Verdugos Views: Zorro creator lived in Glendale for a short time

Zorro, the dashing hero who disguised himself as a black-clad, masked outlaw in order to defend the common folk, was already famous in 1939 when his creator Johnston McCulley purchased a historic house in Glendale.

Zorro debuted nearly 100 years ago in “The Curse of Capistrano,” a five-part serial published in a weekly magazine in 1919. Zorro’s true identity as Don Diego Vega, a California nobleman living in Los Angeles during the era of Mexican rule, is eventually revealed.

His mission was “to avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians,” and “to aid the oppressed,” according to Wikipedia.

Within a year, Zorro was on the silver screen in “The Mark of Zorro,” selected by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford as the first picture produced by their new studio, United Artists. In response to public demand fueled by the film, McCulley wrote many more Zorro stories.

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Born in Illinois in 1883, McCulley served as a U. S. Army public affairs officer during World War I before settling into writing.

He created several other characters, including, again from Wikipedia, “The Black Star,” a criminal mastermind pursued by two characters, Roger Verbeck-Flagellum and Muggs (a millionaire bachelor and his ex-thug partner), first published in 1916.

Another McCulley character, “The Spider,” was injured as a young man and confined to a wheelchair, using his mental abilities to run an international crime ring from his office, “The Spider's Den.”

Then there was the “Crimson Clown,” a wealthy young bachelor, veteran of the Great War and explorer. He was a modern Robin Hood stealing from the unjustly rich and returning money to helpless victims or worthy organizations.

Not much is known about McCulley’s short tenure in Glendale. The information came to light when Deb Ann Orfalea opened her home for a 2013 Glendale Historical Society tour of the Casa Verdugo area, the historic neighborhood east of Brand Boulevard and north of Stocker Street.

Sean Bersell, of the historical society, researched the Orfalea house history in preparation for the tour and discovered that the writer had purchased the house some time after it had served as Piedad Yorba Sowl’s restaurant, called Casa Verdugo.

It seems that McCulley only lived in the historic house until 1940, then sold it and, in the late 1940s, moved to Hollywood. According to Wikipedia, he died in November 1958, after a series of operations; just as Disney’s television show “Zorro” starring Guy Williams, was becoming popular.

McCulley is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park here in Glendale. His final Zorro story was published in 1959, after his death.

To the Readers:

The Feb. 11, 2016, Verdugo Views column featured Harry Vallen’s 1938 purchase of a ticket for the Grand National, a popular horse race in Liverpool, England.

Vallen’s horse placed, generating a $75,000 prize. Vallen had sold half of his ticket to a syndicate, so he received $37,500 before taxes. After the race, Vallen told the Los Angeles Times that he planned to visit relatives “back East,” and then would buy a house here in Glendale with his winnings. Marty Rashoff of La Crescenta sent an email the same day the column appeared, relating his memories of the early 1960s, when he had about 20 people selling sweepstakes tickets for him.

“Each book had 12 tickets and two were free. The two free ones would be split between me and the seller. At that time, the top prize was $140,000. I remember going to the Times building downtown to listen to the race, as there was no TV or local radio coverage,’’ Rashoff wrote.

He added that the Times would publish photos of the race’s winners or print their names.

Rashoff, who worked for the city of Los Angeles as a civil engineer for many years and retired in 1991, wrote, “I did not know that they still have the race. What is the prize money now?’’

More than a year has passed since he sent that email … my apologies for the delay.

Here’s the latest: More than 10 million people watched television coverage of the 2017 Grand National on April 8, according to a Grand National website. An estimated 70,000 were watching at Aintree racecourse.

The race was won by “One For Arthur,” ridden by jockey Derek Fox for trainer Lucinda Russell. The purse was £1,000,000 and the winner received £561,300. That’s British pounds … I’ll let you do the conversion.

KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o Glendale News-Press, 202 W. First St., Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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