Spies on Television & Radio ~
Zorro the Spy – A
By Rochelle Dubrow
Introduction by Wesley Britton ~
In 1998, James Bond director Martin Campbell helmed the
lavish and very entertaining The Mask of Zorro.
In this version of the story, Don Diego de la Vega, the original
Zorro (Anthony Hopkins), recruited a cocky street hoodlum (Antonio
Bandaras) to take over the role of the masked avenger. Don Diego
felt the evil Rafael Montero (Stewart Wilson) was up to nasty business
in California, and he needed help from a younger man. In particular,
Don Diego wanted a spy inside Montero’s household, and
saw Bandaras as a brash youth with promise. Hopkins not only trained
the young man in swordcraft, but in the etiquette and style of a Spanish
nobleman to infiltrate Montero’s inner circle. At the same time,
Hopkins took on the guise of Bernardo, supposedly Bandaras’
servant, to also snoop around the Montero household. In the end, the
pair foiled an elaborate plot by a villain as colorful and demonic as any
adversary faced by 007.
These two screen Zorros shared much with other larger-than-life
secret agents fighting powerful megalomaniacs by taking on cover
identities, acting as saboteurs, and living the double life of a spy.
Of course, the undercover operations of Zorro had begun long
before the 1998 film. Johnston McCulley’s “Zorro”
character first appeared in the 1919 The Curse of Capistrano,
which had been a serialized story in the pulp magazine,
In his debut, Zorro began as a highwayman in the Robin Hood
mold until he fermented a revolution against the deceitful Capt.
Ramone. With the success of Douglas Fairbanks’ 1920 film,
The Mark of Zorro (which became the title for
Curse when it was published as a novel), McCulley
wrote more stories first primarily for Argosy and then
West magazines until 1951.
Guy Williams was the most famous incarnation of Zorro in the
From 1920 on, the story of Zorro has been redone and re-molded
in many ways in silent films, the talkies, on television, and in nearly
Without question, the most beloved adaptation of the legend was
the Walt Disney produced television series (ABC, 1957 to 1959).
Guy Williams became synonymous with the role in two seasons
of 30-minute and four one-hour adventures (78 in all) before legal
matters ended Disney’s access to the rights.
George J. Lewis, who’d played a government agent in
the extremely odd Zorro’s Black Whip (a 1944
Republic Pictures serial with a female Zorro-type character), now
played Don Alejandro de la Vega, father of a son he thinks is evading
social responsibility. Henry Calvin was Sgt. Demetrio Lopez Garcia,
and Gene Sheldon was Diego’s faithful confidant, Bernardo.
In 2007, the Disney series celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and
part of the celebration will be the publication of A Collector’s
Guide to ZORRO from the 50s and 60s by Rochelle Dubrow,
an update of her 2005 A Guide to ZORRO from the Fifties and
The new edition has been published by BearManor Media in
March 2008, and all Zorro aficionados will welcome this contribution
by an expert on the show.
Dubrow is among many Baby Boomers who were enthralled by
the swashbuckling adventures of Zorro during its original run, and
was a lover of the merchandise now commanding high prices on
eBay and in antique shops everywhere.
Her interest never died, and when Disney opened its Vault Disney
and began showing Zorro on television once more, she
was hooked again.
About ten years ago, she decided she would search out the
many Zorro collectibles from the fifties and sixties which lead to
the creation of her two books.
Rochelle clearly believes Zorro was indeed a spy, and to prove
it, she told us at Spywise she could make her points in pictures. So
here is her photo essay uncovering the elements of a unique
espionage operator in a mask and cape.
Editor’s Note ~
The first episodes Rochelle describes were made into a theatrical
film, The Sign of Zorro in 1960.)
Guy Williams and Gene Sheldon in a scene from “The
Sign of Zorro” (1960).
As a child I watched a great deal of television and one character
stood out – the ultimate spy of nineteenth century Spanish
California. El Zorro – The Fox – rode
mysteriously out of the night cloaked in black, his face covered by
a mask, to right the wrongs brought against the poor and innocent.
By day, his alter persona, Diego de la Vega, was the ineffectual son
of a prominent landowner but by night he became Zorro, a master of
the sword and whip. He played his dual roles so well that his own
father, close friends and even his enemies could not see the
connection between the two. Deception and secrecy followed him,
just like any spy, even though without masks or capes.
Zorro did not work for any government agency or military power.
He was not looking for money, power or glory. He was a man with
high morals and ethical values. Zorro was a mere mortal, born at
a time when technological advances did not exist. He had no
superpowers. He did not need them – for he had
intelligence, fortitude, and a gift with the sword and whip. Whether
Zorro was uncovering clues to the identity of a young girl’s
father or protecting a Chinese runaway, Zorro would appear to help
rectify the situation.
Gene Sheldon as Bernardo and Guy Williams as Zorro (1957).
Rich or poor, young or old, he treated everyone as an equal.
He was a man to look up to; a hero.
For lovers of the Disney incarnation of the character, it all began
in September 1957.
In the first episodes set in 1820, Don Diego (Guy Williams) arrived
in Monterey sailing home from Spain. The ship’s captain
warned him of a cruel military dictator running his once peaceful
pueblo. After re-reading the letter his father sent asking him to return
home, Diego realized that there was trouble brewing.
He formulated a plan to work undercover to put an end to this
tyrant. He knew an outward show of force arranged by his father
would only be crushed by the military.
Diego’s plan involved taking on another persona. He
transformed himself into a man interested only in books and poetry,
but Zorro was the man he was meant to be . . . forceful and skilled
with sword and whip.
In his fight he was aided by Bernardo (Gene Sheldon), his mute
servant. A quick wit himself, Bernardo decided to change as well. He
became the eyes and ears behind his master.
Shortly after he began his covert operations, Diego found
himself face to face with the dictator in his own home. Monastario
(Britt Lomond) brought a copy of Zorro’s costume to the
de la Vega hacienda to have every young man try on the outfit.
Monastario believed he would be able to recognize the real
Gene Sheldon as Bernardo and Guy Williams as Zorro (1957).
In order to misdirect the cruel tyrant from himself, Diego ineptly
tried on the costume becoming entangled in the cape.
Zorro defeated Monastario through persistence, cunning
undercover work, and use of counter-intelligence. Reporting to
Monastario was Sgt. Garcia, a good man who liked his wine.
Over a glass or two and a little friendly conversation he became an
easy mark for Diego to learn key information or to pass on
Many spies and superheroes have accomplices who aid them
in their work. Batman had Robin and Green Hornet had Kato.
Bernardo, Diego’s trusty servant and friend, worked with
Like Diego, Bernardo’s performance as a
“deaf” mute was flawless. He was able to gather
important information that Diego could not by eavesdropping on
unsuspecting individuals and then passing the information to Diego
through gestures and pantomime.
Bernardo may have been a “silent” partner
but he was most definitely a much needed one.
Editor’s Note ~
The following episodes were edited into the theatrical release,
Zorro the Avenger, in 1959 with Charles Korvin as the
nemesis, “The Eagle.”)
Throughout the series, Zorro found himself up against a variety
of villains. Some were easily uncovered but one enemy known as
“The Eagle” took all our heroes’ abilities to
reveal. He was the most complex of Zorro’s nemeses. A
single clue sent Zorro spiraling toward a deadly conspiracy where
he faced danger, adventure, romance and a long list of unforgettable
Zorro tried without success to figure out the common thread
– a cut feather, which linked a series of crimes; an
assassination, a payroll robbery, the murder of a stranger and
Diego and Bernardo became suspicious of the new Administrator
assigned to the pueblo after he insisted on making the de la Vega
hacienda his temporary headquarters. When the Administrator’s
attaché case opened and revealed several uncut feathers
and a letter addressed to “The Eagle”, Zorro sought
the truth regarding his unwanted houseguest.
Editor’s Note ~
Disney released the four episodes described below on VHS
under the title Invitation to Death.)
Joan Evans (Leonar), Guy Williams (Zorro), and John Litel (the
In another group of episodes, Zorro and Bernardo encountered
assassins, deception and greed. It began when assassins attempted
to kill the Governor of California near Los Angeles. The
governor’s guards, led by his aid Capitan Arrellanos, sought
immediate help for the badly injured man at the de la Vega
While the governor healed, Capitan Arrellanos was asked to take
his place. With guards surrounding the hacienda, Diego and his
father were satisfied that everything was secure. However, when
the good Capitan began taking his new position too seriously, Diego
and Bernardo decided to take precautions.
Hiding in the secret passageway, Bernardo soon learned that
the governor’s aid had betrayed him. There would be an
attempt on the governor’s life. Having prevented the attack,
they realized that others would follow.
The governor continued to improve but was restless. His
daughter, Leonar, continued to use a music box at his bed to lull
her father into a deep sleep, much to Diego’s amazement.
While the governor slept, an assassin entered his room with a
knife. Hiding in the passageway, Bernardo swung open the door
and hit him with a vase. The governor, still asleep, is moved by
Zorro and Bernardo into the passageway while the music played.
When two other assailants arrived, one took out a knife and
stabbed the unconscious assailant Zorro placed in the
governor’s bed. The two men escaped.
Having made new plans, Arrellanos dismissed all the guards
and had Diego and his father called away from the hacienda.
Diego slipped back and changed into Zorro while Bernardo
continued to observe Arrellanos. Diego and Bernardo knew another
attempt would take place that evening.
After allowing five men to enter the house, Arrellanos grabbed
and tied up Leonar. In order to save the governor, Bernardo turned
on the music box and waited for the governor to fall asleep. He
moved the governor, couch and all, into the passageway while
Zorro picked off the would-be assassins one man at a time.
Zorro then caught up to Arrellanos and with Bernardo’s
help, Zorro put an end to Arrellanos and his reign of terror.
A Collector’s Guide to ZORRO from the 50s and
60s, second edition (March, 2008), by Rochelle Dubrow, may
be purchased through BearManor Media.
For more on Rochelle and her books, see “The Sign
of the Z”, Toy Collector Magazine, published by QM4G Media.
Rochelle’s tribute to Britt Lomond can be found in
Monsters Magazine – Issue 64, October 2007.
Photographs courtesy of Rochelle Dubrow.