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1958 TV Guide Article On Walt Disney Zorro
Originally donated by Joanne Slappo.
Pictures by Julep Parker
|Article from TV Guide -- 26 April 1958 -- Zorro Foiled His Rivals
Just one year ago Guy Williams was a free-lance actor one of thousands in New York and Hollywood whose next job was about as dependable as the weather at a picnic. Then he made a screen test for Walt Disney and zippo! he was Zorro!
He got the nod, apparently, not because of any great acting ability but because of all the other men who tested for the role, he alone could actually fence. (Zorro, the black-costumed avenger of injustice in Early California, whose mark is a jagged "Z," has little use for the usual gun; its sabers for him.)
"My father started teaching me how to fence when I was seven," says Williams. "Its in the Catalano blood."
Born Armando Catalano in New York City, the future Zorro had little choice by to learn swordsmanship. His father, Attilio, had been a skilled fencer back in his native Italy. While other fathers in the neighborhood were teaching their sons how to pitch, field and hit, he was teaching his scion how to parry, thrust and lunge.
Where Williams would be today if he hadnt absorbed the ancient art is anybodys guess. He had embarked on an acting career in his late teens, gone through the usual dramatic studies in New York and eventually wound up with a contract at Universal-International in 1952.
"I used to play anonymous men leaning in doorways with cigarettes dangling from their lips," says Williams of his film days. "There were times when I seriously doubted if I were cut out for this business."
Today, as the star of ABCs Zorro series, Guy has left doubt behind. He knows that fate has played him a kind trick and is out to make the most of it while it lasts.
"Success is nebulous," he says. "Ive 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 to take care of the car. Before Zorro, I had to honk my horn to get any attention."
Williams confesses, however, to being nonplussed by large groups of children. On a recent visit to long-time friend Dennis Weaver (who plays lame Chester in Gunsmoke) he was swarmed by neighborhood children who demanded his autograph and bits of his clothing as souvenirs. "I didnt know what to say or do. They had me coming and going."
On the elaborate outdoor Zorro set at the Disney studios, Williams is a different man. He works hard on his lines, practices riding and fencing.
Fred Cavens, a veteran Hollywood fencing master (he instructed Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., when the original Zorro films were made in the 1920s), nods his head with respect for Williams ability. "He knows how to take care of himself, all right. He even keeps me on my toes."
Another man whom Williams keeps on his toes is Gene Sheldon, the actor who portrays Zorros deaf-mute aide, Bernardo. "We argue all the time," says Sheldon. "Usually about how we should play a scene together."
One of the things that has zoomed Zorro to a contending position in the ratings list is Williams undeniable, wavy-haired, flashing-smiled charm. Julie van Zandt, [Magdalena Montez] the female lead in one of the episodes, readily admits she fell victim to it. "Ive never had so much help from an actor. Hes cooperative, gracious and unselfish. Hes also a big tease. He kept telling me how great I was but I couldnt decide whether or not he was serious."
Williams personal life is less hectic than his professional one. Married to ex-Powers model Janice Cooper; he is the father of a six-year-old son, Steve. They reside above the Sunset Strip (which connects Hollywood and Beverly Hills) in an old Spanish-type apartment house built by silent-movie star Norma Talmadge.
"Its quiet up there," says Williams. "After a days work I hardly have enough strength to budge."
Tired or not, however, Williams manages to carry on the Catalano tradition. Almost every morning he spends some time fencing with his young son. "I just want to teach him what my father taught me. It probably wont be much use, though."
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