The 50s and 60s were full of masked heroes that defeated foes and evil-doers throughout the wild west. One of the most notable is Zorro. Guy Williams played the swashbuckling hero on Disney's popular TV show, forever immortalizing the character in Hollywood and in the hearts of viewers. Though the series ended too soon, fans all over the world were drawn to Williams' charm, skills with the sword, and comedic timing as he protected Californians from the cruel Comandante.
But what happened to the actor after he hung up Zorro's cape?
Who Was Guy Williams?
Williams grew up in New York City as Armando Joseph Catalano, born into a Sicilian family of immigrants. Standing over 6 feet tall with good looks to boot, Williams decided he wanted to pursue an acting career but it was short-lived. He spent a few years working as a welder, an accountant, and even inspected airline parts during World War II. It was only while working as a luggage salesman that he finally decided to send in some photos to modeling agencies to see what would happen. Before long, he was appearing on magazine covers and going by "Guy Williams."
In the mid-40s, Williams signed a one-year contract with MGM and had a small part in the film The Beginning or the End. He then signed a contract with Universal, which led to a move to Los Angeles and roles in Bonzo Goes to College, The Mississippi Gambler, The Golden Blade, The Man from the Alamo, Take Me to Town, Highway Patrol, and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. But his big break would come in 1957 when he caught the attention of Walt Disney.
Disney was looking for a handsome hero to lead his new series centered around nobleman Don Diego de la Vega and his alter ego, the masked avenger Zorro. Based on the character first created by Johnston McCulley in 1919, it seemed like a guaranteed hit. But it was key to find the perfect lead. Disney had released a casting call for Zorro with the stipulation that the actor needed to have knowledge of fencing. Williams caught his attention after his roles on The Lone Ranger, Highway Patrol, and Men of Annapolis. After interviewing Williams, Disney instructed him to grow a mustache "neither very long or thick" and start fencing lessons immediately. He was even offered a hefty salary at the time of $2,500 per week...today's equivalent of roughly $23,000. Not too shabby!
Williams trained in fencing for the many swordfights featured on the series with Belgian champion Fred Cavens and even started taking guitar lessons. The new series debuted on ABC on October 10, 1957, and was immediately popular among viewers. Unfortunately, a legal issue between ABC and Disney led to the show's early cancelation after only 78 episodes. But reruns until the early 2000s kept the series popular among longtime fans.
After Zorro, Williams went on to appear on Bonanza as Will Cartwright, Ben's nephew. He then starred as Professor John Robinson in the popular CBS series Lost in Space, the head of the family exploring the galaxy on the Jupiter 2. The sci-fi series only lasted three seasons but was immensely popular and became a cult classic hit.
By the '70s, Williams retired in Buenos Aires, Argentina after falling in love with the people and the culture there on previous visits. He passed away in Argentina in 1989 from an apparent heart attack.