Friday, September 3, 2010

The Day Zorro Came to Flint by Tom Pohrt

Author, illustrator and Flint Expatriate Tom Pohrt remembers the day pulp writer Johnston McCulley's creation walked the streets of Vehicle City.


“A friend of the people, EL ZORRO!”

1958: Unemployment in the U.S. was at 7% and a gallon of gas was 25 cents; Sputnik burned up re-entering earth’s atmosphere in early January and Nikita Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union; Joao Gilberto introduced the cooled down samba sound of Bossa Nova in Rio while Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army was advancing on Havana; Ted Williams signed with the Red Sox; the right wing John Birch Society was founded; Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel “Lolita” is published in the U.S. and the first International House of Pancakes opened in Toluca Lake, California.

And Zorro came to Flint. It was a heady year.

In August of 1958, when I was five years old, Zorro did come to Flint, Michigan. Zorro, aka Don Diego de la Vega, was played by a second generation Italian-American actor named Guy Williams, whose Christian name was Armando Catalano. My brothers and I were glued to the TV each week to watch Zorro on The Wonderful World of Disney. El Zorro was a friend of the people and an enemy of injustice to three young boys brought up in post war Flint. He wore a black mask, cape and hat and wielded a wicked sword, each week whipping a capital Z across some Spanish villain’s pants or shirt. Zorro had an Errol Flynn mustache and matinee idol good looks. In short, Diego de la Vega was the essence of '50s cool. Google Williams’ screen test for the role he later played on Lost In Space. The guy knew how to light a cigarette.

The Zorro TV show was co-sponsored by AC Spark Plugs and this was the reason why he was visiting Flint. Our father held a white collar job at AC, giving us entree to the factory lot where Guy Williams and Henry Calvin appeared to tour the plant and sign autographs. Henry Calvin played the overweight Sergeant Demetrio Lopez Garcia, Zorro’s comic foil.

Here is a photograph of my brothers Karl and Dick getting Sergeant Garcia’s autograph. I’m standing there in short pants, my hand reaching up but with no paper or pencil for a signature. I remember that rather awkward moment. I recall that Henry Calvin shook my hand. I do remember I was a bit afraid of Guy Williams. He was tall at 6’3 and just too cool to approach. I came across these images while going through and organizing some family photographs. The photo of my brothers and I with Henry Calvin looks like it might have been a publicity shot for AC.

There is another small group of photos that my father took of Calvin and Williams signing autographs along with several of the AC beauty queens, from Flint and Milwaukee. I also came across another group of snap shots showing a parade held later in downtown Flint, celebrating GM’s Golden Milestone. They show a military parade with numerous floats, including one with Zorro and Sergeant Garcia in costume. They appear to be acting out their roles for the entertainment of the crowd.

Here's a clipping I found from an AC newsletter titled: WARM WELCOME LEAVES MARK ON ZORRO! Hard not to feel a certain innocence-lost looking back on these images, when in fact this took place during the heart of the Cold War era.


  1. Video of the event:

  2. Shawn, thanks for the link. I'd seen the video before for the 50th anniversary but forgot about the Zorro connection. I think you can see one of the Pohrt brothers in the video, but no sign of Tom and his striped socks.

  3. And in one of the parade photos you can see the oddly named Honolulu Conservatory of Music, which my mom often talks about. What's up with that name?

  4. Don't know where that name came from for sure, but Hawaiian Music was big in the early part of the Twentieth Century. I have a program from 1967 that shows some of the students as coming from that studio. The program is for a competition at the Sheraton Cadillac in Detroit. It featured accordion, violin, guitar and drum competitions from various studios in the Midwest, including that one. If I can locate the program again, I'll see what I can find out about it.

  5. Concert, Universal, and Lowe were the Studios listed in Flint. Honolulu Conservatory was listed in Mt. Clemens, so it might have been a chain of Studios.

  6. Everything you wanted to know about Honolulu Conservatory Of Music.

  7. I can not believe how much Guy Williams looks like George Clooney in his screen test video! And why do they offer to him to light up a smoke during both parts of the screen test, was smoking a part of the role of the father in Lost in Space?

  8. Yes, he seems like Clooney's older brother or something. He's also mesmerizingly cool. He seems like he couldn't care less if he got the part and he's mildly amused that he's being asked these questions. Probably why he got the part.

  9. Stringbean - Actors have to do things on camera and on stage, pick up things, push buttons, ect. The word they use is "business" and smoking was just a way of see how he moved while doing his "business" (lol) I don't think he smoked on the show.

    You may have also noticed the off-camera voice tell him to say hello to people off camera. Namely the stars of "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" Richard Basehart and David Hedison. They wern't there, they just wanted to see which side was his "good side"

  10. My Dad had a retail store in downtown Flint, two half-blocks from Saginaw, at which there was an aluminum stairs-type stockroom ladder on casters. For the parade, for which people had been arriving for some time resulting in extensive crowds along the sidewalks...made up of people much too tall for little kids to see Zorro Dad pushed that ladder down the sidewalk.

    Thus my sister and I got to watch from our six foot high vantage point as Zorro cruised by, sitting up on the folded top of a GM convertible, and smiling and waving as if he was a close personal friend of several thousand people.

    For some reason my Mom and Dad declined the opportunity to climb partway up so they could see over the crowd, too. Maybe Zorro wasn't their favorite TV show.

  11. If you're curious about the reference to "Only You, Dick Daring" at the end of the screen test, and why it gets some laughs, here's a Time Magazine piece on the controversial book. Not exactly a popular book among tv executives at the time:,9171,898248,00.html

  12. I want to thank Mr.Gordon Young for presenting the "Flint Expatriates" on the web and Mr. Tom Pohrt for writing "The Day Zorro Came to Flint." Also for the excellent picture of Zorro and Sgt. Garcia.

    I have been a Zorro collector since 1990. For the last 8 years I have been putting together a Guy Williams’ Filmography and acting career list. This also includes all of his live appearances. It took me a long time to find out the exact day of Zorro's appearance in Flint and I had that down as August 14, 1958. It wasn't until I read the Flint Blog and the article from the newsletter that was provided and has the date as Aug. 15. Once a year or so, the list goes out to various Zorro fan lists in the web.

    So thank you so much both for the information and specially for the great pictures you shared with us.
    I’m sometimes Guy Williams Jr’s fencing partner in the East and West coasts when he represents and honors his Dad in conventions.



  13. 5 years late but I wanted to say to the author thank you very much for having shared this and allowing us another glimpse in time to Guy Williams and his glorious Zorro era. How wonderful that you were there! And thanks for sharing the wonderful photos. If you have more to share, would love to see them. For those interested, currently sharing some (mainly) behind the scenes photos at my twitter. Thanks again!


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