Zorro (Spanish for Fox) is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega (originally Don Diego Vega), a fictional nobleman and master swordsman living in Spanish and Mexican-era California. He defends the people of the land against tyrannical governors and other villains, and is not only much too cunning and foxlike for the bumbling authorities to be caught, but delights in publicly humiliating those same foes, while riding on his horse Tornado.
Zorro (often called “El Zorro” in early stories) was created in 1919 by pulp writer Johnston McCulley, and first made his appearance in The Curse of Capistrano, serialized in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. The character's visual motif is, typically, a black costume with a flowing Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed Andalusian-style hat, more appropriate to a California caballero than the wide sombrero the character wore in the original, and a black cowl mask that covers the top of the head from eye level upwards. (The mask covered his whole face in the original.) In addition, his favoured weapon is a rapier which he often uses to leave his distinctive mark, a large 'Z' made with three quick cuts. He also uses a bullwhip, like the later Indiana Jones. In the original story, he also used a pistol, but this has rarely been seen since. Zorro became a key inspiration for The Phantom, Batman and other comic-strip action heroes.
Zorro's latest appearance is in the Telemundo series Zorro: La Espada y La Rosa. In the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro, a younger protagonist, Alejandro Murrieta was accorded the title, and is called Zorro in his own 2005 adventure The Legend of Zorro. (In this second appearance, Murrieta has also achieved the status of “Don” and has renamed himself Alejandro de la Vega.)
Inspiration for the character
McCulley had no idea how successful Zorro would become, so at the denouement of the Curse of Capistrano, Zorro's true identity was revealed to all. Zorro soon became a regular character in numerous pulp fiction magazines.
After the success of the silent film The Mark of Zorro (1920) starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery, McCulley's novel was re-released by the publisher Grosset and Dunlap under the same title. (Fairbanks also starred in a 1925 sequel titled Don Q, Son of Zorro, playing Don Diego's grown-up son, Don Cesar, as well as reprising his role as Don Diego.) The black costume that modern audiences associate with the character stem from Fairbanks' smash hit movie rather than McCulley's original story, and McCulley's subsequent Zorro adventures copied the Fairbanks Zorro rather than the other way around.
Zorro is similar to some real bandits in California history. He is often associated with Joaquin Murrieta, the “Mexican and/or Chilean Robin Hood”, whose life was fictionalized in an 1854 book by John Rollin Ridge, and in the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro, where Murrieta's brother succeeds de la Vega as Zorro. Other possible inspirations include Robin himself (though he was English, of course), California bandit Salomon Pico, Tiburcio Vasquez, and William Lamport, an Irish soldier living in Mexico in the 17th century. Lamport's life was fictionalized by Vicente Riva Palacio in the 19th century. While there are many theories about who the 'real' Zorro was, it seems most likely that McCulley drew inspiration from several different sources, not to mention the 1905 novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, which features a number of parallels to McCulley's later creation. Many Californians believe that the Yokuts Indian Estanislao was one of the inspirations for Zorro. Estanislao led a revolt against the Mission San Jose in 1827.
There is not much historical basis for the Spanish hacienda culture depicted in the books and films. The population of California increased when it was a territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (later Mexico) for 300 years, but a multi-generational feudal society and peasant class never fully developed, as it had in Mexico proper. It was just too remote. California was not even settled until the 1760s and most Mexican land grants were less than ten years old when Mexico lost California during the Mexican-American War. However, life in 18th century colonial New Spain was modeled on the class society of Europe, with nobility at the top and peasants at the bottom, and hacienda culture was and is prevalent in the rural areas of Mexico proper. In this regard, some authors tend to believe that Johnston McCulley borrowed heavily from Vicente Riva Palacio's novel Memories of an Impostor: Don Guillén de Lamport, King of Mexico.
The Andalusian-colonial society depicted in the Zorro Hollywood films, with gentlemen in bolero suits and swords and ladies in comb and mantilla, is quite picturesque and certainly evokes the gracious living of the creole in colonial New Spain.
Skills and Resources
Zorro is an extremely agile athlete and acrobat, using his bullwhip as a gymnastic accoutrement to swing through gaps between the city's roofs, is very capable of landing from great heights and taking a fall, and, although he is an expert swordsman, has more than once demonstrated his more than able prowess in unarmed combat, even against as many as twenty armed opponents.
His calculating and precise dexterity has enabled him to use his two main weapons, his sword and bullwhip, as an extension of his very sleight hand. He never uses brute strength, more his fox-like sly mind and well-practiced technique to outmatch an opponent.
Zorro also has a medium-sized dagger tucked in his left boot for emergencies. He has also used his cape as a blind, a trip-mat–and when used effectively–a disarming tool. Zorro's boots are also weighted, as is his hat, which he has thrown, frisbee-like, as an efficiently substantial warning to enemies. Usually he uses psychological mockery to make his opponents too angry to be coordinated in combat.
His horse, Tornado, has well lived up to his name, outrunning entire armies, overtaking enemies miles away, even catching up to a full speeding train so that Zorro could save his wife and son. As an inspiration to the crowds that love Zorro dearly, he rears up in the distance, with the sun behind him, and Zorro raises his sword to symbolize victory to the people of his beloved country.
Zorro's dénouement De la Vega (Hopkins) passes the Zorro legacy onto Alejandro Murrieta (Banderas) in the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro.
The end of Don Diego de la Vega as Zorro is shown in the 1998 movie The Mask of Zorro. In 1821, during the Mexican War of Independence, Governor Don Rafael Montero (Ex-Moncada) finally discovers the secret identity of Zorro and lays a trap to catch him. The two enemies fight in De la Vega’s mansion, accidentally killing De la Vega’s wife, Esperanza. Don Diego is captured and imprisoned, his home burned down and his infant daughter, Elena, kidnapped and brought up by Rafael Montero as his own daughter during his exile in Spain.
Twenty years later, Montero returns to California and makes a plan to separate the region from the new Republic of Mexico, ruled by General Santa Anna, buying California with the gold of a secret mine in the Californian desert. This enterprise is fueled by slave labor in the mine and a clear intent to kill all personnel after the gold is extracted.
De la Vega escapes from prison with the intention of taking revenge on Montero and telling Elena her true origin. He also trains a young delinquent, Alejandro Murrieta, as a new Zorro. In the final fight, both Montero and De la Vega die. The new Zorro and Elena get married. Murrieta (now known as Alejandro De la Vega) continues the fight against injustice at least until 1850, when California becomes the 31st US State. Zorro continues his heroic crusade in American California, with the approval and support of his wife Elena and son Joaquín.
Inspiration and Influence
Although not completely original in its concept and recognizing influences from previous publications like the Spring Heeled Jack adventures, notably including motifs such as the secret subterranean lair and the habit of marking the bodies of his enemies with a signature letter, this character is one of the earliest precursors of the superhero of American comic books, being an independently wealthy person who has a secret identity (as with Spring Heeled Jack and The Scarlet Pimpernel) which he defends by wearing a mask, and who accomplishes good for the people with his superior fighting abilities and resourcefulness. The ultimate source is probably Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, where the wronged hero returns as an independently wealthy man, and under an assumed elegant persona wreaks vengeance on those who betrayed him, and does secret good for those who tried to help him in earlier days. Zorro even has an animal symbol, though English speakers might not recognize it, his name being Spanish for “fox”. The animal is never depicted as an emblem, but as a metaphor for the character's wiliness (“Zorro, 'the Fox', so cunning and free…”) - as with the American historical figure Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox”, who was also the subject of a Disney television series in the 1950s. A more literal interpretation of Zorro as fox may be Swiper the Fox from the children's television program Dora the Explorer, a larcenous villain who wears a Zorro-like mask. In a similar vein, in horror fiction, Kim Newman's short story “Out In The Night, When The Full Moon Is Bright…” reinterprets Zorro as a near-immortal Mexican werewolf fighting against evil, injustice and oppression from colonial Mexico to the ghettos of a near-future Los Angeles. Disney also highlighted Zorro's connection with the Robin Hood tale in its 1973 animated interpretation, Robin Hood, wherein the lead character is drawn as an anthropomorphized fox.
Zorro has also been adapted for comic books and comic strips. The most notable character whose creation was highly influenced by Zorro is Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in the 1939; in the origin, the Wayne family actually attend The Mark of Zorro at the cinema the night Bruce's parents are murdered, and the future Batman takes some inspiration from the masked hero. Zorro keeps his horse in the basement of his house, and Batman keeps his Batmobile in a similar hideout, the Batcave. Zorro was also the inspiration of the remarkably similar characters El Coyote and El Aguila.
Don Diego de la Vega, the mild-mannered caballero who at night donned the black cape and hood and made his mark against evildoers as Zorro, first made his appearance in print in the All Story Weekly in McCulley's five-part series entitled “The Curse of Capistrano,” beginning August 9, 1919. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, on their honeymoon, selected “Curse” as the inaugural picture for their new studio, United Artists, beginning the character's cinematic tradition. McCulley wrote at least 65 more Zorro stories, which in addition to feature films inspired a Republic serial and even, in 1995, a London stage production. Image:Truelovezb.jpg Westley's disguise in the 1987 film The Princess Bride is heavily inspired by Zorro.
Roronoa Zoro, from the manga/anime One Piece, is said to be loosely based on Zorro, if only in name and sword skills. However, due to issues of Copyright infringement, almost every dub for the TV show have changed his name to “Zolo”.
The arguably most famous Zorro movie appearance, starring Tyrone Power, more or less adopts the book version, where Diego masquerades as a brilliant swordsman but a decadent and uncaring human being until the brilliantly staged final fight with Basil Rathbone; critics single out the swordfight as arguably the most realistic and thrilling on film. Texas Tech's The Masked Rider is similar to Zorro.
However, Walt Disney's television operation clearly decided that, while such an arrogant and condescending character may work in print and even in a one-shot movie, viewers would quickly tire of him on a weekly TV show. So in Disney's Zorro, Diego de la Vega instead masquerades as a passionate and compassionate crusader for justice – but as “the most inept swordsman in all of California.” In the TV show, everyone knows Diego would love to do what Zorro does, but thinks he does not have the skill.
Ironically, McCulley barely missed seeing Zorro reach the peak of fame, dying in 1958, just as the Disney-produced Zorro television show was becoming phenomenally successful.
With some changes to reflect school colors, Zorro's black mask, cape and gaucho hat have been adopted by mascots at Texas Tech University and Edward S. Marcus High School.
Film and Movies
The character has been adapted for many movies. They include: The Mark of Zorro, (1920) with Douglas Fairbanks Don Q, Son of Zorro, (1925) with Douglas Fairbanks The Bold Caballero, (1936) with Robert Livingstone Zorro Rides Again, (1937) with John Carroll as a modern-day descendent, Jim Vega Zorro's Fighting Legion,(1939) with Reed Hadley The Mark of Zorro, (1940), with Tyrone Power Zorro's Black Whip, (1944) with Linda Stirling as an 1880s female descendent, The Black Whip Son of Zorro, (1947) with George Turner Ghost of Zorro, (1949) with Clayton Moore Zorro, the Avenger, (1958) with Guy Williams The Sign of Zorro, (1958) with Guy Williams The Erotic Adventures of Zorro, (1972) with Douglas Fey; Zorro Productions does not acknowledge this pornographic movie. La Gran Aventura del Zorro, (1974) Mexican Western idealizing the Guy Williams portrayal of the character (see TV, below). With Pedro Armendáriz Jr as the villain. Set in a very primitive San Francisco Bay Area. The Mark of Zorro, (1974) with Frank Langella Zorro, (1975), Zorro meets the spaghetti western, with Alain Delon as Don Diego fighting the corrupt Colonel Huerta. Zorro, The Gay Blade (1981), a parody, with George Hamilton. Zorro breaks his leg just before he was to set out on an adventure, and sends his gay twin brother, Bunny Wigglesworth, in his stead. The Mask of Zorro (1998), played against tradition, with Anthony Hopkins as an aged de la Vega and Antonio Banderas as Alejandro Murrieta, a misfit outlaw who is groomed to become the next Zorro. The Legend of Zorro (2005), The sequel to the 1998 The Mask of Zorro again starring Antonio Banderas.
- Zorro, a Walt Disney-produced half-hour television series, sometimes featured in the Walt Disney anthology series, running from 1957 to 1959 and starring Guy Williams as Zorro. *The New Adventures of Zorro, 1981 animated series from Filmation. *Zorro and Son, 1983 *Zorro (also known as “The New Zorro”), a television series running from 1989 to 1993, starring Duncan Regehr as Zorro. *The Legend of Zorro (快傑ゾロ), 1992 animated series from Mondo TV, directed by Minogu Katsuki. *The New Adventures of Zorro, 1997 animated series from Warner Brothers. *Zorro: La Espada y la Rosa, TV soap opera from Sony Pictures and Telemundo, starring Peruvian actor Christian Meier as Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro (2007). This was filmed in the colonial village of Villa de Leyva, Colombia. *Zorro: Generation Z, upcoming animated series (2008)
- Johnston McCulley's original story “The Curse of Capistrano” was reprinted by Tor books in 1998 under the title The Mark of Zorro. ISBN 978-0-8125-4007-9 *Johnston McCulley's Zorro short stories were reprinted by Pulp Adventures Inc. in a series of trade paperback editions. *Zorro The Master's Edition Volume One February 2000 ISBN 978-1-891729-20-1 *Zorro The Master's Edition Volume Two January 2002 ISBN 978-1891729218 *Zorro: 1947 *A series of paperback novels were published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. Books in the late 1990s and early 2000s. *Zorro and the Jaguar Warriors by Jerome Preisler September 1998 ISBN 978-0-8125-6767-0 *Zorro and The Dragon Riders by David Bergantino March 1999 ISBN 978-0-8125-6768-7 *Zorro and the Witch's Curse by John Whitman April 2000 ISBN 978-0-8125-6769-4 *Isabel Allende gave her interpretation of the Zorro legend in her 2005 fictional biography Zorro. ISBN 978-0-06-077897-2 *Minstrel Books published A series of young reader novels based on the motion picture The Mask of Zorro. *The Treasure of Don Diego by William McCay 1998 ISBN 978-0-671-51968-1 *Skull and Crossbones by Frank Lauria 1999 ISBN 978-0-671-51970-4 *The Secret Swordsman by William McCay 1999 ISBN 978-0-671-51969-8 *The Lost Temple by Frank Lauria 1999 *Zorro filmographic books have also been published: *The Legend of Zorro By Bill Yenne 1991 Mallard Press ISBN 978-0-7924-5547-9 *Zorro Unmasked The Official History by Sandra Curtis 1998 Hyperion ISBN 978-0-7868-8285-4 *Gerard Ronan - The Irish Zorro: The Extraordinary Adventures of William Lamport (1615-1659)
Zorro has appeared in many different comic book series over the decades. The most revered version was rendered by Alex Toth for Dell Comics in Four Color magazine starting in 1949 and appearing through the 1950s. Zorro was given his own title in 1959, which lasted 7 more issues and then was made a regular feature of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories(also published by Dell) from #275 to #278. Gold Key began a Zorro series in 1966, but, like Gold Keys contemporary Lone Ranger series, it only featured material reprinted from the earlier Dell comics and folded, after 9 issues, in 1968.
The character remained dormant for the next twenty years until it was revived by Marvel in 1990, for a 12-issue tie-in with the Duncan Regehr television series. Many of these comics had Alex Toth covers. In 1993 Topps Comics published a 2-issue mini-series Dracula Versus Zorro followed by a Zorro series that ran 11 issues. Topps created Lady Rawhide, a spin-off from the Zorro mythos, in two brief series.
- A newspaper daily and Sunday strip were also published in the late 1990s. This was written by Don McGregor and rendered by Tom Yeats. Today, the comic book adventures of Zorro are published by Papercutz. This latest version is drawn in a manga style. The character also appeared in European comics and is universally beloved in Latin America, usually in licensed, translated reprints of American comics.
Over the years, various English reprint volumes have been published. This include but are not limited to: *Zorro In Old California Eclipse Books ISBN 978-0-913035-12-2 *Zorro The Complete Classic Adventures By Alex Toth. Volume One Image Comics 1998. ISBN 978-1-58240-014-3
On Alice Cooper's 1982 album Zipper Catches Skin include the song “Zorro's Ascent” which is about Zorro facing his death. Zorro is also mentioned on rap group EPMD's track “You Gots to Chill”.
- The Shadow of Zorro, PC *The Mask of Zorro, Game Boy Color *Zorro, Apple II and others *The Destiny of Zorro, announced in 2007 for Wii