Zorro first appeared in "The Curse of Capistrano", a short story by Johnston McCulley published in the magazine All Story Weekly on August 19, 1919. The story caught the attention of Douglas Fairbanks, who soon brought the swashbuckling hero to the silver screen inThe Mark of Zorro. The resounding popularity of the film prompted McCulley to publish 65 more stories featuring Zorro, which have since inspired countless film, television and literary adaptations throughout the world. The character of Zorro is most notable for pioneering the use of disguise and dual identity to fight crime and injustice, though many argue that McCulley probably borrowed these ideas from The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It can be said that any superhero who uses a cape, mask or secret identity is borrowing elements from Zorro mythology, since Bob Kane has credited Zorro as the prototype for the character of Batman, which in turn influenced many superhero characters that followed.
The Legend of Zorro Edit
Zorro's story has undergone many revisions and reinterpretations over the years, so it is difficult to identify concrete facts about his life. Some of the most faithful and beloved interpretations of the character can be found in The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power and the Disney television series Zorro starring Guy Williams. Several film adaptations have taken liberties with the character, including the parodyZorro: The Gay Blade, in which George Hamilton stars as both Don Diego and his gay brother Bunny Wigglesworth, and the popular franchise starring Antonio Banderas that follows the adventures of an elderly Zorro and his young protege. However, certain elements of Zorro's story appear to be fairly consistent over time. A general, but not definitive, account of his life follows.
Early Life Edit
Don Diego Vega (later Don Diego de la Vega) was born and raised in the presidio of Los Angeles, California in the early 1800's. During Diego's lifetime, the powerful Catholic missions that once ruled the community were in decline, while powerful ranchers such as Diego's father, Don Alejandro Vega, gained more economic and cultural influence. Don Alejandro raised Diego to be compassionate toward all people no matter their class or station. He later sent his young son to university in Madrid with the expectation that he would become an educated gentleman of the Spanish court. Diego thrived in Madrid as a talented scholar and fencing champion until he received an urgent letter from his father calling him home.
The Mark of Zorro Edit
During the voyage to California, Diego learned that a despicable tyrant had declared military rule over Los Angeles. The tyrant's poor leadership resulted in increased lawlessness, poverty and oppression. Powerful men like Don Alejandro were actively trying to resist the tyrant, but their efforts were proving ineffective. Diego knew his father expected him to join the fight, but he suspected the enemy would know this as well. Convinced he would be more useful as a vigilante, Diego decided to disguise himself as El Zorro (The Fox), a mysterious masked avenger who rides by night, while pretending to be a helpless, naive young fop during the day. Diego decided no one --not even his father-- would know the truth except for his trusty servant and accomplice Bernado, who pretended to be a deaf mute.
Upon arriving in California, Diego quickly established a reputation for being weak and cowardly. He appeared more interested in fashion and poetry than fencing or politics, to the great disappointment of his father. The citizens of Los Angeles came to view Diego as a harmless yet rather exasperating dandy who spent his days drinking at the tavern. Meanwhile, his clever alter-ego Zorro developed a reputation for striking fear into the hearts of criminals and soldiers throughout the land. According to Johnston McCulley, Zorro laughed maniacally while engaged in swordplay, and often slashed the letter Z into the flesh of those he defeated. But despite rumors he was nothing more than a cruel bandit, Zorro soon became famous as a Robin Hood-like champion of the poor and persecuted.
As the myth of Zorro spread, the military targeted Zorro as a dangerous outlaw and put a price on his head. Diego and Bernardo found themselves going to great lengths to protect Zorro's secret identity, including utilization of secret passages and a subterranean cave hidden within the Vega hacienda. To further ensure that no one would suspect the truth, Diego befriended the military officers at the tavern and often joined them in discussing strategies to defeat Zorro. Diego was able to maintain this charade for many years, though he did eventually share his secret with those closest to him.
Zorro's trademark costume is easily recognizable. He is traditionally depicted as a Spanish caballero dressed all in black with his face hidden by a bandana or eye mask. He is often accompanied by his loyal black stallion. Other items important to Zorro include his sword, whip, pistols and a subterranean lair. He is also usually depicted as being "clever as a fox" with a cheerful, playful demeanor and razor sharp wit.
The Legend Continues Edit
Several films have followed the adventures of new characters (usually descendants of Don Diego) who have taken up the mantle of Zorro. These films include Don Q Son of Zorro starring Douglas Fairbanks, Zorro Rides Again starring John Carroll, and The New Adventures of Zorro television series. More recently, The Mask of Zorro starred Anthony Hopkins as an elderly Don Diego who trains Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) as his replacement. This story is continued in its sequel The Legend of Zorro.