Friday, August 30, 2019

Forgotten Books: THE MARK OF ZORRO by Johnston McCulley (1919)

Zorro is 100. He made his debut in the first installment of Johnston McCulley's "The Curse of Capistrano" in the August 9, 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly. That serial, good as it is, might have been forgotten but for Douglas Fairbanks, who bought the film rights and turned it into the huge hit "The Mark of Zorro" in 1920. That film is still plenty of fun, as you can see for yourself at the end of this post. But McCulley's original story is even better.

Released in book form as The Mark of Zorro in 1924, it's the perfect blend of adventure, romance and humor.  I've lost track of how many times I've read it (and seen the three film versions, and listened to an Old Time Radio version, an audio dramatization and two audiobooks), and it delivers every time. It's also been adapted as a musical, which I want to see.

The book also gave life to dozens of other films made in the US, Mexico, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Turkey and India, at least five live action and several animated TV series, novels, short stories, comic strips, comic books, records, Halloween costumes and enough toys to fill a museum.

Johnston McCulley himself went on to write four more Zorro novels and 57 shorter stories, the last of which was published after his death in 1958. After a couple of failed attempts, the entire series was finally released in 2016 as a six-volume set from Bold Venture Press. (Vol. 1, as you'd expect, contains The Mark of Zorro.) You should buy them.

But every man, woman and child (and his or her dog) on the planet should read at least The Mark of Zorro. The book has been reprinted in many editions and many languages. If you're thrifty, there are three different ebook editions available on Amazon for 99 cents. And if you're really thrifty, you can write me at and I'll shoot you the book in either kindle-friendly Word or PDF format. Or both.

And if that ain't enough for you, you're invited to read "A Promise to Zorro," my own humble (but absolutely true) account of Don Diego's 100th birthday party. That's HERE.


djmcblues2 said...

I read yoour great story the other day, it made me purchase a collection of Zorro stories by McCulley! Hope he was a good writer.

Rick Robinson said...

I have a post on the new set coming up Monday.

Elgin Bleecker said...

I have the book (but not the whole series) and have seen the movies, as well. The 1940 Tyrone Power picture is great. Also terrific was the Zorro series made in the 1950s by Disney, which I saw on the Disney Channel about 15 years ago.

Evan Lewis said...

If you liked "Promise," Dan, you should like McCulley better. It was an attempt to emulate his style.

Look forward to your view of the Bold Ventures, Rick. Try not to excoriate them for the typos.

The Disney show was my intro to the character, Elgin. Loved it as a kid, saw it again 30 years ago on Disney Channels "Legends and Heroes" series, and taped it 20 years ago when they colorized it. About time to watch it again.

Fred Blosser said...

Errol Flynn fans will disagree, but for my money, the 1940 version with Tyrone Power was the best swashbuckling movie, ever.

Evan Lewis said...

It's a good 'un, Fred, but yeah, I'm partial to The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Captain Blood as No. 2.

TC said...

Basil Rathbone was a fencing champion IRL, and had sword fights against Tyrone Power in "Zorro" and Errol Flynn in "Captain Blood" and "Robin Hood." In an interview, he once said that Power could have sliced Flynn into little pieces. He also said that the best opponent he ever had in a movie sword fight was Danny Kaye in The Court Jester.

"My" Zorro is Guy Williams.

Chris Lopes said...

The book is great fun. One of the things I found interesting was the fact that the author doesn't explicitly tell the reader who Zorro is until the last few pages of the book. He certainly gives the reader enough clues (a main character leaves and Zorro appears immediately afterward (and vice versa) on a regular basis), but he doesn't say it until the end. All in all it is a great read.