Zorro Days at Disneyland
by Todd James Pierce
The post this Monday includes some very rare footage. I’ve owned these reels for years, and they contain the only film I’ve ever seen of Zorro Days at Disneyland. In fact, in this video, there are actually two different films of Zorro Days edited together. The main segment in this video—the stunt show—comes from a 1958 performance, while the parade footage comes from a November appearance in 1959. (Did you notice the Christmas decorations draped above Main Street?) If the Walt Disney Company owns any film footage of Zorro Days, I’ve never seen it.
So why is this footage so rare?
First off, Zorro Days at Disneyland occurred only five times, each for a single weekend. There were three Zorro weekends in 1958, one in 1959, and a final one in 1960. Each of these events featured the principal stars for the ABC/Disney Zorro TV show, which included Guy Williams (as Zorro) as well as his stunt double from the show (Buddy Van Horn). It is almost surely Buddy Van Horn (as Zorro) performing the high-flying stunts atop the Golden Horseshoe, with Guy Williams (as Zorro) elegantly riding his horse in the parade and (likely) lifting his hat to the crowd as he emerges triumphantly from the Mark Twain.
Another reason this footage is rare: all five Zorro weekends occurred during the school year, when Disneyland was relatively empty. In the video, you’ll notice: no large crowds. These events were designed to draw Southern California locals back to the park as repeat visitors. Over the years, I’ve seen a couple dozen snapshots and slides of the Zorro stunt show. In all of those images, I’ve never seen an audience much larger than a couple hundred people. Maybe three hundred at most.
Each Zorro Weekend had three basic components: a parade featuring Zorro, a stunt show featuring Zorro, and a stage show in Magnolia Park where (late in the day) Zorro crossed swords with children, many of whom came to the park dressed in black capes and masks. I’ve never found movie footage of this last event, but surely it must exist somewhere. (If your grandparents have a reel, drop me a note. And drop it soon. Even well-stored Kodachrome reels from the 1950s are now losing their sharpness, their colors fading with time.)
As always, here’re a few things to notice while watching the video:
* The celebrities. In its early days, Walt consciously promoted Disneyland as a place where visitors might meet Hollywood stars. The Mouseketeers were the most regular celebrities to appear in the park. But along with them, the park occasionally hosted Fess Parker (as Davy Crockett) and the teenaged stars of Spin & Marty. To establish this connection in the video, I’ve included a few shots of the Mouseketeers: Linda Hughes (in 1957) signing autographs and the big Moosekateer, Roy Williams creating doodles for kids (probably in 1959). In these days, Disneyland not only presented itself as a series of Hollywood-style themed sets or "lands," it was filled with actual stars.
* No celebrity handlers. Now in all likelihood, lurking somewhere in the background, there was a security officer attached to Linda and probably even one for Roy. But in these images, notice the intimate space between the visitors and the celebrities—particularly at Roy’s table. People are lingering and seem to be engaging him in casual conversation. Could this ever happen today? I sort of doubt it.
* The crossed timeline. To match the music, I arranged the events of a typical Zorro day out-of-order. The Zorro stunt show would always be followed by the parade. Guy Williams (as Zorro) would race down from the Mark Twain, enter the Golden Horseshoe and then—perhaps a few minutes later—he would join the entire cast for a parade. Led by the Disneyland band, the parade would venture from Frontierland to Main Street, with some actors on horseback and others in a festive horse-drawn cart. I’ve reversed it here so that as the music concludes, the video can fade as Zorro gestures with gratitude to the audience. But just so you know, that parade sequence—the one featured early in the video—would actually follow the stunt show.
* The trees. Notice how short they are in Frontierland. The Zorro stunt show could never happen today because the trees in Frontierland have matured, blocking necessary sightlines that allow the audience to view the action atop the Mark Twain. Also notice, the wide-open spaces throughout the park.
So now that you’ve got the show notes, buckle into your DeLorean, spark a bolt of lightning, and flame those tires back to 1958, as Zorro once again unsheathes his sword (rather oddly) atop a Mississippi riverboat.
And if, by chance, you do have a photo of Zorro days you’d like to share here, drop me a note. I’d love to post it up. Otherwise, next Monday, we’re globetrotting to Germany. Come back then to see what it’s all about.
Todd James Pierce