Zorro creator Johnston McCulley was born on today’s date in 1883 in Ottawa, Illinois. McCulley was the author of hundreds of stories for the pulps and the creator of numerous masked characters.
McCulley is one of the many writers featured in The Beginner’s Guide to Pulp Fiction.
McCulley introduced Zorro in The Curse of Capistrano, serialized beginning in the August 9, 1919, All-Story Weekly. McCulley would write dozens of stories, serials and novels about the hero through the 1940s. Zorro would inspire movies, television shows, radio dramas and more.
One of his most long-lived characters was Thubway Tham, a pickpocket with a lisp (yes, really), who appeared in more than 100 stories from 1918 to 1960 in various publications. Mostly played for humorous effect, the stories find Tham stumbling into larger criminal enterprises as he tries to go about his lesser criminal business.
Another of McCulley’s series characters was “The Black Star,” a gentleman criminal who first appeared in “Rogue for a Day” in the March 5, 1916, Detective Story Magazine. He is always seen in a black cloak and a black hood. The Black Star appeared in 16 stories or serials over the next 15 years.
McCulley created numerous other characters as well. The Spider (not to be confused with the later hero of the same name) was a master criminal featured in a series of stories in Detective Story Magazine in 1918 and 1919. This Spider was a chair-bound cripple, running his criminal empire from his “Spider’s Den” in a large mansion.
The Crimson Clown was a modern-day Robin Hood in the 1920s and ‘30s that dressed in a red clown suit, appearing in Detective Story Magazine. He also created The Man in Purple, another short-lived Robin Hood-type character, this time dressed all in purple.
McCulley lived to see his most famous creation conquer multiple media, including the iconic 1957 Disney TV series. McCulley died in Los Angeles in 1958 at the age of 75.