I sometimes forget that a majority of the people in the world can only remember historical events ranging into the 1950s these days, so the history of how America arrived to where it is today is lost to them, except in history books and documentaries. Of those it has only been during the last ten years that both took a hard look at the liberalism that seeped into American culture by the boat load during the 1930s to the 1950s. For most people they have no concept of what America was like before The New Deal, or The Great Society–programs created by extremely progressive presidents. People are completely unaware of what life was like when Woodrow Wilson attempted to crown himself king of America, riding on the coat tails of Teddy Roosevelt who tried with every fiber in his body to make America like Europe with his love or royalty and political hierarchy.
Equally baffling to people is the reason I think of the 1920s as the premier time for American ideals to come into fruition under the hands-off leadership of President Calvin Coolidge. I forget that everyone does not practice with bullwhips and have a love for old movies that brought out the best of the Hollywood era, and paved the way for a future of mythmaking cinema that would deliver to the world ideals about freedom, honor, and tenacious respect. After all, we live in the year 2013 and the days of Calvin Coolidge were a long time ago. Society has “progressed” so much beyond those “primitive” times; at least that is the popular misconception of our day.
However, I would make the argument that American society has not advanced, as many believe, but is regressing toward the primitive mentality of mysticism, instead of away from it, and it is books, music, and movies that shape the politics of our age, which is why politicians have learned to control Hollywood with a short leash, and shared public relations resources. I forget that I am probably the only human being within a thousand mile radius who has as one of the treasured literary classics called The Curse of Capistrano otherwise known as The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley published in August of 1919. That book is a window to a long forgotten time representing long forgotten and suppressed values that I cherish immensely.
I loved The Curse of Capistrano so much, as McCulley wrote the very first story of Zorro with such passion that I used his style as my template to The Symposium of Justice, which was my modern tribute to Zorro from The Curse of Capistrano. The Mark of Zorro is the classic adventure that not only launched a legend, but it built Hollywood with the very first brick. Johnston’s Zorro took place in a bygone era of sprawling haciendas and haughty caballeros who suffer beneath the whip-lash of oppression. Missions were pillaged, native peasants abused and innocent men and women were persecuted by the corrupt governor and his army. But a champion of freedom riding the horse-trodden highways at night, his identity hidden behind a mask, the laughing outlaw Zorro who defied the tyrant’s might. A deadly marksman and a demon swordsman, his flashing blade left behind the mark of the “Z” for all in authority to fear! Reading the novel is like reading the thoughts of people from a different time, and compared to how things are today, they truly were.
As fate would have it Douglas Fairbanks bought up the rights to The Curse of Capistrano and turned the book into a silent movie in 1920 called The Mark of Zorro. The movie was a smashing success as the Woodrow Wilson era of big progressive government came to an end, which without question found its way into plot of Johnston’s story. The Warren G. Harding’s presidency was filled with scandal but good intentions leaving the man to die in office during 1923 leaving Calvin Coolidge to take over as President until 1929. In 1925 Douglas Fairbanks made a sequel to The Mark of Zorro called Don Q Son of Zorro where he played not only the son of Zorro, but also the dad. About 7 minutes into the film, Don Q states that his father, “Zorro was the greatest American there was.” The film was essentially about a class of progressive European ideals intersecting with American individualism. It was a bench mark film for me and many of my whip friends because the stunts that Douglas Fairbanks did in the film served as the goal post for what all whip performers work off of to this very day. The bullwhip was so important to Douglas Fairbanks in Don Q Son of Zorro that it is essentially the most memorable part of his character.
Going back and watching that film is a time machine into a different time and place when people thought a lot differently about things than they do today. So to share that experience as I have been doing with other bullwhip related feature films lately, I have put the entire film Don Q Son of Zorro up here for your viewing pleasure. The first impression many people have about a silent film is that they can’t get used to not having people speak. A silent film relied exclusively on music and the action on a screen to make the performance come to life. It’s kind of like reading a book that is in motion. Douglas Fairbanks knew that the way to capture his audiences’ attention was to perform stunts that they could never think of doing. The stunt work he performed in Don Q Son of Zorro is unparalleled then and since. Since 1925 Zorro, has been associated with a bullwhip because of Douglas Fairbanks’ work in Don Q. This would go on in film for the next 80 years. I have watched Don Q Son of Zorro many times, and because of that, I have seen what the world was in the 1920s and studied hard what values built Hollywood before the incursion of communism that spread during the Red Decade as Ayn Rand warned about in the late 1940s along with Walt Disney. CLICK HERE TO REVIEW. So do yourself a favor and watch Don Q Son of Zorro parts one and two below, and compare the values shown in the film with the watered down valor of today.
It was on these kinds of films from Douglas Fairbanks that Hollywood would grow into what it is today a booming town of entertainment where left leaning politicians recognized more quickly the value of capturing a message and shaping it with influence so to achieve political gains. But things were not always so watered down. I know about these films and novels of this era because of my exposure to bullwhip art, and more specifically Western Arts. Actors, and stuntmen like Douglas Fairbanks are the kind of people who built the foundations of Western Arts, so they are revered in a similar way that progressives think fondly of such as Woodrow Wilson.
We live in an age where we think that movies are old if they were done in the 1970s, but in essence movies have been copying off each other since the 1940s. They are telling the same stories, but just telling them with a bit more polish then a silent film was able to capture. In Don Q Son of Zorro Douglas Fairbanks puts out a candle in one take with a 10’ bullwhip using an overhead flick move, not easy to do. For a project I did for a camera crew in Hollywood a few years ago, I was tasked with putting out a cigarette on the ground with a 12’ bullwhip and it took me 14 takes. (I was doing it backwards so I don’t feel badly about it.) But the whip stunts done in Don Q were simply light years ahead of their time and wouldn’t be even attempted again with such scope until The Mask of Zorro in 1998 starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. It took Steven Spielberg to executive produce the project through his Amblin studio. The film had been in the works as early as 1992 with Spielberg wanting to direct the film with Sean Connery playing the older version of Zorro. Even so, it took 6 years to get the film done with Spielberg working hard to make it happen even with all the strings available for him to pull. As good as the film was, it was essentially a dusted off version of Don Q Son of Zorro as both Spielberg and George Lucas are great lovers of classic cinema, and they worked damn hard to make The Mask of Zorro an honorable tribute to the late, great Douglas Fairbanks—particularly with the whip work.
Everything starts with an idea, and that idea started with Johnston McCulley writing the 1919 novel The Curse of Capistrano with so much passion against government statism that it practically built Hollywood with its effort. And if it wasn’t for that novel there would have never been a movie called The Mark of Zorro and there would have never been a Don Q Son of Zorro. There would have been no Republic serials, there would have been no Disney Zorro–there would have been no Lone Ranger. Without Douglas Fairbanks and his great effort in Don Q Son of Zorro there would not be a bullwhip movement alive today where a handful of people scattered throughout the world are keeping alive an idea of America how it was before politics shifted heavily to the slide of the progressives, and made reality what many feared during the time that The Curse of Capistrano was written, where oppression from corrupt governors was feared, and a clash with European nobility was at war with rugged American individualism. Don Q Son of Zorro is not just a film that has great whip stunts, but is a window into a time where America was on the brink of success, before the Red Decade, before World War II, before Vietnam, before most Americans even knew what the crazy concept of European socialism was. In Don Q Son of Zorro there is a hope that there will always be a hero who resists the tyranny of oppression with the charisma and physical ability of the great Douglas Fairbanks.
It is up to those of us who can look through that open window and learn from history, and do in reality what was thought of on the pages of Johnston McCulley’s The Curse of Capistrano, and keep the ideas of freedom alive that characters like Zorro represented, a champion of freedom riding the horse-trodden highways at night under a full moon, his identity hidden behind a mask, as the laughing outlaw Zorro defies the tyrant’s might with the crack of a whip, and the mark of a “Z”!