More than a century has passed but when we think of a letter “written” with a sword, the only one that comes to mind is the Z of Zorro! Today we tell you the whole story from its origins that August 6, 1919 to today, with details on everything from A to Z … of Zorro!
The origin of Zorro
Don Diego de la Vega is in Zorro as Oliver Queen is in Green Arrow: the similarity is not by chance since both are inspired by Robin Hood!When Don Diego, however, takes on the role of Zorro, he chooses to wear black with a mask over his eyes and takes advantage of his skills as a skilled knight and expert swordsman while moving silently and quickly at night like a fox.It also leaves an iconic business card, a “Z” carved into the clothes or, sometimes, directly into the flesh of its opponents. The identity of this masked man always remains a mystery to his enemies. But not for our readers!
Who is the real Zorro?
The historical figure most often associated with the character of Zorro is Joaquin Murrieta, was created in a 1854 novel by John Rollin Ridge. In the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro Murrieta’s fake brother, Alejandro, succeeds Diego as Zorro. Zorro finds a direct literary predecessor in Sir Percival Blakeney, hero of the Scarlet Pimpernel series by Emma Orczy.
From numerous researches, it appears that McCulley was inspired, however, by the tales of the exploits of the bandits in California in the 1850s, when political and economic power moved from the “Californios” to the “Anglos”. The story of one man in particular has fascinated McCulley, that of Salomon Pico.
Much of Pico’s life is shrouded in myth. It has been speculated that the loss of a large real estate property led Pico to crime. In any case, in the late 1840s it was terrorizing Americans traveling on the roads of South California. One of his favorite bases was the Drum Canyon area south of present-day Los Alamos, where he would have killed and robbed his victims during an ambush. It also appears that he had the bizarre habit of cutting the ears of his victims and using them to create necklaces. What a goth!
Pico’s life ended in May 1860 and his story soon passed to folklore: a man who took revenge on those who had wronged him, a warrior who fought to save his homeland from an unscrupulous invader. McCulley merges this story of Pico and other outlaw stories to create the character of Zorro.
However, out of respect for his 20th century American readers, McCulley brings Zorro to life in Spanish California. And it makes him fight against the corrupt Spanish rather than American authorities, so as not to hurt the mass culture of the time.
Zorro in mass culture
From the 20s to the 50s
Speaking of mass culture, how and when did today’s protagonist become part of it?
The “when” is unbelievable, because the success of Zorro came very shortly after the literary release. Douglas Fairbanks, founder of Uniter Artists, immediately caused a sensation in 1920 with his silent film The Mark of Zorro, an adaptation of the first story of McCulley’s Zorro.
Two decades later Tyrone Power (the father of Romina Power, who was born in Los Angeles for the record) and Basil Rathbone, star in the successful 1940 sound remake of The Mark of Zorro. Our hero also appeared in 1936 in Republic Pictures’ first color film, The Bold Caballero.
Republic Pictures wasted no time in making a twelve-chapter serial, Zorro Rides Again (1937), followed by four other themed serials over the next twelve years.
The character of Zorro, given its editorial beginnings in series, lent itself well to being part of stories in multiple episodes or episodes. In fact, in 1957, Walt Disney introduced the television series with Guy Williams. The series became one of the most famous shows of the golden age of Hollywood, sparking a craze in the public with the sound of merchandising hits, especially toys and comics.
From the 60s the 90s
Numerous films were made in Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. The most noteworthy is that with Alain Delon in a Franco-Italian co-production. In 1974 another remake of The Mark of Zorro, starring Frank Langella (one of the most famous Dracula , made for U. S. Television.
Zorro continued to create new generations of fans in the 80s, which saw numerous cinematic parodies of our protagonist today.
The masked hero entered the 90s with a new live action TV series co-produced by New World Television (United States), Ellipse (France) and RAI (Italy), airing in over 50 countries worldwide .
In the same period Disney returned to work on the masked hero, because in 1992 he uses cutting-edge computer techniques to color all the 78 episodes of his classic series.
Other series, both on printed paper and on film, characterize the 90s but the greatest success of the period is the film The Mask of Zorro. Director Martin Campbell directs Antonio Banderas as the masked hero of Spanish California. In the film Banderas inherits the de la Vega cloak from the Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. With him also the future Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones. The Mask of Zorro was presented for the first time in the United States on July 17, 1998 and was an instant hit at the national and international box office, grossing $ 250 million.
A curiosity about Antonio Banderas: do you know the funny cartoon Puss in Boots? It is Banderas who gives the voice to this cat who is inspired in part by Zorro. In short, a “zorrous” circle!
From 2000 to today
In the 2000s, Zorro is part of further productions. For example, The Amazing Zorro was presented as part of Nickelodeon’s Incredible Movie Toons package, for an audience of kids. There was no shortage of theatrical productions, which were also big in Japan.
The year 2005 presents another important version. The writer Isabel Allende publishes the work Zorro, in which she creates the classic legend of how the young Diego de la Vega becomes Zorro.
Allende’s book was chosen by Columbia Pictures as the basis for the highly anticipated sequel to The Mask of Zorro, titled The Legend of Zorro. The film reunites Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Alejandro de la Vega, with his alter ego, Zorro and his wife Elena. In this story Joaquin, the ten-year-old son of Alejandro and Elena, does not know that his father is his hero.
Speaking of children, the writer Jan Adkins in 2006 is the author of the first mysterious adventure novel for children of 8-12 years with a masked hero theme, titled Young Zorro: The Iron Brand based on the novel by Allende.
In 2007 and 2008 still serial TV productions, broadcast internationally. Also in 2008 Nintendo Wii comes out with a themed video game. In the same year Zorro, the Musical, with original Gipsy Kings soundtrack, premiered in London’s West End. The production received rave reviews and won 5 Olivier nominations.
Alongside numerous comics and graphic novels, we find, in 2015, a fully computer-animated TV series, Zorro: The Chronicles, which was welcomed well by the public.
The future of Zorro
In recent years, Zorro’s productions seem to have weakened somewhat, but what does the future hold for us?
We cannot forget that being one of the first examples of masked avenger with a double identity, Zorro has inspired the creation of many characters and that he will not stop doing it. Diego de la Vega is, in fact, a precursor to American comic book superheroes. Bob Kane for example credited Zorro as part of the inspiration for the Batman character, created in 1939. Like Don Diego de la Vega, Bruce Wayne is wealthy, the heir to the wealth built by his parents. In addition the comic miniseries by Frank Miller The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001–2002) both include numerous references to Zorro, such as Batman writing a Z on a defeated enemy.
It is evident that the interest in Zorro has never really waned, but why? Maybe it’s because he’s the most multifaceted hero in the world of superheroes. As the official website of our protagonist of today claims: “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 “.