If you grew up in the 1950s, when you think of Zorro as Guy Williams in the Disney series. Or if you grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, Duncan Regehr may have provided your vision of Zorro. Others may remember Antonio Banderas as Zorro and for many classic film buffs, it is without a doubt Douglas Fairbanks who defines the character in the silent film version.
Zorro did make it to radio in 1957, in a short-lived serial based on the Curse of Capistrano, however only two episodes of this series survive.
Zorro has been interpreted and reinterpreted so many times throughout the years that it’s hard to remember that Zorro originiated in the pulp magazines in stories by Johnston McCulley. may have passed Zorro by for the most part, modern producers of radio drama have picked up the torch.
The Colonial Radio Theatre brought two of these stories to radio in Zorro and the Pirate Raiders and Zorro Rides Again.
In Zorro and the Pirate Raiders, the commandante of the pueblo, Captain Ramon, forms an alliance with cutthroat pirates to raid the pueblo and split the booty. Ramon also orders the pirates to kill Don Diego de la Vega and kidnap his bride-to-be. Zorro thwarts the attack on Don Diego with the help of other caballeros and then pursues the pirates across the sea.
In Zorro Rides Again, Zorro has retired after The Pirate Raiders but is forced to return when an imposter begins to commit injustices in the name of Zorro. Zorro must clear his name and find the imposter before friends turn against him and the government executes.
These Zorro productions are superb swashbuckling adventures. Each feature length adventure was filled with action, adventure, and surprise twists throughout the story. The sound effects were amazing, and help to transport you back to Old California.
There were differences between this production and most Zorro adaptations. The biggest was that Zorro had allies: twenty caballeros who fought alongside him. This is a stark difference between modern productions which have Zorro fighting a lone battle against evil, which has become the trend. However, the CRT’s version of Zorro remains faithful to the original vision of McCulley.
Zorro and his caballeros are courageous and gallant, living by a code of honor. McCulley’s vision of Zorro was as a North American version of the knights of old and this really shows through in the Colonial Radio Theater production. The cast from the stars to their supporting players were all excellent. In particular, Sam Donato shined in the role of Sergeant Garcia. Oftentimes, the role of the Sergeant in Zorro is often played as buffoon or coward, but Donato’s portrayal was more nuanaced, and there was a lot more to Sergeant Garcia than meets these eyes.
There were very few flaws in these productions, and they were a result of being faithful to the source material, so I can’t complain about them. I will say that when a radio drama features a fight between two guys with knives in their mouths, the theater of the mind has to work overtime to supply the images.
Overall, these are great productions that represent Zorro as he was meant to be and provide hours of fun and excitement.
Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.
Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0
If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle
This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.
I must agree CRT did a fine job of producing the D.J. Arneson adaptations of Johnston (not Jonathon) McCulley’s second and third novels. Zorro and the Pirate Raiders (originally titled The Further Adventures of Zorro) is like a 1940s serial cliffhanger filled with action and suspenseful situations. It stays true to the book most of the time with only minor alterations. Hugh Metzler gives an outstanding performance as the pirate Bardosa and Shonna McErachern is quite enjoyable as Lolita. Kevin Cirone gives a fine performance as Diego/Zorro but his voice does leave a little to be desired. Though in all fairness there aren’t many actors who could replace the likes of Guy Williams, Duncan Regehr, Tyrone Power, or even Antonio Banderas.
Zorro Rides Again is also well produced featuring a bevy of swashbuckling action which is kept inline with the original story. This story’s dastardly plot to do away with Zorro keeps the listener glued to the story.
Both stories feature good voice acting and great sound effects. One major deviation from the original stories is the use of Sgt Garcia rather than that of Sgt Gonzalez. Arneson made the name change based on the popularity of the Disney Zorro series. As pointed out in the main article above, McCulley’s first three stories Zorro did have a ‘fighting legion’ who called themselves “The Avengers”. However, in the Disney series Zorro fought alone as he did in The Mark of Zorro  and in the New World Zorro series featuring Duncan Regehr. Interesting to note is the fact that McCulley himself worked closely with Walt Disney on his version of Zorro.
Also fans of Zorro will be sure to enjoy another Zorro radio drama production that is now available. The Mark of Zorro (originally titled The Curse of Capistrano) from Hollywood Theater of the Ear. This production features a outstanding cast which includes Val Kilmer, Ruth Livier, Elizabeth Peña, Armin Shimerman, Meshach Taylor and a host of fine actors. This too is an outstanding production which presents not only an incredible story but some of the best acting ever heard. The story stays true to the book in nearly every instance with the exception of the ending. However, it is understandable that the ending was slightly altered. McCulley in all honesty should have changed the ending when his book was re-released as The Mark of Zorro. The slight change in the ending to the audio version makes it possible for the next two Zorro stories in McCulley’s Zorro chronology (Pirate Raiders and Zorro Rides Again) to take place with a smooth transition.
Whether fans of Zorro or swashbuckling adventure radio drama fans should thoroughly enjoy all 3 Zorro full-cast audio presentations.
Thank you for the comment and the correction! Fixed the spelling. The Hollywood Radio Theater adaptation sounds interesting with Val Kilmer (who once played Batman) as Zorro. I’ll have to check that out.