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Who Is Zorro?

By Melanie Smeltzer
Updated May 23, 2024
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Created by the writer Johnston McCulley, Zorro is a fictional character that stars in a number of adventure-based stories. He made his first appearance in the 1919 serial The Curse of Capistrano and has since appeared in many novels, films, radio dramas, and comic books. This character has undergone many aesthetic changes over the years, but is now best known for his trademark black mask, cape, and flat-brimmed sombrero. In early incarnations, he carried several weapons; however, over time, his signature weapon became the rapier, which was regularly used to leave the distinctive Z-shaped mark on his foes.

The fictional character of Zorro began life as a nobleman in the 1919 serial The Curse of Capistrano. This tale was broken into five parts and appeared in All-Story Weekly, an American pulp story magazine. The series follows the adventures of Zorro, his lover Lolita Pulido, and his servant Bernardo, and ends with a revelation of the character's true identity, Don Diego Vega. The original appearance of this character is slightly different from the more modern versions, with the character's whole face covered in a black veil mask instead of the partial covering of the sackcloth mask, and a large cloak instead of the flowing cape. Other variations of this character's appearance include black leather riding boots, a waist sash or vest, and a clean-shaven or mustachioed face.

Zorro became such a success that two well-known actors chose to adapt the 1919 story as the start-up film for their up-and-coming studio, United Artists. In 1920, The Mark of Zorro debuted, starring Douglas Fairbanks as the title character, along with Marguerite de la Motte and Noah Beery. This film was such a hit that it spawned two remakes, one in 1940 and the other in 1974. Also due to the film's success, Johnston McCulley, who had not planned on writing more Zorro stories, wrote an additional 60 tales.

Over time, this large collection of stories was reproduced in a variety of mediums, including television series, stage plays, films, and comic books. Although each story featured Zorro, how the character was presented was typically divided into two types. The first type was generally a retelling or refashioning of the original legend. In the second category, the story usually surrounded either a descendant of the original character or a new character who wished to pass himself off as the original.

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