Updated: October 22, 2021
GUY WILLIAMS FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM #01
Taking his career so casually is a way of life for Williams, who was born
Armando Catalano in New York City, the son of recent Italian immigrants.
As Armando, he grew up tall (6'3") and handsome, and, in keeping with his
"laid-back" lifestyle, earned his living as a photo model. "I was studying
acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and modeling was a simple and
profitable way of working around financial problems," Williams recalls.
"It required little time and paid well."
The name Guy Williams emerged during this time, when anyone with a
foreign-sounding name or appearance was quickly typecast and offered only
a narrow range of jobs. "'Guy Williams' was about as non-specific as I
could imagine!" he laughs. Like many New York based actors, Williams was
drawn to the movies and relocated to California. He was soon under contract
as a stock player at MGM. "They put you under contract on a yearly basis,
and used you in little filler spots walk-throughs and such. If the part was
of any consequence, they would usually pick someone from outside to play it."
Williams eventually moved on to Universal for more of the same. His first
picture there included a monkey and the future President of the United States
Bedtime for Bonzo. "The least known thing about the picture," adds Williams,
"was the picture itself. It was eminently forgettable."
By the mid-50's, Williams was married, had two kids, a mortgage and growing
dissatisfaction with the movies. His latest appearance was in the low-budget
thriller, I Was A Teenaged Werewolf, as the policeman who eventually shoots
the werewolf played by a young Michael Landon.
Meanwhile, TV was becoming more popular and Williams considered defecting to
his new medium, despite its tiny screens and equally tiny budgets. "I had a
rather personal way of looking at television then," says Williams, "because
in those days, I really didn't believe that the worst of television was much
different from the best. And when I heard about the new Zorro series, I knew
that Disney's shows were as good as anybody else's best."
The Disney Studios had scored major success on the fledgling ABC network with
Disneyland, The Mickey Mouse Club, and the Western adventure, Davy Crockett.
Created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley, Zorro (Spanish for "The Fox") was
mild-mannered Don Diego by day, a sword-wielding, black-caped avenger of the
oppressed by night who used his fox-like cunning to outwit the cruel military
Auditions for Disney's Zorro were attended by every leading-man type in Hollywood.
Many actors could handle the Spanish accent of Zorro, but almost none were prepared
to engage in the skillful swordsmanship required by the script.
Enter Guy Williams, who not only looked the part of a young Spanish aristocrat, but
was physically suited for the role and could actually brandish a sword. Williams'
father, a noted swordsman in Italy, begun training his son Armando at age seven. Up
to the point of his Disney audition, Williams fenced for recreation, but now, it
would be the turning point of his career he was promptly signed to star as Zorro.
With Williams aboard, Disney built an expensive replica of a Spanish pueblo on the
backlot, moved most of Crockett's writers and directors to the new series, then hired
veteran stuntman Yakima Canutt to supervise the action sequences and Fred Cavens to
keep Williams' fencing fine-tuned. Perfectly cast were Gene Sheldon to play Don Diego's
mute servant Bernardo, and robust Henry Calvin as the comical Sergeant. Garcia.
Williams now faced the problem of how to bring reality to the dual-identity character.
Zorro was scripted to be on-screen only about a quarter of the time, so Don Diego's
character portrayal was very important. Zorro was played in the movies by Douglas
Fairbanks (silent) and Tyrone Power (sound), with Diego always written as a "cowardly"
type of man only Power had given his Don Diego an "extra" dimension. "Power played
Don Diego as a sissy," explains Williams, "a real gay caballero. It was OK for him to
do that once in a movie, but I knew that it wouldn't work every week on TV. It would
get tiresome, not to mention this was the ‘50s and a show with an audience including
kids. So, I had to play Don Diego ‘neutral,' which was difficult because it means
nothing. How do I make ‘nothing' interesting?"
The answer was for Williams to play Diego as a dandy, but a dandy with a quick wit.
The clever comeback suited Diego, who would sometimes argue down the town's evil
commandant, Captain Monastario. "Don Diego became acceptable," says Williams, ‘not
peculiar, an OK guy."
Production of Zorro began smoothly, but Williams still hadn't worked out all the kinks,
at least according to his boss. "I had auditioned with a heavy Spanish accent," explains
Williams, "knowing I could drop it instead of starting out light and adding on. For the
first couple of weeks, somebody would be tapping me on the shoulder as I'm walking
around the set, and it would be Walt. He would say, ‘Can you bring it down a little,
Guy?' He didn't know what he wanted, so I kept ‘bringing it down.' One day, I finished
the show and Walt didn't tape me on the shoulder, and that was the accent I kept."
Zorro was aired during the 1957-58 season on ABC, and became an instant hit. Kids from
coast to coast drove their parents and teachers crazy by marking Zorro's trademark "Z"
on sidewalks, book reports, clothing, even automobiles.
Adults feared that their kids would imitate Zorro's behavior, i.e. brandishing swords and
leaping from great heights. "Occasionally, some parent would come up and say ‘My kid
jumped off the roof and broke his leg,'" admits Williams. "There was nothing I could say
but ‘I'm sorry.'" Williams got his first taste of the good life while starring in Zorro.
Besides his generous weekly salary, he also received two-and-a-half percent royalties on
the sale of Zorro merchandise. "It would have been more, but Disney was determined to make
sure I would never receive what Fess Parker got in Davy Crockett merchandising revenues."
Disney had given Parker a large percentage of merchandise royalties in lieu of a salary
increase, and lived to regret it when $50 million (1955 money) worth of merchandise was sold.
Considering that $11 million worth of Zorro costumes, toys and books were purchased in a few
months, Williams' small percentage was a shrewd move, benefiting the Disney stockholders.
Now, however, Williams could indulge his taste for expensive cars, art, food and travel abroad.
He also made many lucrative personal appearances at rodeos and shopping centers, in addition
to non-paying appearances at Disneyland.
His busy schedule continued through 1959, Disney's Zorro filming would last Monday through
Friday, with all the stuntwork reserved for Friday. "Friday was ‘fight day,'" Williams explains,
"so we would do all the stuff you could get injured in. If you banged your head or hurt your arm,
you had until Monday to recuperate. All of our visitors would come on Friday to watch the fighting.
" Williams did most of his own fencing, but had a stunt double for the more dangerous ‘gags,' and
another double for second unit work at Disney's Thousand Oaks Ranch.
"We used to make jokes about the show," Williams laughs. "Zorro was set in California, we didn't
call it a Western, but a South-Western. We called the actors ‘stuntmen' because the scripts were
being changed at the last minute, and to learn new dialogue and film it immediately was the real
stunt. The work on Zorro was interesting. Nobody was doing any better fencing than we were, and
working with the production people was fun. I could have kept doing it on and on."
Zorro finished its second full season on ABC with good ratings, and another year guaranteed by
the network. However, Walt Disney was having second thoughts about the network, having received
a better offer from NBC to move Zorro and Disneyland over to the land of the colorful peacock.
ABC bound Disney to an old exclusive contract, and Disney fought back by suspending production
of Zorro. Williams remained on the payroll, but aside from filming four Zorro hour-long specials,
was on vacation.
Zorro was officially laid to rest in 1961, and true to form, Williams wasn't concerned about
finding more work and he didn't have long to wait. Offers came in from Europe for him to star
in two pictures, one made in Italy (Captain Sinbad), the other in Germany (Damon and Pythias).
Taking his entire family, Williams spent two years filming and traveling throughout Europe.
"Traveling in Europe was a big plus, especially with the family," remembers Williams. "In the
meantime, my agent didn't know where I was and I was missing opportunities. But the trip was
Another six months passed from the time that Williams and his family set foot back in the U.S.
until they reached California. "I missed two seasons of pilots," the actor explains. "I needed
a job, to get into something highly visible, and Bonanza did just that."
NBC wanted to throw a scare into Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright on the show and was
reportedly creating prima dona problems on the set. Williams was brought in as another Cartwright,
a potential replacement for Roberts. "I realized I was being used," laments Williams, "and I
didn't get any help from the other actors, because of Roberts left, they would take up his slack.
The whole session was very negative for me."
Roberts settled down for the time being, and Williams moved on to other TV guest-starring roles
until late 1964, when another series offer came from 20th Century Fox. "When they said it was a
space show out at Fox," deadpans Williams, "I was interested because I knew the lot wasn't far
from my house!"
Was Williams excited by the outer space antics of Lost in Space? "I wasn't taken with the script,"
he answers. "It was typical TV. If I had been asked to do Richard III, that would have been a
surprise, but to go into Lost in Space after having done Zorro, it was just standard TV subject
Williams played father to the Space Family Robinson in an episodic pilot directed by Irwin Allen.
"The main idea of Lost in Space was the special effects," explains Williams. "Irwin is great at
them, and our struggle was to stay away from all the flashing equipment when we were doing our
scenes. They would stick us in front of equipment that was whizzing or whirring, and I knew that
the audience would watch the machine. So, we moved to the left or right, and the camera would
hopefully follow, and we would get away from the machine."
The Robinsons endured a crash landing, giants, caves, and an extended scene where their ground
transport, the Chariot, crosses a turbulent sea. Tanks full of water were dumped on the actors,
but Williams wasn't complaining. "Nothing is uncomfortable if you're doing it for a lot of money.
In Captain Sinbad, they had boxcars full of water releasing on us," he says. "The wave would hit
you and Wham! The Chariot sequence was a piece of cake."
Filming of the Lost in Space pilot was finished by Christmas of 1964. CBS had expressed an interest
in doing the series, so the cast was told to be ready for production by early summer.
While Williams and the other actors bided their time, the characters of Dr. Zachary Smith and the
Robot were added to the series. In the first episode, "The Reluctant Stowaway," Williams, along
with the other characters, was in suspended animation while Smith had a field day mucking things up.
By the time the Robinsons were awakened, Smith had established his pattern of stealing scenes and
sometimes entire episodes.
Robinson was highlighted in several Lost in Space episodes, such as "Follow the Leader," a first
season finale where he is possessed by a long-deceased alien king. Robinson is tricked into an
alien version of "Wrestlemania" in "Deadly Games of Gamma 6," and joins forces with Will to battle
a mysterious intruder aboard the Jupiter-2 in "Space Creature." Williams pulled his Zorro sword out
of mothballs for "The Android Machine," but the most strenuous outing for him had to be "The Anti-Matter
Man." Williams played both Robinson and the professor's evil twin from an alternate universe, with
the script calling for several vigorous fistfights and a great deal of running through the airborne
corridor between worlds. During the rest of the series, Robinson was there to protect his family and occasionally give Smith the boot.
Initially, Williams was open to Smith's inclusion in the storylines. "It solved one of my major
problems with the show, which was ‘What are we going to do out here with three kids, June Lockhart,
Don Mark Goddard, and me week after week?'" Williams comments. "I knew the scripts could be nothing,
so when they put Smith and Will together, they could write lots of stories, and my hours got shorter."
By the end of season one, most of the shows were centered on the Will-Robot-Smith threesome. Williams
demanded more involvement in action-oriented scripts for the second season, and for a while, it looked
like things were improving, but the "Smith Cycle" soon returned and according to Williams, he decided
to "grin and bear it."
Critics have complained that Smith's comedy made Lost in Space campy, as a way of competing with its
principal rival, Batman. "'Campy' wasn't the right word, even though everyone was using it," says
Williams. "The correct word is the ‘cutes.' When a show gets the ‘cutes,' it kills itself. You can
get campy and do stunts with style, and you can get away with amazing things and have people love it.
In Zorro, we did outrageous things but we did it in style, first class."
Lost in Space finally generated a few good scripts in the third year, but then the plug was pulled.
In 1968, Williams and the Lost in Space cast found themselves available for other work. Bill Mumy
went to Disney for movies. June Lockhart when to CBS' Petticoat Junction. Mark Goddard became
an agent. Angela Cartwright returned in Make Room for Granddaddy. Marta Kristen acted in movies
and theater. And Jonathan Harris found a new career in voiceovers and the stage. Williams did what
he does so well he coasted.
By the, reruns of Zorro were being shown worldwide, and children in Europe were imitating American
kids by slashing bedsheets with a "Z" and jumping off rooftops. Williams had one very important
fan way down in Buenos Aires, Argentina Mrs. Juan Peron, wife of that country's President Juan Peron.
Mrs. Peron was hosting a charity show and asked Williams to appear. In return, he would receive
carte blanche for personal appearances in her country no government red tape. Williams quickly
accepted. The actor found Argentina with its large ranches and leisurely way of life much to his
liking, and quickly established a residence. He has since ping-ponged back and forth from Buenos Aires
to California, spending a year or two there, and then a eyar in Los Angeles. And he hasn't spent a
moment in front of film cameras since.
Of course, there have been offers, particularly one from the Disney Studios to revive "the Fox" in
the CBS series Zorro and Son. By his request, the studio sent Williams first class airline tickets,
and he gladly returned to his old stomping grounds. Unfortunately, things had changed. "I found out
that CBS was really in charge, not the Disney people. They decided to give Zorro and Son the ‘cutes,'
and then, in typical network fashion, they ‘cuted' the ‘cutes,' and it was an abortion. It happened
because Walt wasn't there. I've seen Walt throw network people off the lot. If he had seen their
script, he would have yelled bloody murder.'"
Williams passed on the series, but CBS and Disney proceeded and hired Henry (High Chaparral) Darrow
to play Don Diego. Zorro and Son lasted six episodes, and was never heard from again.
The press and public hasn't forgotten Williams a French magazine tracked him from California to
Argentina for an interview, and Williams was sent first class tickets again to appear on ABC's Good
Morning, America. On this jaunt, Williams also made an appearance with the other Lost in Space
cast members on the game show Family Feud.