In 1958, kids all over America could be found scribbling Z’s all over the sidewalk, the school yard and the walls of their bedroom, thanks to an unknown 33 year old actor named Guy Williams, and a simple production company known as Disney.
With the success of Davey Crockett, the studio decided to try a series based on the adventures of Zorro a story that had filled the pages of comic books for many years. Zorro was a masked avenger with a wit as sharp as his saber. The story goes that Williams got the part of Zorro because he was an expert fencer and Walt Disney insisted on staging the fight scenes with unprotected fencing foils.
When not running around scratching Z’s into every thing, Zorro assumed his real identity as Don Diego de la Vega. Diego was the son of a rich nobleman in Spanish California in 1920. He played the part of a lazy, self-centered rich boy to keep people from discovering his secret. The only one to know the truth was his mute manservant Bernardo. The servant, pretending to be deaf was Zorro’s main pipeline to all the gossip in the town. Now don’t think Zorro was liked by everyone. His arch enemy, not counting bank robbers and assassins was the commandant of the Fortress de los Angeles, Capt. Monastario played by Britt Lomond. Henry Calvin played assistant bad guy Sgt. Garcia. A comical character Garcia was short, fat and blundering and the spittin image of Oliver Hardy.
Much to their surprise Zorro was a huge hit for ABC. In 1958, Disney cut a deal with NBC to move all of their programming on to the new, more modern network . NBC had just created it’s new logo, the infamous NBC Peacock with an announcement that all of the shows on NBC would be broadcast in living color. Since Zorro was filmed in black and white Disney was forced to give up the series rather than loose the exposure for their new show Walt Disney Presents (later to be the World of Color). The move they made to save money, cost them their most popular show.
When collecting Zorro, there are several different era’s of toys. Most toys were made in the late 50’s to fit the first release of the show. Then in the 60’s a second round of toys were made to tie in to Disney’s rerelease of the series on a kind of mini-series basis. In the 80’s, a whole new batch of toys were made to promote a new Zorro comedy movie and finally a recreation of the series on television with Duncan Regher in the lead..
All of the collectibles are fun, but none of the modern toys have the value of an original Zorro piece from the 50’s.
The best of the best is the play set by Marx, made in 1958, and selling for 600-750 dollars. An exclusive to the Grant’s department store, this wonderful play set came with everything you need to be Zorro, a plastic hat, mask, whip, knife, fencing foil and flintlock pistol. The coolest thing about the toy was that the swords were chalk tipped so you could make the sign of the Z on the side of your house. A true historical treasure.
Another fabulous find is the gorgeous Aurora Model Kit, made in 1965. Like most of Aurora’s figural kits, it is not easy to find and will sell for over 500 dollars mint in box. The box is a wonderful painting of Zorro in his usual pose, on his horse with the horse rearing up. The colors in the art work are intense and worth the price of the model. The kit itself is very detailed action pose, another tribute to those fine Aurora craftsmen of the era.
Great use of color is also the draw to the Zorro Lunch box made by Aladdin 1958. This was the first version created for the series and was followed by another in 1966. Both boxes sell for around 150-250 dollars, but in my opinion the older version is tops. The 1958 version of the lunch box is not embossed but it has a beautiful stormy blue and orange sky in the background with Zorro in his famous pose. The thermos has a black cap and shows Don Diego mid sword fight. The later edition of the box is basically the same pose but the sky is an unflattering red and Zorro is facing more forward. The thermos has a red lid. Even though this box is embossed it’s not nearly as nice as the earlier version.
The Zorro gum cards by Topps made in 1958 are something of an anomaly. While most cards of the era were black and white to compliment the black and white filming of the series, this cards are in color. They have an unusual hand painted look with photos from the series and captions. 250-300 dollars will buy you a set.
One of the pricest items from the era is the Marx Playset, made in the late fifties. Complete in the box this set goes for over 1000 dollars. This is due largely to the huge collectiblity of Marx playsets in general. This set came with the pieces to make a Spanish style town with tin buildings, trees, fences, and figures including Zorro on his horse.
Finally one of the dumbest toys is the Bean Bag Game made in 1960 by Gardner Toys, (approx. 100 dollars). Since the toy came from a small company it is a rare find. The toy itself is a pretty silly thing with a poor sketch of Zorro inside the box surrounded by cups and targets. You could throw Zorro bean bags at the target or fire suction cup darts. But the real question is—Why would you want to shoot AT Zorro?
In the aftermath of Zorro, Guy Williams was cast as John Robinson in Lost in Space. When Space ended it’s run, the actor moved to Argentina where he was welcomed as a national hero, just as if he really were Zorro. For years he made appearances in costume. In the end, Guy Williams became a recluse rarely leaving his home in Argentina and finally in 1989 he died of a heart attack. Although he is probably more known for that role today, at the time, Williams never achieved the kind of fame and standing he had while playing Zorro.
Photos from recent exhibit at the Mission San Juan Capistrano