Just two years before Douglas Fairbanks’ first (1921) Zorro film was released, a serial called “The Curse of Capistrano” appeared in the pulp magazine shown here. These cheap fiction magazines, usually sold for 10 cents, were popular in the early part of the 20th century. The author, Johnston McCulley, clearly found his inspiration in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, a story about a brave Englishman during the French Revolution that was written in 1903 by Baroness Emma Orczy, a British woman of Hungarian origin. In Baroness Orczy’s story, the Scarlet Pimpernel is the secret name for a mysterious man who snatches innocent French citizens about to be guillotined during the Reign of Terror.
Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel have much in common. Both are nobly-born heroes who disguise themselves as effeminate nincompoops in order to fight against evil in the form of a brutal government. Both hide their true identity from everyone, even their fathers and the women they love. Each has a trusted sidekick who is in on the charade. And each taunts his opponents by leaving his mark–a red flower or a slashed Z–wherever he has struck.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford selected this story while on their honeymoon. As usual, they chose wisely! “The Mark of Zorro” was such a success that Fairbanks followed it four years later with a sequel, “Don Q: Son of Zorro.” It was these two silent films that firmly established Zorro as an American legend and led to many more movies, books, and television programs.