Zorro, the sword-wielding, black-clad avenger, is one of the most influential fictional characters of twentieth century literature. By day he was Don Diego, a respected nobleman of nineteenth century California. By night, however, he cut a much more dashing figure as "The Fox," El Zorro. Dressed completely in black with a mask and wide-brimmed hat to conceal his identity, Zorro battled evildoers with the aid of his whip and sword, and made fast getaways on his black steed, Tornado. He was a superbly talented fencer—only Cyrano de Bergerac, D'Artagnan, and the Three Musketeers can challenge him for the title of fiction's most popular swordsman. No matter where he went, he always signed his work with a distinctive Z, often cut into the clothing or skin of his enemies.
Zorro's adventures have been chronicled in many different media. Created by writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for "The Curse of Capistrano," which was serialized in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly, Zorro is the oldest of the modern superheroes. McCulley would write a total of 65 adventures of the black-clad avenger over the next 39 years. Since Zorro's introduction, countless characters have been created using the same basic theme: a normally law-abiding individual who is faced with great injustice and takes up a mask and secret identity to right wrongs and protect the innocent. Moreover, Zorro's devil-may-care attitude, mastery with the sword, daring escapes, and tendency to laugh in the face of authority have become common traits of swashbuckling heroes.
Though he began as a pulp magazine character, Zorro soared to popularity as a movie character. In all, Zorro has been featured in 37 movies, plus a number of Republic serialized adventures. Zorro's first foray onto the big screen came when popular actor Douglas Fairbanks, on his honeymoon with Mary Pickford, read "The Curse of Capistrano." He and Pickford chose that story to kick off their new film studio, United Artists, and in 1920 released it as The Mark of Zorro. Zorro remained a popular film character in the decades that followed. Tyrone Power took up the sword and mask in 1940's The Mark of Zorro. Zorro starred in 10 screen adventures, most of them in serial form, from Republic starting in 1937.
A 1950s Disney television show, Zorro, starred Guy Williams in the title role. Zorro was, at the time, the highest-budgeted Western on television. According to the Official Zorro Web Site, the Zorro merchandising mania that resulted is still well known among toy and comics collectors. Many more movie and television adaptations of Zorro's adventures were made in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Included among these were films from Europe and an animated series, The New Adventures of Zorro, which ran from 1981 to 1983.
Zorro experienced another resurgence in popularity in the 1990s with another live-action television series that ran for 88 episodes. A new animated series debuted in 1992, and a 1995 stage musical opened to critical acclaim. The year 1998 saw the release of The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas as the protege of Anthony Hopkins' Don Diego. The film was a great success, collecting $95 million at the box office, the highest total for any Zorro film. Yet another animated series was unveiled around the same time, along with a new line of Zorro toys.
Zorro has also seen his share of caricature. In the early 1980s the television series Zorro and Son took a comedic approach towards his adventures, and the 1981 film Zorro, the Gay Blade featured George Hamilton as an effeminate relative of Zorro who fought injustice in a pink leather costume, complete with Zorro's trusty whip.
Zorro was one of the earliest of many successful twentieth-century characters that tapped into the frustration of readers. People were afraid: afraid of crime, afraid of war, afraid of oppressive governments. El Zorro and his dashing adventures allowed them to imagine a world where wrongs could be righted, not through a system that was often slow and corrupt, but swiftly and surely. His sword and whip attacked villains justice could not touch; sometimes the villains were themselves the supposed guardians of justice.
Zorro is also the consummate romantic, a combination of Latin lover, gentleman bandit, and charming rogue. Even as enemy forces closed in from all sides, he often found the time to give his leading lady a passionate kiss before he executed another daring escape.
Another important component of Zorro's appeal lies in his near-supernatural ability to defy the odds. No matter how great the challenge or powerful the enemy, Zorro always came out on top and set things right. He was the underdog who could even the odds with a stroke of his blade, taking down the powerful and arrogant by several notches. Whenever a screen swashbuckler defies a sputtering tyrant or a grim, black-clad comic book vigilante stalks the night seeking criminal prey, both are following in the footsteps of El Zorro and the ideals that made him popular through four generations of fans.
—Paul F.P. Pogue
Curtis, Sandra R. Zorro Unmasked: The Official History. New York, Hyperion, 1998.
Hutchison, Don. The Great Pulp Heroes. Buffalo, New York, Mosaic Press, 1996.
McCulley, Johnston. The Mark of Zorro. New York, AmericanReprint Co., 1924, 1976.
Toth, Alex. Zorro: The Complete Classic Adventures. Forestville, California, Eclipse Books, 1988.
"Zorro." http://www.zorro.com March 1999.
Zorro, the masked avenger of the Old Southwest, has been one of the most popular heroic figures of the twentieth century. The character, created by Johnston McCulley (1883–1958) in 1919, first appeared in a story titled "The Curse of Capistrano" in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. El Zorro ("The Fox") dressed completely in black and wore a mask and a wide-brimmed hat to conceal his identity as he fought evildoers in nineteenth-century California. He rode a jet-black horse named Tornado and was a master with both sword and whip. His trademark was to carve a "Z" with his blade upon his enemies. Without his costume, Zorro was the wealthy Spanish count Don Diego, who assumed a foppish manner to conceal his secret identity. (A fop is a man who is overly concerned about his looks and his clothes.) Zorro's adventures have thrilled Americans for generations as he has appeared in novels, film, television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 3), and cartoons, as well as in a multitude of merchandise and collectibles.
Zorro emerged from pulp magazines (see entry under 1930s—Print Culture in volume 2) to become a national phenomenon. Readers loved the swashbuckler as he displayed a devil-may-care attitude, great swordsmanship, and compassion for the oppressed (mistreated). McCulley penned sixty-five of the hero's adventures over nearly forty years. Zorro was successful in print, but he was even more popular on film. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (1883–1939) first portrayed him in The Mark of Zorro (1920) to great acclaim. Numerous Zorro films and serials appeared into the 1970s. Perhaps the most popular depiction of Zorro was in the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro. Actor Tyrone Power (1914–1958) perfectly characterized both the weak Don Diego and bold hero Zorro.
Zorro was also often featured on television. Disney produced a Zorro series in the 1950s starring Guy Williams (1924–1989) that sparked a bonanza of merchandise. In 1980, George Hamilton (1939–) appeared in the campy Zorro, The Gay Blade. The film showed Zorro wearing a pink leather costume and was a complete disaster. Between 1989 and 1994, Duncan Regehr (1952–) appeared as the swordsman. The 1980s and 1990s further witnessed several animated Zorro programs. In 1998, Zorro again dominated the national consciousness when Anthony Hopkins (1937–) and Antonio Banderas (1960–) starred in The Mask of Zorro, which introduced the character to another generation of fans.
Zorro was one of the twentieth century's first popular heroic icons. He is a dashing, gentleman bandit who performs heroic feats, woos lovely ladies, and fights corruption—all with a charming elegance and flashing blade. Dozens of heroic characters, most notably Batman (see entry under 1930s—Print Culture in volume 2), have followed the pattern established by McCulley's masked daredevil.
For More Information
Curtis, Sandra. Zorro Unmasked: The Official History. New York: Hyperion, 1998.
Hutchinson, Don. The Great Pulp Heroes. Buffalo: Mosaic Press, 1996.
McCulley, Johnston. The Mark of Zorro. New York: American Reprint Co., 1924, 1976.
Toth, Alex. Zorro: The Complete Classic Adventures. Forestville, CA: Eclipse Books, 1988.
Zorro ★★½ El Zorro la belva del Colorado; El Zorro 1974 (G)
Italian take on the Zorro legend is a light romp, with Delon as the masked one careful not to take the proceedings too seriously. Recently arrived California governor Diego runs afoul of corrupt officials and dons the famous cape and mask to help the peasants. Mostly aims to please the kids but should keep adults interested, too. 120m/C VHS . IT FR Alain Delon, Stanley Baker, Adriana Asti, Marino (Martin) Mase, Giacomo “Jack” Rossi-Stuart, Moustache, Ottavia Piccolo, Giampiero Albertini, Enzo Cerusico; D: Duccio Tessari; W: Giorgio Arlorio; C: Giulio Albonico; M: Guido de Angelis, Maurizio de Angelis.