Question: I was a fan of Lost in Space, but was an even bigger fan of Zorro, who was played by LiS's Guy Williams. One thing I always wondered, though. Since he had a mask on, was that really him with the sword?
Answer: That it was, Jeff. Matter of fact, the only reason Williams, whose acting résumé was pretty much nonexistent up to that point, got the role was that he was mighty handy with a blade. It seems Williams, born Armando Catalano in New York City, was the only one to audition who could actually fence. His father, a skilled fencer in his native Italy, taught his son to handle a sword, but neither of them dreamed how valuable a skill it would prove to be after Williams became a contract player at Universal in the early '50s.
"I used to play anonymous men leaning in doorways with cigarettes dangling from their lips," Williams said of his early films days in a 1958 TV Guide interview. "There were times when I seriously doubted if I were cut out for this business."
He was indeed, and while Williams wasn't quick to drink in the stardom, he quickly saw the difference working on the Disney production, which centered on the hero's adventures in Spanish California in the 1820s and ran on ABC from October 1957 to September 1958, could make in his life. "Success is nebulous," he said. "I've been really too busy to think much about it. Of course, some things have changed. When I go to my gas station, five guys jump out to take care of the car. Before Zorro, I had to honk my horn to get any attention."
That said, of course, such worship could be overwhelming, particularly when it came from the smaller set. Take the time Williams went to hang out with pal Dennis Weaver (McCloud), who was then part of the Gunsmoke cast, and neighborhood kids came out of the woodwork to demand autographs and even pieces of clothing for souvenirs. "I didn't know what to say or do," Williams confessed. "They had me coming and going."
Speaking of coming and going, fans of the show who were tired of seeing their hero cluelessly let beautiful women come in and out of his life without noticing them pestered Disney execs about Zorro's love life (or lack thereof) for some time before they finally caved. So a series of ladies, including Mickey Mouse Club star Annette Funicello, were paraded through the show as love interests. Of course, since the show was a Disney production in the '50s, things never got too hot and heavy. Even the actresses' attitudes toward the work reflected the mores of the time. Take Jolene Brand, who was brought in to catch Zorro's eye and finally got around to kissing him after two episodes. "Everybody had his own idea of how Guy should act and how I should act," she said of shooting the momentous scene. "And all I could think was that Guy is married and I'm married, too."
But I digress, as I am wont to do, no? If you're wondering just how good Williams was with the sword, you're welcome to take the following Hollywood puffery with a grain of salt. Fred Cavens, a Hollywood fencing master who'd earlier worked with the original Zorro, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., on big-screen films in the '20s, was effusive with his praise. "He knows how to take care of himself, all right," Cavens said of Williams. "He even keeps me on my toes."
As for the family tradition, Williams passed his fencing skills on to his son, spending time parrying and thrusting with the lad most mornings. "I just want to teach him what my father taught me," Williams said. "It probably won't be of much use, though."
Oh, c'mon nothing to impress the ladies like a full-on chandelier swing followed by a couple of Zs carved into a few shirts to impress the ladies. Might want to keep your attorney on speed-dial, though.