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 | November 27-30, 1958 | November 26-29, 1959 | November 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!
Taint many who love the history of Walt Disney’s Disneyland as much as Wild Ol’ Dan Blasius. He’s just wandered into Daveland, unsaddled his horse, rolled out his bedroll, and sat down by the campfire to have a cup of coffee. Wild Ol’ Dan is also the author of the first Hopalong Cassidy novel to be published in well over 50 years: “HOPALONG CASSIDY RIDES AGAIN.” So as you might figure, I’ve asked him to put a few thoughts together on Frontierland at Disneyland. Well, turns out he has more than a few thoughts on that subject...I asked him to start by reflectin’ a little on Zorro. Enjoy!
The Fox so cunning and free…Howdy Pards,Taint many of us who were around back in those days who don’t remember each and every word of that song...a feller named George Bruns wrote the music I hear, and another feller named Norman Foster wrote the words. Remember?
“Out of the night, when the full moon is bright
comes the horseman known as Zorro.
This bold renegade carves a “Z” with his blade.
A “Z” that stands for Zorro.
Zorro, the fox so cunning and free.
Zorro who makes the sign of the “Z”
Now here was a rip-snortin’ Walt Disney adventure that really caught the imagination of both kids and adults...and as Ol’ Dave has said, back in those days the whole cast of that show were superstars to us. Guy Williams, of course, was Don Diego de la Vega (aka Zorro)...and Gene Sheldon played his assistant, Bernardo. Don Diego’s dad, Don Alejandro de la Vega, was played by George Lewis...and the most famous of the soldiers was the lovable Sgt. Garcia played by Henry Calvin.
It’s kinda’ hard to believe that show only ran for two seasons, cause the thing has run a lifetime in this ol’ cowhand's heart...and I reckon in the hearts of millions of us scattered throughout the world. Yessir I can see him still up thar on either the jet black horse “Tornado” or the pure white horse “Phantom.” Can you imagine the absolute thrill of seein’ ’em live and in person at Disneyland?
Well...as Ol' Dave has said, it happened...no stand ins, the real stars. Between ’58 and ’60. My gosh, was it really that long ago? Over 50 years have passed since they first rode in those Disneyland Parades…half a century! Most all the stars have gone on ahead now...but they will live forever on video and DVD’s and in the hearts of all of us who remember. What a thrill it must have been to have seen ’em there at the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland.
Zorro stood for that which was right...against oppression...in the early days of California. Reckon’ he was a beloved hero to millions of us younguns back then. Sure wish all these fellers were still ridin' the airways today...ahhh, but time marches on. As I say most all of them have rode on ahead...
Well, it’s kinda’ sad, but the truth is today at the Walt Disney Studios there’s a place called the Zorro Parking Garage, built on the spot where all those wonderful adventures once took place. The Zorro set is a thing of the past, but the tales are timeless and the memories of those tales will last a lifetime.Adios for now. Talk to ya on’ down the trail. Wild Ol’ Dan