Zorro! Who doesn’t know this masked hero fighting for justice in California? You may never have read or watched anything about the character, but you’ve certainly heard about him somewhere.
For comic book fans, he is undoubtedly a reference to the tragic night Bruce Wayne’s parents died shortly after watching The Mask of Zorro. Movie fans may remember Antonio Banderas living the character.
In literature, Isabel Allende’s Zorro, and the elders, such as this one who writes, Guy Williams’ eternal smile with his cloak and sword protecting the oppressed and laughing at Sergeant Garcia.
Well, The Fox turns 100 this August and we are preparing a special about the character that during the twentieth century and still in the 21st century stands firm in the world pop culture. Soon Zorro will return in various ways, with new series, Escape Room, and other news.
And long live Zorro! Oops, but it doesn’t end here, check out our first interview with Scott Cherrin who talks about the character’s story.
Thunder Wave: What was the reasons that led to the creation of the character?
Scott Cherrin: While we can’t say for sure what the creator, Johnston McCulley, was thinking when he created the character 100 years ago, we think he may have been inspired by Baroness Orczy’s the Scarlet Pimpernel as well as Alexandre Dumas’ the Count of Monte Cristo & the Three Musketeers. As Zorro has been referred to as the Robin Hood of California, Robin Hood may have also been an influence. Others speculate that he may have drawn inspiration from the bandit Joaquin Murrieta. However, Zorro has so few parallels with any other previous characters that McCulley must be credited with creating a wholly original character. While McCulley sold his first fiction story to Redbook Magazine fresh out of high school, in his early years McCulley was a newspaperman and a foreign correspondent. He worked as an Army Public Affairs Officer during WWI and was a police reporter for the Police Gazette, the Los Angeles Herald and the Los Angeles Times . McCulley was considered a history buff and was considered an authority on California History upon his death in 1958 which adds credence to Joaquin Murrieta being an inspiration. Many of his stories were set in California.
Thunder Wave: Superman is called the first superhero. But many argue that The Shadow, created in 1931 should carry this title. In fact, wouldn’t Zorro be the first great hero?
Scott Cherrin: We certainly think so, considering that Zorro first appeared in 1919, well pre-dating The Shadow. Zorro was the first modern hero to possess and perfect all of the characteristics of a great hero (a secret identity, costume and secret lair in the form of a cave, great feats of strength and athleticism, and protecting the everyman). Naturally, he has been cited as inspiration for later heroes like Batman each that possesses these elements firmly established in the Zorro legend.
Thunder Wave: What makes Zorro even more up to date today, even though it is a character with century-old stories that for many has become folklore?
Scott Cherrin: Zorro endures because he is an ‘everyman’ — just about anyone and everyone can relate and aspire to his quest for justice. Zorro’s powers are his wit, humor, physical strength and ability to endure and thrive in the face of adversity. Zorro does not use violence to go after the villains. He almost never kills anyone. He only humbles — putting villains in their place, often with humor. He is a charismatic latin hero, always fashionable dressed impeccably in black – men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him, long before James Bond.
Thunder Wave: How was the character’s arrival for the first time on screen? Did the American public welcome him, as he is a character with Mexican characteristics and Spanish roots?
Scott Cherrin: His arrival on-screen in 1920’s “The Mark of Zorro,” starring Douglas Fairbanks, was very well-received. It’s said that on its opening day in 1920 it brought in the largest single-day gross of any film at the time. As Zorro has always appealed to the general market and the American public may not have thought of him more as early Californian than as Hispanic at the time, but the public certainly loved the fictionalized Spanish flavor, romance, and passion in the Zorro stories and films.
Thunder Wave: We can see that the hero was already fighting alongside the Indians and Mexicans in his day, while other films and media still showed these two ethnicities as the great villains. Did your creator already have a vision far ahead of his time, like Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek about peoples?
Scott Cherrin: As the creator of Zorro passed away over 60 years ago, we can’t say what his vision was when he created the character. We do know Johnston McCulley wrote the first Zorro story, the Curse of Capistrano in 7 days in which Zorro/Diego reveals his dual identity to everyone. While the seminal story was not likely intended to be an ongoing series, the inclusive themes of ‘justice for all’ continue to resonate with audiences worldwide to this day. From the pulps to the present, Zorro has always fought to defend ALL people, not just those of his same class or ethnicity, making him a more inclusive hero from the start.
Thunder Wave: Many heroes today are “accused” of sexism and machismo, like James Bond, but we don’t see that happening to Zorro. Is that because the hero was from Disney?
Scott Cherrin: Zorro has always treated women with respect. The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power (1940) is a good example – long before he appeared in the Disney TV show in the 1950s. However, Guy Williams’ portrayal of Zorro in the Disney show probably did help cement his reputation as a chivalrous character.
Thunder Wave: Why did Walt Disney buy the character?
Scott Cherrin: Walt Disney long had a fascination with historical figures. Disney had great success with Fess Parker as Davey Crockett. Johnston McCulley had a great theatrical agent – Mitchell Gertz – who brought the rights to Walt Disney, convincing him that Zorro would make a great TV Series — building upon the success of Davey Crockett. Zorro was Walt Disney’s first TV Series.
At the time, the Disney Zorro series had the largest budget of any Western series (there were 27 by 1959) on Television – a budget more than double most series of the era. A key motivator for Disney to enter television was a commitment by ABC to help finance his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim. Disney also used his theme park to promote the Zorro series with multiple live appearances by the cast that began on the rooftops of Frontierland. The first season in 1957 was a huge success, averaging 35.7% of of the viewing audience each evening — an estimated 35 million viewers saw the show each week, peaking at 38.9% in Season 2.
Thunder Wave: Many characters in your stories, like Sergeant Garcia, are fondly remembered by fans. Which of these were actually created by Johnston McCulley and which only appeared in other media and eventually came into Zorro mythology?
Scott Cherrin: The characters we know and love, including Zorro, Don Diego, Bernardo, Don Alejandro, Sergeant Garcia and Fray Felipe were created by Johnston McCulley. They have always been a big part of classic Zorro from the pulps to most recent films. However, it should be noted that Sergeant Gonzales, a feared brute from the initial pulps (and the Mark of Zorro movies) often gets confused with the fat, lovable and not too bright Sergeant Garcia who was first introduced in the McCulley Zorro stories published in West Magazine of the 1940s. The archetype of Capitan Monastario, popularized by the Disney TV Series, has appeared in some form through each iteration as Monatario was a composite of various evil military officers that appeared in McCulley’s pulps.
Thunder Wave: How is Johnston McCulley’s Zorro is different from those who came after?
Scott Cherrin: While the film & TV iterations helped translate the look, finesse, charm & romanticism of the Zorro that we identify with today, its no coincidence that Zorro means Fox in Spanish… A Fox is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as a ‘clever crafty person’, ‘to trick by ingenuity, or cunning – outwit’, not to mention ‘a good looking young man or woman’, as well as archaic ‘Sword’.
In the pulps as well as the Republic Serials, Zorro also had a gun. Since the Disney era, Zorro has not used a gun though we do have licensee that produces a Zorro Tribute Revolver reminiscent of one used in the Republic serials. Much of what we consider classic Zorro today, stems from the Disney version that set the tone moving forward.
Disney’s Zorro was actually less amorous than the McCulley Zorro stories and the Mark of Zorro films. In fact, Jolene Brand was added to the cast in Season Two to create a female love interest.
Thunder Wave: To you, who is Zorro?
Scott Cherrin: Zorro’s has become synonymous with black, his mask, Cordoba hat, sword, whip, trademark Z and his powerful motto ‘Justice for All’. Swish your finger through the air three times to form a Z and everyone in the world, regardless of age, knows you are speaking of Zorro. He is a brave and gallant swordsman – the champion of the people always befriending the weak, the poor and the meek. As Zorro proclaims in the Disney series’ opening “my sword is a flame — to ignite every wrong”. To me, Zorro is a legendary cultural icon that is dark, mysterious, handsome and strong evoking the glamour and sophistication of early California, elegance and romance combined with heroic athleticism, wit and humor that makes him truly timeless. While every generation has its Zorro, these attributes provide the essence of make Zorro inspirational — truly legendary and timeless, generation to generation.