(Andy Rooney imitation) Did you ever notice... (regular voice) ...Oops! I nearly gave away my secret identity. Speaking of secret identities...tonight most of us will get up to answer the doorbell. We'll open the front door to find bunches of people got up as witches, ghosts, skeletons, ballerinas and ninja tele-tubbies. Many will be wearing masks.

I just recently got around to seeing the movie The Mask of Zorro. Great fun, by the way. Where did that "fox so cunning and free" come from? We'll have to go back to 1919 for the answer. 36-year-old Johnston McCulley had recently retired from his job as a police reporter, hoping to make a career writing fiction. Like many of us writing types, he occasionally found himself with time on his hands. Perhaps inspired by tales of bandit Joaquin Murieta, he created a Robin Hood-type character who rode around Spanish California righting wrongs, defending the weak and oppressed, etc., etc., etc. This masked paragon debuted on August 9th in the pulp magazine All-Story, in a tale titled...portentous organ music here...The Curse of Capistrano.

The public fell in love with this southwestern Scarlet Pimpernel clone, fop by day, avenger by night, and the affair's still going strong. Hollywood couldn't pass on this one. Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. buckled on the swash first, in an acrobatic silent film version, that has influenced every Zorro since. Clayton Moore played him on the radio before becoming The Lone Ranger. Tyrone Power took the role in 1940. Television got on the bandoleer wagon in 1957 with the Disney series starring Guy Williams, on his way to becoming Lost in Space. Former evil alien Duncan Regeher took the part on cable in the early 1990s. There was even a female Zorro (Zorra?), Linda Stirling, in a 1944 Republic Pictures movie serial, Zorro's Black Whip. And now we have Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins carrying on the tradition.

The current film pays homage to original inspiration Joaquin Murieta, by having the heir to the Zorro franchise turn out to be Juaquin's brother. The question now is, which Joaquin? Apparently there were at least five of them. In the early 1850s, in a successful attempt to keep Mexicans and Chinese out of the California gold fields, a $20 monthly tax was placed on them. A number of bandits, most of them apparently named Joaquin, appeared on the scene and began robbing gringo miners. The story was that Murieta or a member of his family, was the victim of varied atrocities at the hands of miners (name your atrocity, some story or other used it). In July of 1853 mounted rangers discovered a group of encamped Mexicans and opened fire. Picking one of two corpses at random, they beheaded it and claimed the $1,000 reward. Novelist John Rollin Ridge wrote a novel the next year, about the bandido who robbed from the rich (they had the most money, of course) to give to the poor. To paraphrase a cliche, a myth was born.

OUTRO For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor


© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte