History of Zorro
“ … It’s not just one man, damn it, it’s ZORRO!”
-Don Rafael, (The Mask of Zorro, 1998)
Zorro, “the fox,” was created in 1919 by the writer Johnston McCulley for his serialized novel “The Curse of Capistrano.” This story was the first of 65 immensely popular tales in which the romantic hero fought injustice in Spanish California’s Pueblo de Los Angeles. Read more about McCulley’s pulp stories here.
Douglas Fairbanks generated a sensation in 1920 with his silent film The Mark of Zorro, an adaptation of McCulley’s first Zorro story, which remains one of the great classics of that era. Two decades later Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone starred in the successful 1940 sound remake of The Mark of Zorro. Zorro also appeared in 1936 in Republic Pictures’ first color film, The Bold Caballero.
“The Fox” was a character born for serial treatment and Republic wasted no time in making a twelve chapter serial, Zorro Rides Again (1937), followed by four more Zorro serials over the next twelve years. In 1957 Walt Disney introduced the Zorro television series starring Guy Williams, the highest budget series of any Western to date. The series was meticulously produced and became one of the most popular shows of the Golden Age of Hollywood, sparking a merchandising mania well known to toy and comic collectors of today.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s numerous Zorro movies were made in Europe. The most notable was ZORRO starring Alain Delon as the masked hero in a French-Italian co-production. In 1974 yet another remake of The Mark of Zorro, starring Frank Langella, was made for U. S. Television.
Zorro continued to create new generations of fans in the 1980’s. George Hamilton starred in an uproarious film farce entitled Zorro, the Gay Blade which delighted theater audiences in 1980. An animated series, The New Adventures of Zorro, aired on CBS Saturday mornings from 1981-1983. Disney produced another Zorro television series in 1983, Zorro and Son, for CBS, another spoof on the character.
Zorro entered the 1990’s with a new live action TV series co-produced by New World Television (U.S.), Ellipse (France), and RAI (Italy). Premiering the very first week of the decade, Zorro aired in over 50 countries around the world. Eighty-nine episodes were produced and shown over four years. Another animated series comprised of fifty-two episodes of Japanese style animation was released through Mondo TV of Italy in 1992.
Disney once again hopped on the Zorro bandwagon in 1992 using state-of-the-art computer techniques to colorize all 78 episodes of its classic series. It continues to play in many countries around the world.
A comprehensive hour-long history of Zorro was produced for the Arts & Entertainment Biography series, which first aired in June of 1996. A new Zorro animated series from Fred Wolf Films, Warner Bros. International Television, Harvest Entertainment, Carrington Productions International LTD and Zorro Productions, Inc. premiered in the Fall of 1997. A syndicated daily comic strip began a two year run in national papers in the Spring of 1999.
The biggest media attraction of the 1990’s was the long anticipated release of The Mask of Zorro. TriStar Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment assembled an impressive production team. Martin Campbell, coming off of the Bond film Golden Eye, directed Antonio Banderas as the new masked hero of Spanish California. Banderas inherited the mantle of Zorro from Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. Appearing in her star-making role, future Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones debuted as the film’s knockout female lead. The Mask of Zorro premiered in the U.S. on July 17, 1998, and was a national and international box office success, generating $250 million.
In the 2000’s, Zorro remained in the limelight with the release of an animated film created by DIC Entertainment. The Amazing Zorro was featured as part of Nickelodeon’s Incredible Movie Toons package in Thanksgiving 2002. San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet premiered a delightful, original ballet in May of 2003 to enthusiastic reviews. Zorro stage productions thrilled international audiences in Spain and Japan during 2002 and 2003.
The year 2005 featured another major Zorro release preceding The Legend of Zorro. Internationally beloved author Isabel Allende (Paula, Daughter of Fortune, Portraits in Sepia, My Invented Country) completed the flagship ZORRO, a novel which as published by Harper Collins in May 2005. Allende created the classic legend of how young Diego de la Vega became Zorro. Allende’s book was optioned by Columbia Pictures.
The eagerly awaited sequel to The Mask of Zorro, entitled The Legend of Zorro premiered October 28, 2005. The film reunited Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones again as Alejandro de la Vega, with his alter ego, Zorro, and his wife, Elena. In this action packed tale, Joaquin, Alejandro and Elena’s ten year old son, does not know that his own father is his hero, Zorro. Director Martin Campbell reassembled much of the original production team in Mexico for the shoot at a renovated hacienda in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Celebrated children’s’ writer Jan Adkins (What if you Met a Pirate, A Storm Without Rain, Bridges) authored the first mystery adventure novel for 8-12 year olds, entitled Young Zorro: The Iron Brand based on Allende’s Zorro novel. Released in Jan. 2006 by Harper Childrens, Adkins deepens Allende’s classic tale, embellishing the lives of Diego and his “milk brother” Bernardo as they develop the necessary skills for later exploits as “El Zorro, the fox.”
Rubies costume company took over domestic and international sales for Zorro beginning in 2006, reinvisioning and expanding the product line. Zorro in Hell, a comedic rendition by Culture Clash of Zorro as a motivational icon for social change, premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theater to rave reviews in May 2006, and moved on to La Jolla Playhouse. The show began a commercial run in Los Angeles, opening in July 2007. Workshops of the Zorro musical took place in Los Angeles, New York and the Bay Area as development proceeded on the groundbreaking new show.
The major event in 2007 was the national premiere of Zorro: the Sword and the Rose, (Zorro: La Espada y La Rosa). One hundred and twenty-two episodes were produced by Sony Television International and Zorro Productions for Telemundo. The Spanish language series was filmed in and around Bogota Colombia. It currently airs internationally.
Zorro: Generation Z, an animated series from BKN International also began production and aired in 2008. Nintendo Wii game also was release in spring ’08 from 505 Games along with a new anthology of Zorro stories for contemporary authors from Moonstone Books. Dynaforces began publishing a series of Zorro comics and graphic novel based on the Allende Zorro story. More recently, Cyber Groups Studios, Paris, in association with ZPI and with the participation of France Television, produced fully computer-animated TV series, Zorro: The Chronicles. The first episode aired Spring 2015 and was well received by audiences around the globe.
Zorro, the Musical, with an original score by the Gipsy Kings, premiered on London’s West End in June of 2008. It received rave reviews and won 5 Olivier nominations. It has since gone on to openings in Paris, Moscow, Beirut, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, and Sao Paolo, with many more openings planned.
Zorro, the Musical continues to run, currently playing abroad and the US since April 10, 2013, and plans for a Broadway run are currently in the works. It is reopening in London in April 2022.
What is in the future for Zorro? A reboot of the 1950s TV series starring Wilmer Valderrama is being developed by Disney+. The CW is also developing a modern day series under the guidance of famed filmmaker Robert Rodriguez starring a female Zorro. Several other Zorro film projects remain in development.
Why is there still so much interest in Zorro? The masked fox stands out as perhaps the most multi-dimensional character in the pantheon of super heroes. 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.