Johnson McCulley (right) with Guy Williams (who played Zorro in Walt Disney TV Programs)
Johnston McCulley (1883 – 1958) was the author of hundreds of stories, fifty novels, numerous screenplays for film and television, and the creator of the character Zorro. Many of his novels and stories were written under the pseudonyms Harrison Strong (see audio below), Raley Brien, George Drayne, Monica Morton, Rowena Raley, Frederic Phelps, Walter Pierson, and John Mack Stone, among others.
McCulley started as a police reporter for The Police Gazette and served as an Army public affairs officer during World War I. An amateur history buff, he went on to a career in pulp fiction and screenplays, often using a Southern California backdrop for his stories.
Aside from Zorro, McCulley created many other pulp characters, including Black Star, The Mongoose, and Thubway Tham. Many of McCulley's characters — the Green Ghost, the Thunderbolt, and the Crimson Clown — were inspirations for the masked heroes that have appeared in popular culture from McCulley's time to the present day.
McCulley's Zorro character was first serialized in the story "The Curse of Capistrano" in 1919 in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly in 1919.
Zorro became his most enduring character, appearing in four novels (the last three were all serialized in Argosy Magazine, which had absorbed All-Story). The first appeared in 1919, the second in 1922, then there was a significant gap before the appearance of the third novel Zorro Rides Again in 1931. The appearance of the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks silent movie The Mark of Zorro, based on the first novel, was the direct cause for McCulley reviving what had originally been a one-time hero plot. The appearance of the character (black mask and hat) was actually defined by Fairbanks' movie version rather than McCulley's original story, and McCulley copied the Fairbanks incarnation for subsequent stories, as did the many film and television variations that followed.
The popularity of the character led to three novellas appearing in Argosy in 1932, 1933, and 1934. In between he wrote many other novels and stories set in early Spanish California which did not have Zorro as the lead character. The last full length novel "The Sign of Zorro" appeared in 1941, and was very likely also written in response to the popularity of the character in the movies. Republic optioned the character for a serial Zorro's Fighting Legion which was released in 1939 and was well received. Over the coming decade Republic released three other serials connected in some way with the Zorro character. In 1940, The Mark of Zorro remake starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell made the character much wider known to the public at large, and McCulley decided to bring Zorro back with new stories.
McCulley made an arrangement with the pulp West Magazine to produce a brand new Zorro short story for every issue. The first of these stories appeared in July 1944 and the last one appeared in July 1951, the final issue of the publication. Fifty-three adventures in all were published in West. An additional story (possibly a story originally written for West which went unpublished when West folded) appeared in Max Brand's Western Magazine in the May 1954 issue. The final Zorro story appeared in Short Story Magazine April 1959, after McCulley's death and after Walt Disney's Zorro television program starring Guy Williams had become nationally popular.
From LibriVox.Org and Archive.Org:
1. The Curse of Capistrano or The Mark of Zorro (LibriVox Version) by Johnston McCulley is the first work to feature the fictional character Zorro (zorro is the Spanish word for fox). The story was later republished under the name The Mark of Zorro. Zorro is deemed an outlaw as he fights those in authority while seeking justice for the oppressed. He also woos and captures the heart of the lovely Senorita Lolita, but her father would see her married to the rich Don Diego Vega. Meanwhile, the ever persistent Sgt. Gonzales is closing in on our lovers and would means to see the end of Senor Zorro.
2. The Curse of Capistrano or The Mark of Zorro - 2nd audio version - (Archive.Org Version)
1. The Brand of Silence - by Harrington Strong (which was a pseudonym used by author Johnston McCulley) (LibriVox.Org Version)
The Brand of Silence – A Detective Story finds Sidney Prale returning to New York after ten years during which he sought his fortune. But he finds New York a very changed place, and even more distressing, he finds that his old friends are now turning their backs on him, his old haunts no longer welcome him, and there seems to be a conspiracy against him.
Why can’t he receive service in hotels, restaurants, and theaters that he once frequented? Who is working against him? And just as importantly, why? And what is the meaning of the notes he receives which remind him of “retribution”?
2. The Brand of Silence - By Harrington Strong (Archive.Org Version)
3. The Black Star - Johnson McCulley
The Black Star was a master criminal who took great care to never be identifiable, always wore a mask so nobody knew what he looked like, rarely spoke to keep his voice from being recognized, and the only mark left at the scenes of the crimes which he and his gang committed were small black stars which were tacked as a sign of their presence, and an occasional sarcastic note to signify his presence and responsibility.
Johnston McCulley was a prolific writer in the pulp fiction vein, and his Zorro series would become immensely popular. However, prior to Zorro, the Black Star was among his first repeating characters which kept readers of the day in continual suspense until his next appearance.
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