The Mark of Zorro, Hits the Mark with Douglas Fairbanks Dashing To and Fro

Mark of Zorro Exhibitors Hearld full page

The Mark of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks and directed by Fred Niblo in 1920, is a triumphant piece of film-making and a seminal turning point in moving making history. The film was based on the 1919 story, The Curse of Capistrano, by Johnston McCulley. The relation of Zorro to The Scarlet Pimpernel, is unmistakable, the similarities of plot devices for the respective story-lines are transparent. McCulley, using a formula of a masked avenger (which was a favorite depiction of his) from his own writing history and adding other elements of The Scarlet Pimpernel, he created a character that now is an icon of American fiction, movies and television.

Curse of Capistrano

The scenario for The Mark of Zorro was penned by Elton Thomas; and If not known before, by the general public or the exhibitors about the true identity of scenarist, Thomas, the cat was definitely let out of the bag in March of 1924. The Film Daily announced “By this you must guess that Elton Thomas, author of ‘The Thief of Bagdad,’ and Douglas Fairbanks are one and the same.”[1] And The Film Daily continued by listing Mr. Fairbanks in parenthesis after that of Elton Thomas, for writing credit for, The Thief of Bagdad.[2] With the production of The Gaucho, in 1927, the copyright holder was The Elton Corporation,[3] and Variety was quick to note for their readers that Elton Thomas was “none other than Doug,” as Fairbanks was affectionately known.[4]

Many authorities on film history, ascribe nearly twenty scenarios, stories and screenplays to Douglas Fairbanks, gathered from his alter egos of Elton Thomas and Elton Banks; yet, according to a book by Frederic Lombardi, director-writer-producer, Allan Dawn, attributed works written by Elton Thomas as a collaborative effort by as many as twenty people, including Douglas Fairbanks.[5] It appears then that Elton Thomas functioned as a pseudonym for a ‘collective,’ whether they were assigned, or as Lombardi intimated, many times the writers were circumstantially involved, or in other words, whoever happened to be there was welcome to put their ‘two-cents’ in.

The Mark of Zorro came in at seven-thousand-eight-hundred feet, or eighty-seven minutes;[7] a torridly paced film, with the action sequences edited to full advantage. MOZ did great business, by all accounts a complete financial success, if not a total critical sensation. Yet, Doug must have been pleased, for the real the critics, the movie-goers, flocked to see, the masked-Fox, with all the tumbles, the flipping, the climbing, and the sword-fighting!

The film’s debut was chosen to be at the Capitol Theatre, in NYC, with the official premier on Saturday, November 27, 1920, although there is some confusion as to the opening date, for in a New York Tribune advertisement, dated November 27, for the Capitol Theatre, the ad clearly states beginning tomorrow, Sunday, November 28 [8]; this account agrees with box office information released stating that the opening day was November 28.

At the Capitol Theatre on Thanksgiving weekend, in New York City, on Sunday, November 28, 1920 (the general release was set for December 5, 1920), all house attendance records were broken. With nine-thousand-five-hundred-forty-seven seeing The Mark of Zorro, and collecting $11,706.23; by the way, not only was this considered the Capitol Theatre record, but a world’s record for any single theatre for any single day. November 28, was not the only record breaker, Monday, November 29, was the biggest, non-holiday Monday in the Capitol Theatre’s history.[9] But the box-office records were not done falling to the sway of The Mark of Zorro, for the one-week showing at the Capitol Theatre, MOZ had 94,501 paid admissions, while taking in $48,103.43, which was another world’s record.[10] One small ‘fly in the ointment’ for the celebration of the box-office phenomenon that was The Mark of Zorro, was a German release, entitled, Passion, starring Pola Negri; it quickly (by the middle of December) broke the records which MOZ had set.[11]

Mark of Zorro Exhibitors Herald full page record breaker


The Mark of Zorro, with its original musical score, is available on DVD. Have a great, rousing time!







Mark of Zorro Exhibitors Herald 3.phpMark of Zorro Exhibitors Herald 2Mark of Zorro Exhibitors Herald



By C. S. Williams



[1] The Film Daily, March 20, 1924

[2] The Film Daily, March 23, 1924

[3] The Elton Corporation had their offices at 15 W. 42nd St., Manhattan, New York; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

(Brooklyn, New York) December 28, 1931

[4] Variety (New York, New York) November 9, 1927

[5] Allan Dawn and the Rise and Decline of the Holly Studios, by Frederic Lombardi, McFarland &

Company Inc., Publishers, 2013, pages, 90, 162, 163,  336, 338,

[6] The Film Daily, March 23, 1924

[7] Exhibitors Trade Review, December 3, 1921

[8] New York Tribune (New York, New York) November 27, 1920

[9] Exhibitors Herald, December 18, 1920

[10] Exhibitors Herald, January 1, 1921

[11] Exhibitors Herald, January 1, 1921


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