El Zorro (The Fox) is a fictional character created in 1919 by American pulp writer Johnston McCulley.
Zorro is typically portrayed as a dashing and charming masked vigilante who defends the poor and the weak against corrupt and tyrannical government officials and other villains in 1780s Spanish California.
Zorro is the secret identity of Don Diego, a young Californian nobleman who has great abilities in swordsmanship. However, he has to show another persona to society to hide his identity as a man of letters who is afraid of conflict and does not have the capability to defend himself, which is the opposite of Señor Zorro, a daring dashing and charming man of action.
Back in the day, you had pulp magazines which are basically the ancestors of modern American comic books which presented many pulp heroes. The pulp heroes did not have superpowers and fought no supervillains. Zorro was one of those heroes.
MY ZORRO NOTES
How it all started…
My love for Zorro started with the Disney series. It brings many fond memories and is a favorite to watch these days because it gives me a “feel good” feeling. So rather than watch anything new I often go back to Disney’s Zorro especially after a long day of work.
I remember when I was a kid, we used to watch the Spanish version broadcasted from the regional tv statements from South America every afternoon. The intro song was always a treat. It makes you want to sing along every time:
“En su corcel cuando sale la luna
aparece el bravo Zorro.
Al hombre del mal él sabrá castigar
marcando la zeta del Zorro.
su espada no fallará.
la zeta les marcará.
These were the times where we had VHS recorders. Since it was always on TV, I didn’t bother to record anything that is until the station that broadcast it was closed. I got to borrow a few discs from my friends who managed to record it in Spanish, but I always wanted to have the complete set. Years later the discs were eventually damaged because they were used so much.
Nowadays the Disney version in English is very difficult to find. I bought the 90s set thinking it was the Disney version. I watched it one time. Doesn’t give me the same feeling as the Disney version. It’s just different. In the Disney series, Guy Williams was very charming as “Don Diego de La Vega”.
How it continued…
Later I saw the movies with Antonio Banderas. Consequently, I also watched the 2007 telenovela version of Zorro titled “Zorro, La Espada y La Rosa”. Like all telenovelas, the focus was mostly on the romance between Diego/Zorro and Esmeralda which was something I was not used to watching Zorro.
Diego is portrayed as a Casanova, a persona that brings many problems and takes too much of his time to plan his actions as Zorro. He is supposed to be seen as a scholar and should be no threat to the men of the pueblo. He should be invisible. With this portrayal, he is a threat to a certain extent to some men of the pueblo based on his reputation.
Furthermore, instead of him coming up with the Zorro persona or inheriting it in some way, the telenovela set it up as him joining the brotherhood of Zorro which is a secret society called the Knights of the Broken Thorn.
I missed the everyday action from the Disney series but overall, it was good for a period-based telenovela. The telenovela form in my opinion was not the best format for a show with that title. Espada (the Spanish word for sword) implies that there will be some action included. Zorro y La Rosa would have been a better choice.
That’s all the Zorro I knew for a very long time.
A New Perspective
Years later I came across a documentary about Zorro which open my eyes to all the exiting Zorro material that was out there as the first Zorro movie of the 1920s “The Mask of Zorro” and the Book it was based on “The Curse of Capistrano: The Original Adventures of Zorro”. Later, the documentary was updated with even more Zorro material including “Female” Zorro on film and in the comics. It seems I was missing a lot.
THE MOVIE: THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920)
The Mark of Zorro is a 1920 silent adventure-romance film starring Douglas Fairbanks. The film can be found in the public domain and can be viewed for free. The story was completely different from the Zorro I remembered.
The movie was based on the Zorro novel “The Curse of Capistrano”, which I did not read yet by the time I watched the movie. Unlike the telenovela, I thought the romance didn’t opaque all the actions that took place.
It is fascinating to see the action scenes keeping in mind that most of them were real. There were no stuntmen at the time and since there is no dialogue, the actors’ performances especially acrobatic stunts, fighting sequences, and facial expressions were of utmost importance. It is a true master price of its time.
THE BOOK: THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO
After watching the movie, I got and read the book “The Curse of Capistrano: The Original Adventures of Zorro”. The book itself is just 180 pages and can be found in the public domain. I got the hard copy version with the cover of the Movie “The Mark of Zorro”. The search for the book was not an easy one as there are many printed versions.
About the Writer
“ The book was first published in 1919 by Johnston McCulley as a serial in the all-story weekly pulp magazine, this story was originally titled “The Curse of Capistrano” and was the first appearance of Zorro. When the book was used as the basis for the 1920 film “The Mark of Zorro”, it was retitled as the “Mark of Zorro”.
“Johnston McCulley has published extensively in the pulp magazines of the day under a variety of pen names. He created a number of popular masked, customed “Vigilante” Characters and “Gentleman villains” with secret identities such as The Green Ghost, The Crimson Clown, Black Star, and The Spider. His Vigilantes has secret identities, sidekicks, gadgets, and weapons. His work was a major influence on subsequent pulp characters like The Shadow.”
About the Book
The 2013 copy I got was published by Summit Classic Press still in the English language spoken at the time. The chapters are quite short and very easy to read. The language made it more entertaining for me. .
The first chapter of the book is great in introducing Don Diego Vega and Zorro, immediately establishing the difference between the two characters. The Don Diego persona known by everyone is described as a wealthy handsome weak man.
The real Diego is a very intelligent and agile swordsman. The Sergeant in this story is a typical soldier, completely different from Sergeant Lopez Garcia who was the comedic relief in the Disney version.
Diego’s father insisted that he is at the age to look for a future wife. Diego started showing interest in Señorita Lolita who saw him as a lifeless uninteresting man. He initially made it very clear that he was just looking for a wife and had no interest in courting. In the book, Lolita Pulido has black hair which is different from the film.
Zorro makes an appearance at her house and showed interest in her. As does Captain Ramon. As the issues are accumulating for Don Diego, he chooses Bernardo as his confidant, a native mute servant who has been working for his family. As the story continues Don Diego has to figure out a way to keep up appearances and continue monitoring the region for any injustices caused by those with power.
THE RADIO SHOW: THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO
After finishing the book, I found the Radio Show version based on the book produced by Baron productions which were quite entertaining. The Radio show version is much different than the audiobook versions. The Radio show is like a play of the story. It deviates a little from the book but it’s still entertaining.
MORE OF ZORRO
There is so much existing Zorro material to read and watch still. Here are a few suggestions I received that I’m interested in:
Comics based on the Zorro character had already appeared before the Disney TV series.
But when the Disney TV show became popular new comics were published under the banner “Walt Disney Presents” with the artwork reflecting the way the characters looked in the TV version.
Zorro is an animated series from the 90s and another version of the legend of Zorro.
In this series, Zorro is battling Capitan Montecero, the head of the Los Angeles garrison. His allies are Isabella, the son of neighboring Don Nacho, and, his faithful mute servant Bernardo. Also introduced in the series is an Indian sorceress, an assortment of ghosts and ghouls, and a large number of futuristic mechanical devices.
In Queen of the Swords, a young woman returns to her home in California after her father’s mysterious death.
She becomes a symbol, the queen of swords, fighting for justice and trying to right the wrongs the colonel has done. It is a western action-adventure series from the early 2000s with just 22 episodes.
The Chronicles of Zorro was the first Zorro animated series produced using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and HD.
In the series, he is aided by Bernardo, which in this version is portrayed as his brother instead of his servant, and he has the support of his best friend Ines. With his remarkable expertise in swordsmanship, he is trying to defeat the evil general and his goons.
The current state of writing, directing, and acting gives me no enthusiasm to see any new Zorro from the mainstream. However, the Zorro License for certain formats is available for independent creators as well. So, I guess, it depends on the people acquiring the license to create new Zorro content?
While some of the Zorro-based material is public domain like “The Curse of Capistrano” and “The Further Adventures of Zorro” along with the 1920 Douglass Fairbanks movie “The Mark of Zorro”, other works like the Disney series are still owned by Disney. Speaking of this, why isn’t there any new issue of the DVD/Blu-Ray collection and why is it not on Disney plus? Asking for a friend.
For me, there is still so much to explore with the existing material: open to more suggestions 🙂
I’m curious to know now: who’s your favorite Zorro?
McCulley, J. The Curse of Capistrano. Archive.org
Midnight’s Edge. 2021. The Ultimate Mark of ZORRO Retrospective – Redux. Documentary.Youtube
The World of Zorro. Zorro.com