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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live out loud

Comments (2) -

7/25/2011 1:11:42 PM #

I loved that feel good movie and Antonio was HOT! ...and mason liked zeta-jones.

Pam United States

9/26/2011 6:03:32 PM #

I like it. However you missed the best Zorro of all time. The 1950's Walt Disney Zorro. That's my personal favorite and, in my opinion, the 'real' Don Diego/ Zorro.

Nice vid, by the way. What song is that?

Sarah United States

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