The mask of Don Justino

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, October 31, 2017 5:03 PM

One of our favorite fun movies is The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Sir (!) Anthony Hopkins. It’s one of those films we never grow tired of, and stop to watch anytime we come across it. It’s beautifully photographed, the story is great, the action fun, and the acting decent. It’s a little tongue in cheek, and everyone is just gorgeous, especially Antonio Banderas. Part of it was filmed in San Carlos, Mexico, a place I had the pleasure of visiting with my friend Susan earlier this summer. It was a perfect stand in for California. 

The film was released in the summer of 1998 when Justin was 7. It was rated PG-13 but we took him anyway. We had seen the trailer several times, figured it would be fun, and we weren’t disappointed. There’s a bit of violence, no language and no sex. It didn’t seem to us any more harmful than the Pokemon animation and other Japanese anime he was consumed with at the time. He loved the movie, as did we. No sooner did we get home than he found himself something he could make a mask from and armed with his Star Wars light saber, he proceeded to play the role of Zorro.

In the film, which takes place mostly in 1841, noblemen fight for the republic of Las Californias (California wouldn’t become a state until 1850), railing against the Spanish in the Mexican War of Independence. They are “dons,” established and respected men, men of social standing. The moniker of Don appears before their first names. Don Raphael is the bad guy; Don Diego is the older good guy and Don Alejandro is the younger good guy. Both good guys, naturally, also inhabit the Mask of Zorro.

For months, we were entertained by our own Zorro. And as Halloween got closer, and it came time to choose a costume, there was nothing to discuss. Zorro would once again come to the rescue of … Oak Park. Hey, it was California.

We found a costume, and with his pajamas underneath, and sporting his black cowboy books, Justin transformed before our eyes into Don Justino.

Every year, on Halloween we remember that costume. He wore it for weeks prior and weeks after. Sometimes he’d just wear the top part and shorts. But always the mask and the hat; always with plastic sword in hand as he singlehandedly saved the house from … whoever and usually Maguire. 

To this day, nearly 20 years later, he remains Don Justino. I doubt that the costume fits anymore, but the cuteness and goodness – the desire to save the world – definitely remains.

In short

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 30, 2011 10:37 PM

My husband is a big fan of shorts. Each year he waits until just the hint of warmth starts after our cool rainy season and then hangs his jeans up for months while he slips into a pair of cargo shorts. He has at least 8 pair, and he is a happy warrior. As the winter approaches and the temperatures start to move south of 60, he clings stubbornly to his shorts. He’ll wear a long sleeve t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie, but refuse to switch to jeans. Finally about the time he starts to think about pulling up his socks, he’ll break down and pull out a pair of Levis. He does it begrudgingly and a little angrily. I’ve suggested marking days off the calendar with a big red slash as we move glacially through winter toward those first warm days of spring so that he knows shorts-season is coming.

I, too, like shorts but I don’t have the same obsession with them. I prefer jeans and I stubbornly cling to those through spring and into summer until it’s simply impossible to breathe in heavy denim. I’m not as particular as to whether my shorts are cargo or not, though my favorite is a ratty old pair of camouflage. They keep me incognito while I’m working.

Shorts, so called because they’re really only shortened versions of pants, can be traced to the skirts, like Scottish kilts, that men wore instead of pants. In the 14th century, breeches were introduced that were tight and worn with stockings. By men. Think Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Then came knickerbockers, or looser breeches, around 1863. Men wore them for golfing in the 1890s. Knee pants cropped just at the knee were worn by boys 8 to 16 in the late 19th century until after World War I, and were finally called shorts starting around 1920. The British military introduced Bermuda shorts right around that time in order to allow their soldiers to be dressed appropriately, if not lightly, for duty.

Still, it was only men and boys who wore shorts. Women primarily still wore long dresses even when competing in sports. Until 1933 when Alice Marble wore shorts for a tennis tournament in Easthampton, Long Island, New York, a day she ultimately played 108 games winning the singles and doubles semifinals only to collapse in the finals due to dehydration and heat exhaustion.

No one blamed the shorts.

Contrary to my husband’s preferred style, there are actually some 26 types of shorts including skorts which I absolutely refuse to discuss. Or slackettes. Not even sure how those are different other than the name. There are yimps, mens’ shorts with a vintage look; culottes = bad; bun huggers. Whatever. Boxers, and of course the cargo shorts that my husband loves, loves, loves.

And jorts. Jean shorts. I should love those. Not sure I do.

Still I celebrate shorts of all kinds but especially the kinds that my husband wears because he’s so damned cute in them. He has one pair in particular, a very light camouflage, and they’re my favorite.

He’s just so damned cute in those shorts, in shorts in general.

Did I say that already?

May summer never end.

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The evolution of Don Diego de la Vega

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 24, 2011 10:45 PM

He was first seen on August 6, 1919. No one seems to know exactly when he was born, rather he just appeared as a nobleman and master living in the then Spanish colony known as California. By most accounts, he was dashing and debonair, and somewhat lacking in passion. An odd combination. He was also a superb athlete, horseman, swordsman and marksman. He was also well educated, wealthy and cultured, and possessed extensive scientific knowledge that allowed him to build extremely advanced gadgets and machines. Wearing a flowing black Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed Gaucho hat known as a Cordobés and a black sackcloth mask over his eyes, he was cunning and foxlike, similar to the historical Andalusian bandits of the 18th and 19th centuries who ravaged rich travelers on the Spanish countryside. One of the most famous was José María Pelagio Hinojosa, or El Tempranillo. Some compared him to Joaquin Murrieta, the Chilean Robin Hood who was legendary during the California Gold Rush. He was all of those and more, and the creation of a writer named Johnston McCulley.

He is Don Diego de la Vega, also known as Zorro.

Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro

Don Diego made his first appearance in The Curse of Capistrano, in an All-Story Weekly pulp publication, and has been making history ever since. In 1920, he looked quite a bit like Douglas Fairbanks, who had purchased the rights and made a film called The Mark of Zorro in 1920. It was the first film released through the company formed by Fairbanks, his wife Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith, otherwise known as United Artists. The Mark of Zorro was a silent film, telling the story of Don Diego Vega who had taken the masked identity of Señor Zorro, a champion of the people. I mention this because the film is on Turner Classic Movies tonight. I love Turner Classic Movies. If you’ve never seen it, or any silent movie, watch it and appreciate the amazing melodrama and innovation of the early 20th century.

Zorro and his secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega have appeared in 16 books, more than 40 films, five film serials, 10 television adventure series, at least six radio programs, three serialized comics, a stage production, musical interludes including Alice Cooper’s 1982 song Zorro’s Ascent, and at least six computer and video games.

The swashbuckler gets around.

Antonio Banderas as Zorro

My favorite remains The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Banderas learning to be Zorro under the tutelage of Don Diego, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Banderas’ character, Don Alejandro, gradually assumes the identity of the masked man who wields a mean rapier and does so with wit, panache and a stolen horse named Toronado. And Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Elena. Interestingly, Banderas’ character is supposedly the brother of Joaquin Murrieta, and Banderas himself is from Andalusia. In other words, he was born to play the bandit Zorro.

Don Diego de la Vega’s sole purpose in life is to avenge the helpless and to punish cruel politicians while aiding the oppressed. That he does so with charm and humor is part of the reason it works. That he does so while California was still a Spanish colony and as it was becoming a territory of independent Mexico before finally becoming a state is one of the many reasons that I’ve always been drawn to the story. I love the history, the era and the people. There is something wonderful about both Spain and Mexico. I know it’s popular right now to demonize the latter, something I refuse to engage in, but from one who has traveled often to places south of the border, all I can say is that it’s filled with history, sacrifice, warmth, great traditions and passionate people. That’s the true mark of Zorro.

The Mark of Zorro begins with these words: “Oppression – by its very nature – creates the power that crushes it. A champion arises – a champion of the oppressed – whether it be a Cromwell or someone unrecorded, he will be there. He is born.”

He began in the 19th century, and while the times have changed, he remains true to his mission of helping the people. In this 21st century, we could use a masked man like Don Diego de la Vega.


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