That Zorro, What A Guy

Guy Williams as "the Fox, so cunning and free"

You can have your Douglas Fairbanks, your Alain Delon, and your George Hamilton, too.  For my money, Zorro, the masked swashbuckler, will always be Guy Williams.

That’s because he’s also the Zorro I grew up with. Yes, whenever TV showed Tyrone Power “making the sign of the Z” in the 1940 film The Mark of Zorro, I tuned in.  Years later, Antonio Banderas’ turn as the legendary do-gooder in the Steven Spielberg-produced The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro were stylish and entertaining.

But Guy Williams in the Disney TV show was the Zorro that I came to know and love first.

The series ran for only two years, from 1957 to 1959. It was broadcast on ABC in prime time, but syndication and later airings on The Wonderful World of Disney made its run seem a lot longer.

Williams, a dashing New York-born actor whose real name was  Armando Catalano, had credits in supporting parts in such films as Bonzo Goes to College and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. A strapping presence at 6’3” with ethnic looks, Williams snagged the coveted role of the masked and caped Robin Hood-like figure who rode his horse Tornado as he  battled evil-doers in Spanish-occupied California in the 19th century. An expert swordsman and acrobat, Zorro’s real name was Don Diego de la Vega, the son of a wealthy land baron. With help from mute sidekick Bernardo (limned by show biz veteran Gene Sheldon), Zorro encountered the troops of Captain Monastario (Britt Lomond) in the first season, led by Sergeant Garcia, a cherubic comic villain portrayed by Henry Calvin.

Williams, who reportedly beat out David Janssen, Hugh O’Brien and Dennis Weaver for the part, partook in rigorous training for the role. There were fencing lessons, as well as guitar and singing lessons for the episodes in which he had to serenade the ladies. While Williams scored in the swordsmanship department, he didn’t take too kindly to the music instruction and found his voice dubbed for the singing sequences.

No matter, because The Adventures of Zorro, sponsored by both 7-Up and AC Spark Plugs, became an instant hit. The wise Williams (or at least his agent) allegedly cut a deal that gave him a percentage of the marketing money brought in from the series. Among the items were comic books, lunchboxes, watches, pajamas and Halloween costumes complete with black cowboy hat, mask and cape, which this author owned. Like Fess Parker with Davy Crockett, Guy Williams cashed in on the Disney TV show that made him a star.  After Zorro, Williams, who died in 1989 at the age of 65, is best-remembered as Professor John Robinson in the sci-fi series Lost in Space.

A dispute between ABC and Disney studios ended the series abruptly after only two years. The aforementioned syndication and airings on Disney’s own show helped to keep Zorro’s sword swashing and buckling for years, well into the 1960s. Viewed today, the series holds up quite well, with each 30-minute episode packed with colorful characters, complex plotting, intriguing conspiracies and solid production work.

All of them showcase Zorro—and Williams—in his glory, as adept at costume changes as Clark Kent, as proficient at swordplay as Robin Hood and as heroic as Fairbanks, Power, Banderas, et al.—if not even more so.

Included in the recently issued DVDs Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro: The Complete First Season and Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro: The Complete Second Season are some interesting bonus material. Along with a Zorro pin, lithograph and certificate, there are four rare special hour-long shows that ran on the Disneyland TV series in 1960 and 1961, one of which even features singing Disney star Annette Funicello.

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  • Lewis Beale

    Sure, Guy Williams was cool, but the ultimate Zorro is Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro. How could you forget him?

  • Alan Cylinder

    The best of all the films was the Tyrone Power “Mark Of Zorro”, but all the actors you mentioned did a successful job as Zorro (even George Hamilton!)

  • Laurence Lerman

    Okay, Williams certainly had the chin and swagger for the Zorro job, but I think I still go with Tyrone Power. The Williams Connection will always remain Lost In Space in my mind…!

  • Charlie Waters

    “Zorro, the fox! So cunning and free!” I think that’s how the theme song went. Power was great — but in context of what I grew up with, it’s Williams who will always be the Zorro of my childhood. (Interesting to note that a dispute between ABC & Disney killed the series before its time… but now Disney owns ABC!)

  • Dave Bleiler

    You mean Antonio wasn’t the best? Power and Fairbanks each brought greatness to the role for their respective generations, but I have to agree that growing up in the late 1950s-early 1960s, Williams made his mark on this youth the most.

  • http://yahoo.com Dick Fuller

    Reading the fun piece about Guy Williams’ TV Zorro was kind of like a fantasy/science fiction trip back in time because I know nothing of the actor. Or his Zorro. As a kid my Z was Tyrone Power (ah, that last name!). But now I’ll probably fantasy travel to the DVDs and visit Mr. Williams. And feel like a kid again! Thanks.

  • Mark Nelson

    I loved Guy Williams as Zorro, too, but I also enjoyed the Republic serials featuring the character, and thought that Reed Hadley in 1939′s “Zorro’s Fighting Legion” was the best of that bunch, expecially since the music score for the serial was composed by the same William Lava who composed the score for the Disney “Zorro” TV show — a different soundtrack score for every episode!

  • NICK DSANTIS

    I’M 71 YEARS OLD AND I BELEAVE I HAVE SEEN ALL THE ZORRO FLICKS AND THE BEST ONE WAS TYRONE P. AND THE FUNNIST ONE WAS GEORGE HAMILTON BUT I HAVE ENJOYED ALL OF THEM AND I HOPE TO ENJOY MORE TO COME.

  • Christine Byrd

    Zorro!!The One & Only Zorro will ALWAYS be GUY WILLIAMS!! Look closely at the fencing scenes.There is no to come close to the skill & mastery he displays!!!

  • Dino

    I also liked Guy Williams in his Zorro tenure, as well as liking all of the other actors to play the role. One actor who seems to have been neglected in the line of Zorros is Duncan Regehr from the Family Channel’s “The New Zorro” (1990-1993). Some people might remember him as Bajoran First Minister, Shakaar Edon, from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” The Family Channel’s “Zorro” was campy, like the 1960s “Batman” series, but still fun to watch. Does anyone else remember that one?

  • Lorne Jennings

    ” Guy Williams” was the best ” ZORRO ” of all the actors who ever played the role !!! None of the other actors ever had such a hugh postive and lasting influence on anyone who ever watched him. I know for me he was my hero when I was a kid and there were times when faced with a difficult situation growing up, all I had to do was think of Zorro, imagine that I was him, and I could face anything !! He was and still is ” MY HERO ” !!

  • Harry Hellman

    Guy Williams was far superior.

  • Scott J

    Guy Williams was the best, but i think Henry Darrow would have been even better. He did a very good job as rich son Manolo Montoya in High Chaparrel back in the late ’60′s.

    • Michelle Malkin

      I like all the Zorro’s, but the Frank Langella tv movie with Henry Darrow as Don Alejanro and Ricardo Montalban as the evil Commandante makes me swoon. No one ever mentions this direct remake of the Tyrone Power movie and I would love to have a copy. I have most of the others, but really, really really, want a copy of the Langella movie. He was gorgeous in it and had the part down to a T.

  • http://Website Tim Leise

    The Halloween costume also came with a sword, which was able to hold a piece of chalk in the tip, enabling you to make your own “Z”.

  • sue

    I think Tyrone Power is great as Zorro, but Guy Williams was just perfect in the T.V. series. Annette was in a few of the episodes too. Never missed the show when I was a kid.

  • I_Fortuna

    Guy Williams, the love of my life! Antonio too!
    Tyrone, Eh. I never missed a TV episode of the Guy Williams Zorro. And, handsome Antonio brings his own brand of humor, excellent acting and stunt work to the Zorro movies.
    By the way, Antonio Banderas did not just pop out of the woodwork in Hollywood, he had been a successful actor in Spain years before ever making it here. For instance, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Brakdown” very funny film and great character played by Antonio.

    • Michelle Malkin

      I love Antonio Banderas’ voice. He’s great as Puss ‘n Boots. I also wonder if that is his voice in the commercial where a cat deserts his basket of still warm dried clothes for some cat treats.
      (cute the way the sexy voice in his mind turns into an eager meow.)

  • Ted

    Guy was my favorite Zorro followed real close by Tyrone…

  • DRM

    Guy Williams and Disney Zorro were indeed the greatest. Guy had great style as Zorro. His charm and charisma will never be matched. Tyrone Power was stellar in his portrayal of the foppish Diego de la Vega and his 1940 Zorro movie is a classic. Duncan Regehr and the New World Zorro TV series that aired on the Family Channel in the 1990s was done in a similiar fashion to the Disney series. Duncan Regehr’s portrayal of Zorro certainly earns him the right to be mentioned as one of the greatest Zorro’s ever along with Guy Williams, Tyrone Power, and Douglas Fairbanks. Fans of the 1990s New World Zorro series will be happy to hear the series will finally be released on DVD in December 2010 through A&E Video. Go to newworldzorro.com or join the New World Zorro Yahoo group for more information.
    http://www.zorro.com/new_world.html

  • lucy

    Guy Williams is my favorite. I could not stop watching the series on youtube the minute I discovered it. He was the true Diego de la Vega-kind, charming and smart.
    Tyrone Powers also excellent with that fencing scene in Mask of Zorro.

  • stanley ochocinsky

    i am a zorro fan my favorites are tyrone power and guy williams.i like antonio banderas except 4 the gay hat

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  • John Small

    Tyrone Power will always be THE Zorro as far as I’m concerned! Banderas comes in a fairly close second, with Anthony Hopkins right behind. Williams was okay in a watered down Disney sort of way, but the best part of his version was the theme song.

  • kingpong

    Tyrone Power was the best movie “Zorro” and Guy Williams was the best on TV. Disney knew how to present adventure whether it be based on real people (Davey Crockett, Mike Fink, Elfago
    Baca) or fictional characters like Zorro. And the TV show musical score was like the icing on the cake with Thurl Ravenscroft and the Mellowmen performing the vocals. Perhaps, one day, the
    Disney Channel will open up Vault Disney and let a new generation of kids (and us baby boomers) be treated to this great TV hit.