists, beginning the character’s cinematic tradition. The story was adapted as the film The Mark of Zorro (1920), which was a commercial success. McCulley’s story was re-released by publisher Grosset & Dunlap under the same title, to tie in with the film.
In response to public demand fueled by the film, McCulley wrote more than 60 more Zorro stories, beginning in 1922. The last, “The Mask of Zorro” (not to be confused with the 1998 film), was published posthumously in 1959. These stories ignore Zorro’s public revelation of his identity. McCulley died in 1958, just as the Disney-produced Zorro television show was becoming popular.
Fictional character biography
In “The Curse of Capistrano”, Don Diego Vega becomes Señor Zorro in the pueblo of Los Angeles in California “to avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians”, and “to aid the oppressed.” He is the title character, as he is dubbed the “Curse of Capistrano.”
The story involves him romancing Lolita Pulido, an impoverished noblewoman. While Lolita is unimpressed with Diego, who pretends to be a passionless fop, she is attracted to the dashing Zorro. His rival is Captain Ramon. Other characters include Sgt. Pedro Gonzales, Zorro’s enemy but Diego’s friend; Zorro’s deaf and mute servant Bernardo; his ally Fray (Friar) Felipe; his father Don Alejandro Vega; and a group of noblemen (caballeros) who at first hunt him but are won over to his cause.
In later stories, McCulley introduces characters such as pirates and Native Americans, some of whom know Zorro’s identity.
In McCulley’s later stories, Diego’s surname became de la Vega. In fact, the writer was wildly inconsistent. The first magazine serial ended with the villain dead and Diego publicly exposed as Zorro, but in the sequel the villain was alive, and the next entry had the double identity still secret.
Several Zorro productions have expanded on the character’s exploits. Many of the continuations feature a younger character taking up the mantle of Zorro.
In “The Curse of Capistrano,” Diego is described as “unlike the other full-blooded youths of the times”; though proud as befitting his class (and seemingly uncaring about the lower classes), he shuns action, rarely wearing his sword except for fashion, and is indifferent to romance with women. This is, of course, a sham. This portrayal, with minor variations, is followed in most Zorro media.
A notable exception to this portrayal is Disney’s Zorro (1957–59), where Diego, despite using the original facade early in the series, instead becomes a passionate and compassionate crusader for justice and simply masquerades as “the most inept swordsman in all of California.” In this show, everyone knows Diego would love to do what Zorro does, but thinks he does not have the skill.
The Family Channel’s Zorro (1990–93) takes this concept further. While Diego pretends to be inept with a sword, the rest of his facade is actually exaggerating his real interests. Diego is actually well versed and interested in art, poetry, literature, and science. His facade is pretending to only be interested in these things and to have no interest in swordplay or action. Zorro also has a well-equipped laboratory in his hidden cave in this version of the story.
The character’s visual motif is typically a black costume with a flowing Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed black sombrero cordobés, and a black cowl sackcloth mask that covers the top of the head from eye level upwards. In his first appearance, he wears a cloak instead of a cape, and a black cloth veil mask covering his whole face with slits for eyes. Other features of the costume may vary; sometimes black riding boots or bell-bottom trousers, sometimes a vest, a waistsash or riding belt, and a moustache.
The fox is never depicted as Zorro’s emblem, but as a metaphor for the character’s wiliness (“Zorro, ‘the Fox’, so cunning and free …” from the Disney television show theme). In the 1990s series episode 9, The Legend Begins, part 2, Felipe, the de la Vega family servant boy takes Diego to the hideout cave to show him a lone fox hiding in there. The scene implies that is the point where Diego gets his inspiration from the fox.
Skills and resources
Zorro is an agile athlete and acrobat, using his bullwhip as a gymnastic accoutrement to swing through gaps between city roofs, and is very capable of landing from great heights and taking a fall. Although he is a master swordsman and marksman he has more than once demonstrated his prowess in unarmed combat against multiple opponents.
His calculating and precise dexterity as a tactician has enabled him to use his two main weapons, his sword and bullwhip, as an extension of his deft hand. He never uses brute strength, more his fox-like sly mind and well-practiced technique to outmatch an opponent.
In some versions, Zorro keeps a medium-sized dagger tucked in his left boot for emergencies. He has used his cape as a blind, a trip-mat and a disarming tool. Zorro’s boots are also sometimes weighted, as is his hat, which he has thrown, Frisbee-style, as an efficiently substantial warning to enemies. But more often than not, he uses psychological mockery to make his opponents too angry to be coordinated in combat.
Zorro is a skilled horseman. The name of his jet-black horse has varied through the years. In “The Curse of Capistrano”, it was unnamed. Later versions named the horse Toronado/Tornado or Tempest. In other versions, Zorro rides a white horse named Phantom.
McCulley’s concept of a band of men helping Zorro is often absent from other versions of the character. An exception is Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939), starring Reed Hadley as Diego. In Douglas Fairbanks’ version, he also has a band of masked men helping him. In McCulley’s stories, Zorro was aided by a deaf-mute named Bernardo. In Disney’s Zorro television series, Bernardo is not deaf but pretends to be, and serves as Zorro’s spy. He is a capable and invaluable helper for Zorro, sometimes wearing the mask to reinforce his master’s charade. The Family Channel‘s Zorro television series replaces Bernardo with a teenager named Felipe, played by Juan Diego Botto, with a similar disability and pretense.
The historical figure most often associated with the Zorro character is Joaquin Murrieta, whose life was fictionalized in an 1854 dime novel by John Rollin Ridge. In the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro Murrieta’s (fictional) brother succeeds Diego as Zorro. As a hero with a secret identity who taunts his foes by signing his deeds, Zorro finds a direct literary predecessor in Sir Percival Blakeney, hero of the Scarlet Pimpernel pulp series by Baroness Emmuska Orczy.
The character recalls other figures, such as Robin Hood, Reynard the Fox, Salomon Pico, Manuel Rodríguez Erdoíza, and Tiburcio Vasquez. Another possible historical inspiration is William Lamport, an Irish soldier who lived in Mexico in the 17th century. His life was the subject of a fictional book by Vicente Riva Palacio; The Irish Zorro (2004) is a recent biography. Another is Estanislao, a Yokuts Indian who led a revolt against the Mission San Jose in 1827.
The 1890’s penny dreadful treatment of the Spring Heeled Jack character as a masked avenger may have inspired some aspects of Zorro’s heroic persona. Spring Heeled Jack was portrayed as a nobleman who created a flamboyant, masked alter ego to fight injustice, frequently demonstrated exceptional athletic and combative skills, maintained a hidden lair and was known to carve the letter “S” into walls with his rapier as a calling card.
Like Sir Percy in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Don Diego avoids suspicion by playing the role of a dandy who wears lace, writes poetry, and shuns violence. The all-black Fairbanks film costume, which with variations has remained the standard costume for the character, was likely adapted from the Arrow serial film character The Masked Rider (1919). This character was the first Mexican black-clad masked rider on a black horse to appear on the silver screen. Fairbanks’s costume in The Mark of Zorro, released the following year, resembled that of the Rider with only slight differences in the mask and hat.
Appearances in media – Books
- Johnston McCulley‘s original magazine serial, “The Curse of Capistrano” from All-Story Weekly, was published in 1924 as a novella by Grosset & Dunlap under the title The Mark of Zorro. It was reprinted by MacDonald & Co. in 1959 and by Tor books in 1998, ISBN 978-0-8125-4007-9.
- Johnston McCulley’s Zorro short stories were reprinted by Pulp Adventures Inc. in a series of trade paperback editions.
- A series of paperback novels were published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. Books in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
- Zorro and the Jaguar Warriors by Jerome Preisler September 1998 ISBN 978-0-8125-6767-0
- Zorro and The Dragon Riders by David Bergantino March 1999 ISBN 978-0-8125-6768-7
- Zorro and the Witch’s Curse by John Whitman April 2000 ISBN 978-0-8125-6769-4
- Gerard Ronan’s Biography of William Lamport “The Irish Zorro” was published by Brandon Books in 2004. ISBN 978-0-86322-329-7.
- Minstrel Books published A series of young reader novels based on the motion picture The Mask of Zorro.
- Zorro filmographic books have also been published:
- The character was also the subject of a historical novel by a famous Chilean author.
The character has been adapted for over forty films. They include:
- The Mark of Zorro (1920), with Douglas Fairbanks
- Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), with Douglas Fairbanks
- The Bold Caballero (1936), with Robert Livingston
- Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939), with Reed Hadley
- The Mark of Zorro (1940), with Tyrone Power
- The Sign of Zorro (1958), with Guy Williams, portions of the first 13 Zorro TV series episodes edited into a feature film, released overseas in 1958 and domestically in 1960.
- Zorro, the Avenger (1959), with Guy Williams, another theatrical compilation of several Zorro TV episodes, released overseas, and was not seen in the United States until it was eventually aired on the Disney Channel.
- The Mark of Zorro (1974), a made for television movie with Frank Langella as Zorro that reuses the Alfred Newman theme from 1940’s The Mark of Zorro.
- Zorro, The Gay Blade (1981), a parody, with George Hamilton. Diego, Jr., breaks his leg shortly after launching his career as a new Zorro, and his gay twin brother Ramon, now calling himself Bunny Wigglesworth, volunteers to fill in while he recuperates.
- The Mask of Zorro (1998), played against tradition, with Anthony Hopkins as an aged Don Diego de la Vega and Antonio Banderas as Alejandro Murrieta, a misfit outlaw who is groomed to become the next Zorro.
- The Legend of Zorro (2005), the sequel to the 1998 The Mask of Zorro, again starring Antonio Banderas.
20th Century Fox is working on a reboot Zorro film called Zorro Reborn with Gael Garcia Bernal in the title role with a script by Glen Gers, Lee Shipman, and Brian McGeevy. Sony also plans another film with a script by Matthew Federman and Stephen Scaia based on the novel by Isabel Allende.