Bad luck in 1953 turned into good luck in 1957 for Guy Williams, the giant of a man who is now delighting TV audiences with his portrayal of the masked rider, Zorro. Four years ago, Guy's movie career seemed to have reached an abrupt end when the actor was thrown from a horse and suffered serious injury to his left shoulder and arm. He came out of the accident with impairment of muscular control of the left arm. In desperate hope that exercise could restore muscular coordination, Guy started fencing lessons. Within six months, he had regained full use of the arm and had become a crack fencer. This skill clinched the dashing role of Zorro for Guy a short four years later.
But who is Zorro? First, the product of Johnston McCulley, who created in fiction form, the romantic hero who led a double life, son of a wealthy California rancher by day, the masked defender of the oppressed by night. In mask and cape, Zorro battles the evil Monastario, a tyrannical despot besetting the good people of the Spanish Los Angeles of the 1800's. Zorro has sworn to defeat Monastario and leaves upon the scene of each of his victories the jagged letter "Z", etched with the tip of his rapier.
To younger TV viewers, this fabulous adventurer will be a brand new character. Dressed completely in black, with a black cape swinging from him shoulders, black mask, riding a huge black horse, Zorro is the epitome of menace. To older viewers, the character may recall the famous silent movie about Zorro which starred dashing Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., as the defender of the oppressed people of Los Angeles. In 1940, Tyrone Power appeared in The Mark of Zorro, another successful and thrilling presentation of the same character. And now Zorro rides again, this time played by Guy Williams, who was cast for the part by Walt Disney.
Physically, Guy is a lithe, six-foot-three, well proportioned, one-hundred-eighty-five pounds, with gray-green eyes and dark wavy hair. He has the habit of standing tensed on the balls of his feet like a fencer ready to explode into action.
It was this combination of Zorro-like physical and personal attributes which first caught Disney's eye. When the call for Zorro went out, fencing ability was a prime requisite. Director Norman Foster of the Zorro series was one of the first people Guy impressed when he went to the Disney Studio for the initial audition. Of the twenty candidates candidates casting directors Lee Traver and Jack Lavin had sent to Foster, Guy was a standout. Foster says, "We had checked every studio in town for film footage on our candidates. I was immediately impressed with Guy's looks, but I wanted to be sure he could handle a sword.
"So, the first day, I had him do three different test fencing scenes. From that film, Guy appeared to have been born with a foil in his hand. As far as I was concerned, Guy fit Zorro to a "T", or should I say, "Z"? From the beginning, I knew he was the fellow I wanted to play the part." Guy had the Old-World charm, the looks, the fencing ability and acting talent which Zorro demanded. He was given the role.
Guy, whose real name is Armand Catalano, was born in the Fort George area of New York City to an "Old World" way of life. His grandfather, a wealthy timber grower from Messina, Italy, had years before purchased some land in New Jersey which he offered to his four sons. Of the four, only Guy's father, Attilio Catalano, decided to make the New World his home. He settled in New York City to raise his family, and became an insurance broker.
Guy was an active child, not nearly so interested in school as he was in sports. Anything that kept him inside the house and off the playing field he remembers with disfavor. He mentions, for example, the family custom of leisurely dining. "I never appreciated good food," he admits, "because I knew it would be hours before dinner was finished. I could never understand how my family could sit so long at tables talking, sipping wine, eating apples and cheese. In short, we were never a peanut-butter sandwich sort of family. At the time, I wished we were. Now I can see the charm of such Old World dining. Frequently, my wife Janice and I have guests, and we find ourselves still eating and talking at midnight."
Guy's parents sought to give him the best education possible. After attending Public School 189 and George Washington High School in New York City, he entered and graduated from Peekskill Military Academy, Peekskill, New York. "As a student, I loved mathematics," Guy says, "but was bored by most other subjects. My interest in dramatics developed only because I hated my English literature course. We were reading 'Evangeline' and I figured I had had just about enough of that. So I dropped the course and took dramatics."
Actually, Guy's real interest in dramatics didn't develop until after he left school, tried his hand at a few odd jobs and, finally, became a professional model. On one of these modeling jobs, in 1948, he met his wife, Janice. "We were to pose for Russell Patterson, who was doing an illustration involving a couple skiing. Russell was enthusiastically describing the beauty of the young Powers model who was to pose with me. As a bachelor, I was interested in beautiful girls, but had decided no woman could be as stunning as Russell implied. Then Janice walked in. She was the most gorgeous girl I'd even seen. In fact, it is now eight years later, and I still remember how staggered I was by her beauty."
Janice, it seems, had a similar shocked reaction. "After we finished posing that day, we had coffee together," she says. "I'm sure I haven't missed seeing him for a day since then, except for his recent location trips." The whirlwind courtship started at once. Guy lived just east of Central Park, I lived on Central Park West," recalls Janice. "We started the habit of meeting for breakfast at Rumpelmayer's Restaurant, which is on Central Park South. A very handy arrangement, although we were both so much in love, we didn't eat much. After work, we'd meet at the Red Coach Restuarant or one of the little French restaurants which Guy knew. New York is a cosmopolitan city. Guy, born and raised there, impressed me. I was just a little Tennessee gal, not used to the big city. Guy seemed to me a most handsome gentleman with great savoir faire. I couldn't help falling in love. I didn't realize until recently how well Guy knew the New York area. One of our favorite eating places was a cozy little restaurant called The Bird and Bottle, up near Sleepy Hollow in the Hudson Valley. We drove there for dinner nearly every week. The owners always had a fire burning in the fireplace when we arrived. They always treated us like a king and queen. I later read in a national magazine that The Bird and Bottle is world-famous! Under the influence of such food and Guy's charm, you can't blame a girl for being swept off her feet in less that two months' time."
After their marriage by Judge Harold Menzer in Harrison, New York, Guy and Janice spent their honeymoon in upstate New York in a great colonial lodge with a lake just outside their window. "It was all terribly romantic," Janice says.
In 1952, Hollywood coach Sophie Rosenstein arranged a screen test for Guy in New York. As a result of this test, Universal-International Studios signed him. Before going to the Coast, however, Williams found regular acting work in New York's Neighborhood Playhouse and in such television productions as Studio One.
He remained under his Universal contract for a year, but wasn't given any major roles. Shortly before winding up his work at U-I, the riding accident, mentioned before, occured. This led to fencing, and fencing led to the Zorro role.
Like Zorro, Guy is a big, active, powerfully built and athletic young man. When he walks, he swaggers. When he comes into a room, he seems to leap in. By contrast, he's an easy conversationalist, and jumps at any opportunity to discuss his favorite subjects. Astronomy, hi-fi, chess, and children. (The Williamses have a five-year old son, Steve.) True to his Italian birthright, he gestures with his hands when speaking.
Guy's manner is debonair and lighthearted, but he has his serious side. He considers the Zorro assignment a career. Nearly every minute he is not working in front of the camera, he is studying next week's script.
His conscientiousness shows in many ways: When he first assigned the Zorro role, Guy knew very little about the guitar. But Zorro is a guitarist. Mr. Disney put well-known guitarist Vincente Gomez in charge of giving Guy lessons. After three weeks, Gomez told Disney that was adept enough to "get by." But Guy didn't want to "just get by." He kept at the lessons until he could play very acceptably.
Guy also wants to be busy, and loves a heavy work load. Up at six A.M. for a seven o'clock call at the studio, he is usually the first person on the set. Guy good-naturedly describes his work as "only a half-day job, twelve hours. It's scene, scene, scene, one right after the other. Then, at home, it's learning scene, scene, scene for the next day. Saturdays and Sundays, I study ahead on the next two shows, so that when sixteen pages of dialogue come along, I'm ready for them."
In spite of the busy schedule, Guy finds time to play with his five-year old son, Steve. A junior Zorro, Steve is all boy. He's a naturally athletic youngster. Guy keeps two swords at home, which he and Stevie use to play at rehearsing Zorro fencing scenes. "Stevie's getting the idea real well," says his father. "The other night I bent over to pick up something and he gave me a whack while my back was turned."
Guy and Janice share some rather exotic hobbies. To further their interest in astronomy, they have a telescope set up in the bedroom. Guy proudly describes it as follows;" It has a six-inch reflector and works on the same principle as the two-hundred-inch telescope at Mount Palomar. The equatorial mounts weigh sixty-five pounds, it's not portable, and has great resolving power. The reflector makes the moon this big," he says enthusiastically, spreading his arms as wide as they will go. "In the bedroom, a moon that large can be very romantic. It's really out of this world. Recently, Jan and I saw the planet Mars when it had come closer to the Earth than it will again for seventeen years. We even tried to catch a glimpse of the satellites, but no luck."
For their photography, another shared hobby, Janice and Guy have a complete darkroom set up in their studio apartment. Japanese prints and some of their own photographic work decorate the walls. And son Steve is a favorite subject for pictures. Janice says, "We have boxes of pictures of Steve. I'm sure he's one of the most photographed children in the world."
The Williams' musical tastes are broad, but Guy's favorite records, out of his collection of 300 LP's, are the last five quartets of Beethoven. He explains, "As a composer, Beethoven was constantly curious about music and constantly exploring new areas of awareness, new areas of sensation."
Whether he's dynamically discussing the stars, fencing, music, the merits of a rare wine or a poetic love song, Guy Williams is as much at home as his fictional counterpart, Zorro, the romantic adventurer of early California.