In the age of Jason Statham, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, and Vin Diesel, we need to acknowledge the original action hero: Douglas Fairbanks.
In 1919 pulp writer Johnston McCulley published his serial story, “The Curse of Capistrano” which introduced the character Zorro (Spanish for “fox”). The following year Douglas Fairbanks, who had a reputation as an athletic comedian much like Buster Keaton, made the Zorro character his own. Fairbanks starred in, produced, and co-wrote the silent film “The Mark of Zorro,” which opened in December 1920.
Fairbanks’ Zorro was committed to justice and social action while exhibiting a great sense of humor and parkour-like athletic prowess. “The Mark of Zorro” was a box office hit and more. Fairbanks’ Zorro inspired comic book writers to incorporate aspects of Fairbanks and Zorro’s appeal into their own heroes.
Inspired by Fairbank’s Zorro
Other characters who were inspired by Douglas Fairbanks’s portrayal of Zorro include Batman and Superman. The similarities between Don Diego Vega’s Zorro and Bruce Wayne’s Batman are many. Both wear head-to-toe black costumes and operate out of a cave/cellar under their estate. Zorro and Batman are both are assisted by their butlers – Don Diego Vegas’ Bernardo, and Bruce Wayne’s Alfred.
Batman writer Bob Kane said,
“The rich foppish Don Diego, Zorro’s alter ego, inspired Bruce Wayne’s facade of being a bored, wealthy idler and playboy.”
When it came to Superman, artist Joe Shuster based Superman’s look on Douglas Fairbanks.
Shuster said of Fairbanks,
“He had stance which I often used in drawing Superman…you’ll see in many of his roles, including Robin Hood, that he always stood with his hands on his hips and his feet spread apart, laughing–taking nothing seriously.”
Just as Don Diego Vega brought social justice to Old California, Kal El/Clark Kent brought truth, justice, and the American way to Metropolis. The Superheroes in today’s many superhero movies are descendants of Batman and Superman who owe their origins to the original action hero: Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3089569 for the image.