The story of Zorro existed before Douglas Fairbanks’ two movies (1921 and 1925), but it was the movies that made the character a household name. Just two years before the first film, a serial called “The Curse of Capistrano” appeared in a “pulp magazine”—that’s the term for the cheap fiction magazines that were distributed in the first half of the 20th century and were usually sold for 10 cents. It’s author was Johnston McCulley.
Douglas Fairbanks, through his two films, helped create the image of Zorro that persists to this day. For instance, Fairbanks was an amateur magician and he gave Zorro that ability. It was Fairbanks who created the black outfit, black mask, and round black hat that figure in all subsequent versions. And Fairbanks’ acrobatic abilities—think swinging from the chandelier and leaping from rooftop to rooftop—were transferred to Zorro. Watch this fabulous clip (it’s only 3 ½ minutes) to the end and you’ll see the leap across wide space between buildings that Mary Pickford couldn’t bear to watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaBud6ii5Wk&feature=PlayList&p=54B8576AB5117C0D&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=7
Or watch the clip where Don Diego (Zorro) performs several foppish tricks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZazIILRVRw&NR=1 (start at minute 4:40 and you’ll see him play the bored, uninterested suitor who does a magic trick for his intended).
“The Mark of Zorro” was released by United Artists (a corporation founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith) in 1921. The film was hugely popular, so he reprised the role in 1925 in “Don Q: Son of Zorro,” which was, incidentally, one of the first sequels in Hollywood history. If you want to see the whole feature-length film (and it’s very entertaining!) click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH5C45FKv6M
The Zorro character was very important to Douglas Fairbanks—he and Mary even named their little dog Zorro.