1 9 5 7 – 1 9 5 9 (USA)
82 x 30 minute episodes
“Out of the night, when the full moon is bright, comes the horseman known as Zorro, This bold renegade carves a ‘Z’ with his blade, a ‘Z’ that stands for Zorro”
Created by Johnston McCulley in 1919, Zorro starred in dozens of magazine stories and novels, becoming an international smash.
Douglas Fairbanks had brought ‘the fox’ to the silver screen in the silent film The Mark of Zorro (1920) and subsequent sequels and remakes found John Carroll, George Turner and Tyrone Power taking up the mask in cinematic adventures.
Walt Disney took notice of the Zorro hoopla, and in the early 1950s, he took control of the rights to the famed character.
When extra funds were needed to boost the Disneyland theme park, Disney brought the man in black out for his first television series.
TV’s Zorro told the story of Spanish nobleman Don Diego de la Vega, son of Don Alejandro de la Vega.
The elder (wealthy) Don lived in the Los Angeles area of 1820’s California, and when ruthless Spanish armies started making trouble in town, Don Alejandro (George J. Lewis) called Don Diego (Guy Williams) back home to defend the common man.
To Don Alejandro’s dismay, the lazy, foppish aristocrat Don Diego didn’t seem to care, adopting a cowardly attitude toward his persecutors.
But what the father didn’t know was that by night, Don Diego rode into action on his trusty black mount, Tornado, fighting the forces of evil as ‘Zorro’ – so named for the ‘Z’ sign he made with three sword strokes.
Always at Zorro’s side – on his steed, Phantom – was his trusty manservant Bernardo (Gene Sheldon), a mute who pretended to be deaf in order to listen in on conversations for his master. Together, the two opposed the rule of ruthless army commandant Captain Monastario (Britt Lomond) and other heartless officers.
Somewhere in the middle was the exotically plump dim-witted Sergeant Garcia (Henry Calvin), a comic relief character whose love of food and strong drink often made him an accidental ally of Zorro’s.
In the first season, Zorro defeated the oppressive Monastario and a series of crooked replacements, then foiled an elaborate plot by a mysterious villain known as “The Eagle” (Charles Korvin) to overthrow Spanish rule in California.
The second season saw a plot to assassinate the Governor, as well as a short-lived romantic interest for Zorro in the person of Anna Maria Verdugo (Jolene Brand).
Wanted political activist Nacho Torres (Jan Arvan) and his daughter Elena (Eugenia Paul) figured heavily in many second-season episodes, as did scheming Magistrate Galindo (Vinton Hayworth) and a young señorita named Anita Cabrillo, played by Annette Funicello, who even got a chance to sing a few songs on the show.
Zorro was an absolute smash on television, thanks in part to the large sums Disney lavished on sets and other production design.
The show was one of the more expensive programmes on television in the mid-’50s, but the gamble paid off.
Not only was Zorro a success, but it also led to a Davy Crockett-sized cornucopia of merchandise: toys, playsuits, games, swords, lunchboxes and so on.
The show’s theme song was another hit, reaching the Top-20 with a version by The Chordettes. And in a less appreciated sign of the programme’s popularity, kids carved large Z’s into anything that stood still long enough to be tagged.
Unfortunately for The Fox’s many young fans, the show was cut short by business and legal problems. Arguments between Disney and ABC over ownership of both Zorro and the Disneyland TV programme escalated in 1959, and Zorro was taken off the air.
Disney planned to return the character to full-time action once the fracas settled, but four one-hour specials were all Zorro fans got.
The character lived on in books, cartoons, movies, toys and future television series, but in the minds of 50’s kids, there was only one true man in black, and he had one swell theme song.
“Zorro, Zorro, the fox so cunning and free, Zorro, who makes the sign of the Z”
Zorro/Don Diego de la Vega
Sergeant Demetrio Lopez Garcia
Magistrado Carlos Galindo
Don Alejandro de la Vega
George J. Lewis
Anna Maria Verdugo
Sénor Gregorio Verdugo
Don Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Torres
Senorita Elena Torres
José Sebastian Varga (“The Eagle”)