Out of the night when the full moon is bright…Comes the horseman known as Zorro! Yes, Zorro, that dashing black clad figure who was the hero to those in the small pueblo of Los Angeles in Spanish California. While played by many actors, the best known Zorro is Guy Williams, who portrayed the sly fox in the late 1950s TV show produced by the Walt Disney Studio, and today, we wish Guy Williams a Happy Birthday!
Guy Williams was born Armand Joseph Catalano in 1924 to Italian immigrants in New York City. After growing up in Little Italy where he enjoyed chess and math, and attending P.S. 189 and Peekskill Military Academy, he took up various jobs during World War II, including welding and inspecting aircraft parts. After the war, he worked at Wanamaker’s Department Store selling luggage, it is here he began his modeling career and adopted the name of Guy Williams. During a modeling shoot in 1948 he met fellow model Janice Cooper. The couple married on December 8 and had two children. Two years later, the family moved to Hollywood where Williams acted a a handful of movies. In the early 1950s Williams suffered an accident, breaking one of his arms. As part of his recovery, he picked up fencing.
In 1957 he was cast as Zorro for the Disney studio. The show’s set was the first standing set on the Disney lot, covering six to seven acres and costing around $500,000 (yes, in 1957 money). Williams resumed fencing training for the role, and trained with legend Fred Cavens, who had worked with Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. Many actors who worked on the show have recalled that Williams was very much like Zorro, in that he was dashing and had a wonderful moral compass.
Zorro was an instant hit with its audience, and had a beloved cast, including Henry Calvin, who played Sargent Garcia. Calvin had background in Broadway and opera. Zorro’s companion Bernardo was played by Gene Sheldon, who had previously been in vaudeville. Disney was not a television man, and made the show as cinematic as possible, each episode had its own score, done by William Lava, and the cost of each show was $78,000.
Zorro was such a loved character, and Williams enjoyed the role so much that he did his own appearances at Disneyland. He signed autographs and even performed shows that included fighting and running along the tops of the buildings and the Mark Twain and even signing autographs. Oh, to be one of those lucky kids.
The money from Zorro helped Williams purchase a ketch, where he and his family and sometimes fellow cast members of the show would spend time on the water during the weekends. Guy Williams Jr. in an interview said that the sea was one of his father’s passions and enjoyed sailing often.
Zorro was slated for a third season, which Disney wanted to do in color, yet ABC did not want to go in that direction, and Zorro was shelved during the disputes, only to resurface for four one-hour episodes.
After Zorro, Williams did a few episodes of the western hit Bonanza, and then starred as John Robinson in the popular sci-fi Lost in Space from 1965-1968.
In 1973, Williams visited Argentina, where the people adored him for his role of Zorro. He eventually chose to retire there, enjoying the people and European like atmosphere. Sadly, in 1989, at the age of only 65, Williams passed away due to a brain aneurysm. While gone, he is not forgotten, in 2001, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.