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1958 Life Magazine Article on Zorro
Originally donated by Joanne Slappo
Pictures provided by Julie Martin

Life Magazine -- 18 August 1958 Issue
The Mark of Zorro -- Kids Live Up A New Case Of Hero Worship

-- Pictures --


This bold renegade carves a "Z" with his blade, a "Z" that stands for Zorro.

With this song sounding from their TV sets and mysterious Zs scrawled all over the house, millions of American parents have become acutely aware that a hero they knew in their youth is riding again. In the field of kids’ idols, in fact, there has been nothing like Zorro since Davy Crockett became a national household problem three years ago.

Zorro, the rich caballero who acts like a lazy fellow by day, but at night puts on a mask and rides forth to help the poor, has been a film and fiction hero for 40 years. His current revival was brought on by Walt Disney, who introduced Zorro in an ABC-TV series last October for a 39-week run, kept him going this summer with 13 weeks of repeats, and starts him out in a new 39-week cycle this fall. Zorro, with his derring-do and do-gooding, has all the stuff a childhood hero is made of, being a combination of all three Musketeers and the Lone Ranger. Disney has added fine touches of excitement, with zig-zag flashes of lightning making Zs in the sky, and always a pulse-stirring clatter of hoofs and ringing swords. Inevitably, he also sells Zorro capes, masks, hats and plastic swords tipped with chalk so the kids can write Z on the kitchen floor. Taking advantage of Z’s popularity, one Californian pediatrician now makes allergy-test scratches in the shape of Zs to accommodate his young patients.

Zorro, which means "fox" in Spanish, appeared first in a 1919 Argossy magazine serial by Johnston McCulley. McCulley had already done a lot of research on Spanish California, which is the background for the Zorro adventures, and wrote his novel in six days. The Mark of Zorro was read by 500 million people and McCulley went profitably on spinning Zorro yarns in some 65 books and short stories.

When Walt Disney set out to restyle Zorro for juvenile audiences—he made him less amorous and more acrobatic—he was careful to avoid the troubles he had with Davy Crockett. Davy had become so wildly popular overnight that youngsters wore themselves out over their hero and soon abandoned him, along with crates of unsold Crockett souvenirs. This time Disney is baby-feeding his Zorro boom, so it will spread gradually and, he hopes, persist over many years. Already the small fry have pounced on some $11 million worth of Zorro merchandise, including story telling records and comic books.

Zorro is played on TV by Armando Catalano, who changed his name to Williams five years ago. He is married to a model and has two children, a boy, 5, and a baby girl.

More than such other TV heroes as Crockett, Robin Hood and Captain Video, Zorro possesses an extra element of secrecy and masked conspiracy that children relish. He also has a dashing mustache, carefully duplicated with burnt cork on a myriad of young upper lips. He is always befriending, as his song says, "the weak, the poor and the meek." Like all childhood heroes he is a knight at heart, proclaiming "my sword is a flame to right every wrong."


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