Friday, July 14, 2017

Zorro: From Douglas Fairbanks to Antonio Banderas -- July 14, 2017

Motion Picture News, 15-January-1921

This post is part of  Swashathon 2 -- A Blogathon of Swashbuckling Adventure, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently.  I agree with Fritzi that the first Swashathon may have been my favorite blogathon yet.  For the first Swashathon, I wrote about the Robin Hood of the West, the Cisco Kid:
Cisco Kid Was a Friend of Mine   

This time, I am writing about Johnston McCulley's Zorro.  I'm going to concentrate on English-language movies and other media.  

Like the Cisco Kid, Zorro was unusual because he was a Hispanic hero in American movies, on American television and in American pulp magazines and comic books.  Don Diego de la Vega was a Californio aristocrat.  Californios were people of Spanish or mixed Spanish-native descent born in  California during the period before the US invaded in 1846.  Diego takes the secret identity of Zorro (The Fox) to fight against corrupt officials and other villains who oppress the common people around El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (now known as Los Angeles).  Zorro made his mark, a letter "Z" formed with three slashes of his sword, as a warning to evildoers and a sign of hope to the oppressed.
Johnston McCulley wrote hundreds of novels, novellas and short stories, which were mostly published in pulp magazines and a fair number of plays and screenplays. His The Curse of Capistrano from the 09-August-1919 All-Story Weekly introduced Zorro to the world.  The novel was serialized over five issues.  The story was a hit, and it was soon published in book form.

Motion Picture News, 18-October-1919

Among the people who read it was the person who wrote the "Fiction Mart" column for Motion Picture News.  I liked this: "Theme: Unrest of tropics."  He or she thought the story would make a good movie: "Picture Highlights: Plenty of action and a dual role.  A good story for a picture of Western life and adventure."
Also among the people who read it was Douglas Fairbanks.  Doug was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and in 1919 he had joined with his future wife, Mary Pickford, director DW Griffith, and close friend Charlie Chaplin, to found United Artists.  Once they finished their current contracts, they would produce their own movies and United Artists would release them.

Moving Picture World, 02-June-1917

Doug was looking to change his image.  He had appeared in a long series of films, first for Triangle, then for Paramount's Artcraft subsidiary and then in his first three movies for United Artists, that were almost all action comedies set in modern times.  Doug wanted to do a costume picture.

Film Daily, 22-June-1920
Doug picked The Curse of Capistrano and may have invented the swashbuckler in the process. 

Camera, 04-December-1920

Photoplay, November, 1920

Fred Niblo directed many major films, including the 1925 Ben Hur.  "Mary Fairbanks" would be Mary Pickford, who had recently married Doug.  It was the second marriage for each.  The November Photoplay probably came out earlier in the year.

Camera, 06-November-1920
Doug and his associates made the excellent choice to change the name of the movie to The Mark of Zorro.

Exhibitors' Herald, 04-December-1920
"Action, romance, mystery, thrills and comedy in fullest measure -- all the elements of the Fairbanks successes of the past, yet in a more picturesque and colorful setting than any release you have yet had from this idol of the masses."  I like the image of Doug as Zorro. 

Film Daily, 30-Jovember-1920
The "Newspaper Opinions" column in Film Daily collected quotes from newspaper reviews.  "But on the whole the story is interesting, the playing well done, and the film decidedly good entertainment."
Doug defends Lolita, played by Marguerite De La Motte, from the attentions of Captain Juan Ramon, played by Robert McKim. Most leading ladies in Zorro movies tended to be passive. 

Motion Picture News, 07-May-1921
The Mark of Zorro was the featured attraction at a special screening for Mexican President Álvaro Obregón and 150 guests. I have to learn more about "Randolph Jennings, 'The Movie magnate of Mexico.'"

The Garden Island, Lihue, Kauai, Territory of Hawaii, 19-December-1922
"Want something snappy, romantic, exciting, full of tense action, bubbling over with romance, chivalry and glamor?" It took a while for the movie to reach the Territory of Hawaii.

Camera, 19-March-1921
Fairbanks' next film was The Nut, another modern-dress adventure.  "More seriously, "The Nut" doesn't compare with 'The Mark of Zorro' from any standpoint, but does provide light entertainment for those of us who are, or who have upon our acquaintance lists, just such 'nuts' as the one here offered for our amusement."  I think other people felt it didn't compare the The Mark of ZorroThe Nut was Doug's last modern-dress movie until his second talkie, Reaching for the Moon, in 1930.  Doug's next three films were all swashbucklers, The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief of Bagdad (1925).  Each was a big hit.

The success of the movie The Mark of Zorro led McCulley to write more Zorro stories.  The novel The Further Adventures of Zorro was published by Argosy Magazine starting on 06-May-1922. "In which Douglas Fairbanks will again play the Hero."  Didn't happen.

Film Daily Yearbook, 1925
"He never had a fizzle" says Johnston McCulley's ad in the 1925 Film Daily Yearbook.  Captain Fly-by-Night with Johnny Walker is sometimes compared to a Zorro movie, but the Captain never wore a mask.  "Generally a few good stories available." 

When Fairbanks made a sequel to The Mark of Zorro, he based it on a 1909 book, Don Q's Love Story, by Kate and Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard, a mother-son team.  Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard is quite a name.  Don Q (Don Quebranta Huesos) appeared in a series of stories and novels starting in 1897.  Don Q was born as a Spanish aristocrat, but misfortune and betrayal caused him to become a bandit.  He did not wear a mask. 

Camera, 05-February-1913

Some Don Q stories, like this British one-reeler, "The Chronicles of Don Q (No. 2)," had been filmed.  I can't find anything that tells me how many episodes there were.

Exhibitors Trade Review, 21-February-1925
"Douglas Fairbanks has stepped from the land of fantasy back to the realm of realism for his new picture, 'Don Q,' which is based on the novel 'Don Q's Love Story,' by K. and Hesketh Pritchard.  The new Fairbanks story has no relation whatever to Cervante's celebrated tale 'Don Quixote,' as many people are inclined to believe."

Moving Picture World, 27-June-1925

The criitcs praised Don Q, Son of Zorro.  Don Diego's son Cesar is going to school in Spain.  He inadvertently insults Don Sebastian, a haughty soldier played by Donald Crisp, who also directed the movie.  Cesar falls in love with Dolores, played by Mary Astor, but Sebastian wants to marry her.  Sebastian frames Cesar for murdering an Austrian nobleman.  Cesar heads for the mountains and adopts the identity of Don Q, a bandit. 

Doug had a good time, playing a quadruple role, Don Diego de la Vega, Zorro, Don Diego's son Cesar, and Don Q.

Exhibitors Trade Review, 02-May-1925
"Douglas Fairbanks in his usual virile style..."

Doug learned to use a whip for the movie.

In 1931, Johnston McCulley serialized Zorro Rides Again in Argosy Magazine.  Zorro remained off the screen for a few more years.
In 1936, Republic Pictures, the top B picture producer in Hollywood, released The Bold Caballero, which was the first talking Zorro film and the first to be shot in color.  It starred Robert Livingston.

In the 23-September-1936 Independent Exhibitors' Film Bulletin, Roland Barton gave The Bold Caballero a good review even though "The film has some technical deficiencies such as poor lighting and bad acting in spots, nor is the color all it might be, nevertheless, we found it dashing, actionful and oftimes exciting entertainment."   Barton approved of Livingstone's Zorro: "Robert Livingston is excellent as Zorro.  He duels with swords, rides, fights and looks good."
The success of The Bold Caballero inspired Re;public to release a twelve chapter serial, Zorro Rides Again, in 1937.  John Carroll played James Vega, Zorro's great grandson, in a story set in modern times.  James assumes the identity of Zorro to fight a terrorist gang which is trying to stop his uncle from building the California-Yucatan Railroad.  Look at a map some time and try to imagine where that railroad would run.  I doubt the story had anything to do with the book by Johnston McCulley.

Motion Picture Daily, 05-November-1937
 "The colorful exploits of the character in the title role of this serial ... in the past have proved box-office.  This, too has all the earmarks of another hit."

The team of William Witney and John English directed.  Serials were so long that they were often directed by teams.  Witney and English directed many Republic classics, including  The Lone Ranger, The Fighting Devil Dogs and Dick Tracy Returns

FilmIndia, September, 1938
FilmIndia, September, 1938
It appears that Zorro was known in India in 1938.
In 1939, Witney and English directed Zorro's Fighting Legion, which is the best Zorro serial I have seen.  Reed Hadley played Don Diego de la Vega and the film was set in the original period, specifically 1824, but in Mexico rather than Alta California.  Don del Oro is a mystery man in a very complicated suit of gold armor who poses as a god and inspires the Yaqui Indians to attack gold shipments.  When the man who has formed a legion to protect the gold is killed, Zorro takes over its leadership.  Reed Hadley as Zorro engages in lots of sword play.

National Board of Review Magazine, December, 1939
The "f" is for family audiences (12 and up).  The "j" is for juvenile audiences, up to 12.

Showmen's Trade Review, 02-December-1939
"Reed Hadley reminds one of the agile Fairbanks in the earlier Zorro films."  I like the suggestions for attracting business.

Despite the fact that Republic was featuring Zorro in a B feature followed by two serials, 20th Century-Fox (appropriately, considering his name) decided to make an A feature based on the original novel and the Fairbanks film.  The new Mark of Zorro would star romantic leading man Tyrone Power, Jr as Don Diego de la Vega and Zorro the Fox.
Many people like the Tyrone Power, Jr version better than the Douglas Fairbanks version.  Rouben Mamoulian was a great director.  Alfred Newman's score won an Academy Award.  And the 1940 movie featured Basil Rathbone as Zorro's nemesis, Captain Esteban Pasquale.  I'll watch any movie with Basil Rathbone.

Screenland, December, 1940
The studio promoted the movie heavily.  Tyrone Power, Jr and his co-star Linda Darnell appeared on the cover of Screenland, which carried an adaption of the story "Fictionized by Elizabeth B. Petersen."

Screenland, January, 1941
"Same old 'Mark of Zorro' with expensive new wardrobe -- and girls, how becoming!  He's still Robin Hood in old California, but there's more romantic action than oldsters will remember in original Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. version of 20 years ago."

Screenland, December, 1940
 I like this ad. 

Motion Picture Herald, 14-November-1940
I also like this trade ad, which shows that the movie has done well in many cities.
 In 1941, after the success of The Mark of Zorro, Johnston McCulley serialized The Sign of Zorro in Argosy Magazine.

Republic did not return to Zorro until 1944 when it produced the serial Zorro's Black Whip, which was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Wallace Grissel.  Perhaps because of 20th Century-Fox's movie, Republic did not use the character Zorro in the movie.  Beautiful Linda Stirling played Barbara Meredith, who assumed the character of The Black Whip to fight forces opposed to statehood in 1880s Idaho Territory.  Idaho became a state in 1890.
The Black Whip without her mask.

Motion Picture Herald, 11-November-1944
"'Zorro's Black Whip" has the usual abundance of mystery and action, captures and escapes, but it offers novelty in the person of its heroine.  She takes on the identity of the Whip, a masked rider who avenges wrong with gun and cattle whip, after the death of her father." Actually, it was her brother.
 From 1944 to 1951, Johnston McCulley published a Zorro novella every month in West Magazine. I couldn't find an issue where he appeared on the cover. 

Film Bulletin, 30-April-1945
When Tyrone Power, Jr came home from his service in the Marine Corps, 20th Century-Fox considered putting him in a remake of Don Q, Son of Zorro.  Sadly, it didn't happen.
In 1946, Republic produced Daughter of Don Q, which sounds as if it should have been a Zorro serial, but it was not.  The heroine, Dolores Quantero, played by the lovely Adrian Booth/Lorna Gray was a descendant of a different Don Q (Don Quantero).  It was a fun serial.
1947's Son of Zorro, directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet andFred C Brannon, was an unusual 13-chapter Republic serial. By this time, Republic had started to recycle a lot of stock footage in its serials to save money.  Jeff Stewart, played by George Turner, returns from the American Civil War and finds that his home town has been taken over by corrupt politicians.  He assumes the identity of his ancestor, Zorro, to fight them.
The last official Zorro serial was 1949's Ghost of Zorro, directed by Fred C Brannon.  It included more stock footage than Son of Zorro, including stock footage from Son of Zorro.  Clayton Moore, who later played another masked man on television, was Ken Mason, Zorro's grandson.  Zorro must have had a large family.  Ken Mason became Zorro to fight for law and order.
1954's Man With the Steel Whip, directed by Franklin Adreon, was one of the last Republic serials.  Jerry Randall, played by Richard Simmons, adopted the identity of El Latigo to fight injustice, so this was not a Zorro movie.  However, El Latigo was played by Richard Simmons, John Carroll, Reed Hadley, George Turner, Clayton Moore and Linda Stirling.  The latter five people appeared in stock footage from all the Zorro serials.  The stuff with Linda Stirling was fairly obvious. I haven't seen it, but I hear it is lousy.

Back in 1926, someone in Belgium produced a movie called À la manière de Zorro.  I can't find anything about it.  The next Zorro movie made in Europe was 1952's Il sogno di Zorro (The Dream of Zorro), produced in Italy, directed by Mario Soldati and starring Walter Chiari.  I can't find a photo of Chiari wearing a mask.  This was followed by a slew of Zorro movies made in Italy, France and Spain, or a combination of those countries, throughout the 50s, 60s and early 1970s.  I have never seen any of them.

Broadcasting, 16-December-1957

In late 1957, the Walt Disney Studio launched a 30 minute weekly Zorro program on the ABC network.  Guy Williams played Zorro.  The series was a hit, running from 1957 through 1959. Disney then produced four one-hour episodes which aired on Sunday nights on Walt Disney Presents.  I missed this series entirely, never seeing an episode until the Disney Channel showed some in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Guy Williams , who  played Zorro, posed with author Johnston McCulley.  This is the only photo I have been able to find of Johnston McCulley, and it was taken a short time before he died in 1958.
 In 1959, Gold Key published a Zorro comic book series based on the Disney television show.  After the dedicated series ended, more Zorro stories appeared in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories

Disney edited episodes of the television show into two feature films, The Sign of Zorro (1958) and Zorro, the Avenger (1959).  At the same time, Republic took advantage of the new interest in Zorro by editing its Zorro serials into features.

After this, things were quiet for Zorro in the United States, except for one thing.  The Hanna-Barbera Studio introduced The Quick Draw McGraw Show in 1959.  Quick Draw McGraw was a horse who fought crime in the Old West with his sidekick Baba Looey.  At times, Quick Draw would don a mask, a flat hat and a black cape and assume a secret identity, El Kabong.  El Kabong would smash a guitar over a bad guy's head while shouting "Kabooooong!"  He was meant to be a parody of Zorro. 

In 1974, Frank Langella starred in a made-for-television adaption of The Mark of Zorro.  I do not remember it and I couldn't find a photo.

In 1976, the Mexican film La gran aventura del Zorro starred Rodolfo de Anda, the first actor of Mexican descent to play Zorro.

In 1981, George Hamilton starred in Zorro, The Gay Blade.  I have not seen this movie since it first came out, but I remember that it was hilarious.  Hamilton played Don Diego de la Vega and his brother, Ramon.  Their father was not happy with the way that Ramon was turning out, so he sent him to join the Royal Navy.  Ramon adopted the name Bunny Wigglesworth.  Diego returns to California from Spain and finds that his father is dead.  Diego learns that his father was Zorro, and Diego takes up the identity to fight a reign of terror led by an old rival, Esteban.  When Zorro injures his foot escaping from a trap, Diego is in trouble until his brother Ramon appears.  Bunny is gay and quite comfortable with himself.  Bunny agrees to assume the role of Zorro, but refuses to dress in black.  He wears a wonderful assortment of pastel costumes.
 Also in 1981, Filmways produced an animated series, The New Adventures of Zorro.  It was shown during The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour.  Henry Darrow provided the voice of Don Diego/Zorro. 

In 1983, there was a television situation comedy called Zorro and Son.  I never saw it.  I can't find anything about it.
From 1990 to 1993, Duncan Regehr played Zorro in a Family Channel television series called Zorro, Zorro 1990, New Zorro or New World Zorro.  I never heard of it.  I would have given it a try.

In 1997, there was another animated series called The New Adventures of Zorro. Michael Gough was the voice of Zorro.

In 1998, I heard that Antonio Banderas was going to star in The Mark of Zorro, directed by Martin Campbell.  I had misread the actual title of the movie, which was The Mask of Zorro.  Anthony Hopkins played Don Diego de la Vega, who fights for Mexican independence.  The corrupt governor imprisons him and adopts his daughter, Elena.  Elena grows up to be Catherine Zeta-Jones.  When Diego gets out of prison twenty years later, he meets Alejandro Murrieta, played by Antonio Banderas.  Alejandro is a thief. Don Diego trains him to carry on the role of Zorro.  I enjoyed the movie.
Antonio Banderas looked good as Zorro.
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elena could take care of herself, which was a nice change from most earlier leading ladies.
In 2005, Martin Campbell directed a sequel, The Legend of Zorro.  It stinks.

However, also in 2005, Chilean-American author Isabel Allende published Zorro: A Novel.   The story is set before The Curse of Capistrano and describes Zorro's origin.  I have not read it, but I hope to.

What is Zorro up to today?

Bold Venture Press ( has been reprinting collections of all of Johnston McCulley's Zorro stories.  In July, 2017, they should publish Number 6, the last one.
Dynamite Entertainment ( has published a line of Zorro comics since 2010.
There are two different groups proposing Zorro movies that would star Gael García Bernal.  He would be good.  One group wants to film Isabel Allende's novel.  I would like to see that.

Zorro Productions, Inc ( claims to control the copyright and trademark on Zorro.  Some others dispute it.

The Far Side
And finally, a word from Gary Larson's The Far Side.  All Rights Reserved. 

This post is part of  Swashathon 2 -- A Blogathon of Swashbuckling Adventure, hosted by Fritzi at Movies SilentlyThank you to Fritzi for all the hard work.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read and comment on as many posts as you can.  Bloggers love comments.  

This post is my fourth blogathon post of 2017 and my 49th since 2007.  This is my 32nd blogathon.    This page has a list of all my blogathon posts.  


  1. Wow! I thought I knew a thing or two about Zorro - well, now I do.

    I grew up watching Guy Williams and, no matter how impressive be Fairbanks or Power or Hadley, Disney's Zorro will always be number one. McCulley came up with an extremely popular character and I applaud his success.

    1. Hi Caftan Woman. I know a lot of people who like Guy Williams as Zorro. I was amazed at the number of movies made from McCulley's other works. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  2. Marvelous post! It boggles the mind to see how many Zorros have slashed their way across the screen over the years but Fairbanks remains my favorite. I agree, it's a darn shame that Tyrone Power didn't do a Don Q remake because I have a feeling it would have been a blast.

    1. Hi Fritzi. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had no idea there had been so many Zorros. Don Q in Technicolor would have been something to see. Thank you for putting together a second Swashathon. I'm already thinking about what to write for a third. I think I have exhausted the subject of western swashbucklers.

  3. Whoa! I can't believe how many times the Zorro story has been made into a film. It shows the enduring power of a legend.

    Your essay was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your research, and for turning us all into Zorro smarty pants!

  4. Hi Silver Screenings. I too was amazed to see how many films there were. I didn't even try to cover the European and Mexican versions. I wish I could have found something about the Mexican telenovella. Thank you for the kind words. I love sharing knowledge. We need more smarty pants.

  5. I love some versions mentioned here: the two by Fairbanks, the one with Tyrone Power and, of course, Quick Draw McGraw. I only imagined that the character was older - he doesn't haven 100 yet, so young!
    And, wow, Gael as a new Zorro would be amazing!
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    1. Hi Le. I like most Zorros I have seen, except the second one with Antonio Banderas. That is funny that Zorro is not 100 yet. He seems like a character from mythology. I sure hope one of the projects with Gael gets made. I loved your post. Thank you for visiting.


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