It would be a shame — or “z” shame — if all of 2019 passed without an acknowledgment that Zorro is 100 this year.
Here are a dozen things to know about everyone’s favorite swordsman who initials his work:
1. Zorro’s 1919 debut came in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. The first Zorro story (“The Curse of Capistrano”) was published in a series of five installments. Seven years earlier, All-Story published the first Tarzan story.
2. Zorro was created by a reporter. Johnston McCulley wrote for The Police Gazette, a tabloid-ish publication, before launching Zorro and other pulp-fiction characters (including the Spider) into the hands of readers. Zorro was allegedly intended as a one-and-done character. But something happened the year after the first Zorro tale to cause interest to spike.
3. Douglas Fairbanks starred as the first big-screen Zorro in 1920’s “The Mark of Zorro.” The silent movie was based on McCulley’s original Zorro yarn. Young Noah Beery Jr. (decades later, he was Rocky in “The Rockford Files”) made his movie debut (his father was in the film). Another child actor in the flick was Milton Berle.
“The Mark of Zorro” spurred McCulley to write additional Zorro stories. The movie was influential enough that it generated remakes 20 and 54 years later.
4. Zorro is part of Batman lore. Those familiar with Batman’s origin story know young Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down by criminals as the family walked home following a trip to a movie theater. The movie the Waynes saw was “The Mark of Zorro.” This was retroactively added to bat mythology after Batman’s 1939 debut.
5. Zorro was embraced by TV viewers from 1957-1959. The hit Disney-produced ABC series starred Guy Williams, who also is known for playing the dad (John Robinson) in the 1960s series “Lost in Space.” Among guest stars on the Zorro TV series were Annette Funicello (her son is drummer Jason Gilardi of Tulsa-based band Dead Metal Society) and Jonathan Harris, who was reunited with Williams when he was cast as cowardly Dr. Smith in the cheesy 1960s sci-fi series “Lost in Space.”
The theme song for the Zorro TV series was a hit, too, climbing to No. 17 on the singles chart. Female group the Chordettes, best-known for “Mr. Sandman” and “Lollipop,” recorded the theme song.
6. CBS tried to play Zorro for laughs in a comedy series (“Zorro and Son”) that premiered in 1983. It fizzled after five episodes. A 1990s Zorro series on The Family Channel received a warmer reception. Starring Duncan Regehr, the series had a life span of four seasons and attracted guest stars like Adam West and Andre the Giant.
7. Including serials, American films and foreign films, Zorro has appeared in more than 40 flicks (which means Rambo has a long way to go if he intends to keep pace). The roll call of Zorro actors includes Fairbanks, Reed Hadley, Tyrone Power, Alaine Delon, Frank Langella, George Hamilton, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. Two Lone Ranger actors moonlighted as Zorro — Robert Livingston and Clayton Moore.
8. Zorro was a she, sort of, in a 1944 movie serial, “Zorro’s Black Whip.” Though Zorro is in the title, the character never officially appears in the serial. Instead, the hero is a character called the Black Whip, played by actress and model Linda Stirling.
9. Tulsa’s Doug Claybourne produced the 1998 film “The Mask of Zorro,” which starred Hopkins as an aging Zorro who finds a younger swashbuckler (Banderas) willing to take up the mantle. A success at the box office and with critics, it spawned a 2005 sequel, “The Legend of Zorro.”
10. Doing publicity for “The Mask of Zorro,” Hopkins said interesting things in a 1998 interview with Virginia-based film critic Mal Vincent. Hopkins said he chose the movie over being a bad guy in a James Bond film (“Zorro is in Mexico and it’ll be a nice hotel”), and he indicated he was looking for something less stodgy.
“It’s an action movie, and I actively wanted to get away from those stiff British types — the ‘Masterpiece Theater’ stuff. I’ve played too many guys who are dead from the kneecaps up.”
When asked about the possibility of returning to theater, Hopkins said this: “What a bunch of bull all that is. I’m considered the bad boy of the British stage, just because I’d rather make big money and not have to show up somewhere every night at 8 o’clock. There is a disease in the English theater today. It’s called ‘greatness’ — shouting and all that crap. I’ve done it. I look at Olivier’s ‘Othello’ on film now. It’s unwatchable; it’s so overdone. We thought that was great 30 years ago.”
11. Allegedly, youths got carried away with Zorro mania during the 1950s TV series and defaced property by carving a “Z” into items like school desks. And then there’s this: In 2000, after delivering a baby by Cesarean section, a 61-year-old doctor in New York used his scalpel to carve his initials into the mom’s abdomen. An Associated Press story said the doctor was dubbed “Dr. Zorro” by hospital staff members. The hospital revoked the doctor’s right to practice.
Here’s zorro.com’s response: “The masked fox stands out as perhaps the most multidimensional character in the pantheon of superheroes. Zorro personifies action, romance, humor and heroism. An ethnic hero, he is simultaneously wise, brave, charming, cunning and romantic. Zorro has true cross-generational appeal, an icon to four generations of fans around the world. Zorro has had true staying power because he has been successfully reinterpreted within the spirit of the times.”