BACKSTORY: Back in the day, “Zorro” was all the rage. Think Indiana Jones. Jack Sparrow. Yep...that big. Walt needed more money from ABC to pump into Disneyland, so he dipped into the well and used a property he had acquired back in 1953: Zorro. Initially TV execs wanted to see a pilot; Walt was annoyed at their luck of faith in him being able to produce a winner, so the idea sat dormant until 1957 when ABC specifically tapped Walt with a request for more programming and committed to 39 half-hour episodes.
Wanting a quality product, Walt spared no expense; props and furnishings alone came with a $65,000 price tag. Besides that, Walt’s team created the Zorro set (Pueblo La Reina de Los Angeles) on the Disney backlot in Burbank at a cost of nearly $500,000. The area was located on the southeast corner of the Studio and consisted of a jail, hacienda, barracks, stables, Plaza Church, and governor’s fortress. The series gave Guy Williams (Zorro) a serious boost to his career. Fred Cavens was hired to coach Williams in the art of fencing, as he had done previously for Tyrone Power and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Unfortunately, the singing could not be taught and Williams was dubbed by Bill Lee, who would later dub for Christopher Plummer in “The Sound of Music.” It took 4 horses to play the part of Tornado, Zorro’s stallion.
“Zorro” was a hit, premiering on October 10, 1957 and ran for 2 seasons, spawning a merchandise frenzy (over 400 different products!) as well as many personal appearances by the cast at Disneyland. The publicity photo above was actually sold at Jimmy Starr’s Show Business shop in Town Square. These other photos are from slides taken at Disneyland showing Sergeant Garcia (Henry Calvin) at the Golden Horseshoe and Zorro (Guy Williams) fencing with Captain Monastero (Britt Lomand) atop the Mark Twain. What amazes me most is that the actual stars of “Zorro” appeared multiple times at the park...not stand-ins, not doubles...the real enchilada. Can you imagine Harrison Ford or Johnny Depp coming to the park, performing in character and shaking hands with guests? Not only would it never happen today, it just couldn’t. Security for such a thing would be impossible, not to mention the amount of money that Disney would have to pay these actors. Times were so much simpler back then. Unfortunately, a legal dispute between ABC & Disney prevented any more episodes from being aired, and “Zorro” became a part of TV history. Guy Williams found himself the star of another series: “Lost in Space.” Appearance dates for the Zorro cast at Disneyland were:
April 26-27, 1958 | May 30-June 1, 1958 | Nov. 27-30, 1958 | Nov. 26-29, 1959 | Nov. 11-13, 1960
Sadly, the Zorro backlot sets were destroyed in 1988.
To read more about Guy Williams, you can order the exhaustively researched book “Guy Williams, The Man Behind the Mask” by Antoinette Girgenti Lane. Many thanks to Antoinette for supplying information and photos for this page!
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