By Steve Vertlieb: When I was just eleven years old in 1957, Walt Disney announced on The Mickey Mouse Club that a brand new Zorro television series would be airing each week on Thursday evenings over the ABC Television Network.
My heart raced … my pulse quickened … while my jaw dropped in utter paralysis and awe at the premiere opening titles of this beloved children’s TV series.
There had been the popular novel, The Curse of Capistrano, by writer Johnston McCulley in 1919. Then came the classic silent film based upon McCulley’s novel starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in the title role in the silent version of The Mark of Zorro. Reed Hadley wore the mask and handsome black costume, daringly astride his courageous white stallion, in the greatest film serial of them all, Republic Pictures’ 1939 serial adventure, Zorro’s Fighting Legion. Tyrone Power essayed the part for 20th Century Fox in Darryl F. Zanuck’s production of The Mark of Zorro in 1940.
However, it was Guy Williams as Don Diego De La Vega, the foppish nobleman who rode the hills of Spanish California, when the blackness of night consumed the danger filled countryside, as “El Zorro … “The Fox” … in the classic television series, who thrilled my soul with wonder, and set my young heart, and the fertile imaginations of America’s children ablaze as Walt Disney’s Zorro.
Featuring the magical title theme music by song writers Norman Foster and George Bruns, with background scoring by composer William Lava, who had also written the thunderous motion picture score for Zorro’s Fighting Legion, the Zorro theme song became an overnight sensation.
My dreams come alive once more even now as “Out of the night … When the full moon is bright … Comes the horseman known as … ZORRO.”
I watched it as a kid and did not realize until I was an adult that it was taking place in Los Angeles.
I loved that show.
I loved the show and videotaped it many years later. But I would love to get a professional Blu-Ray or DVD release, one of these days. (I admit to trying to get both the original b/w and colorized versions on videotape, but I don’t think I ever did get an entire set of either.)
A 1950s tv show I saw! We had returned stateside from Taipei to Rome,NY. But then 30 months later off to Seoul.
I have memories of it and the Mickey Mouse Club.
Neglected to click the Notify.
I only ran into that series later on the Disney Channel. I grew up with Guy Williams in Lost in Space. As a lifelong fan of swashbucklers, Guy Williams was one of the best Zorros. It helped that his father had been an Italian fencing master. If you look at his footwork in the fights, you can see his formal training. The only other actor to have the right training was Cornell Wilde who trained with the US Olympic team in Saber. It also helped they had Fred Cavens as the swordmaster. He did all the early classic Errol Flynn films (with Bob Anderson doing some of his later films, before going on to working on Empire Strikes Back and Lord of the Rings). Williams used to talk about going up to the hills above the Disney studio with his wife and watching them build the sets for the series. In one episode Ricardo Montalban plays someone who figures out Zorro’s secret identity. Years later, he played Captain Esteban in a TV remake of THE MARK OF ZORRO that starred a young Frank Langella. Williams finally left Hollywood after casting problems because of Lost in Space and lived in Argentina, where the Zorro series was still quite popular and he was in demand for appearances. He wanted the part of the older Don Diego in Disney’s horrible series “Zorro and Son” but was in too poor health to do it with Henry Darrow playing the part instead.
Loved the Disney series, which ran from 1957-1959. It had high production values, great actors (Guy Williams (Zorro), Gene Sheldon (his faithful sidekick whom everyone thought was deaf, but he wasn’t.), and Henry Calvin as the bumbling sergeant Garcia (whose wonderful singing voice I recall from at least one episode).
Those were good years for kids’ adventure series. In addition to the “Zorro” series, there was Richard Greene’s “Robin Hood” series from 1955-1959, “Ivanhoe” 1958-1959, along with a plethora of western themed adventure shows and, of course, “Superman.” with George Reeves.
I was also a big fan of the series.
Bold Venture Press has collected all of Johnston McCulley’s Zorro novels and stories in 6 nice-looking volumes. So far I have resisted them, but they sit there saying “Buy us; you know you want to.” Isabel Allende’s Zorro novel has been sitting on my to be read mountain since it was published.
Over the last few months my wife and I have been watching a lot of variations of “Zorro” including the Disney show and the 1975 movie. Good stuff.
All I had to do was see the name, and that song was ringing through my ears. I hope it has not been struck by the Suck Fairy, if and when I get a chance to watch some episodes.
I remember watching this!
(Somewhere, I picked up a memory of a character named Elfegio Baca.)
I, too, was a big fan. So much so that my mother got hold of a copy of the original novel The Mark of Zorro and I read it over and over. About 20 or so years ago, I learned that the show was being rerun on the Disney Channel, and I watched it again. It was really well done.
PJ, it’s “The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca” which starred Robert Loggia. Baca was an historical figure from New Mexico. It was quite good. I caught it on the old Vault Disney which used to run on Disney Channel when it was worth watching.
Reed Hadley was my first Zorro, and I still have his voice in my head. But all things Zorro fascinated me, and still do, now that I live in California. Thanks for reminding me, Steve: I love your reminiscence essays!