Updated: September 13, 2020
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
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 governor.
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
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
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 worth it."
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 II 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
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 lost. If he had seen their script, he would have yelled bloody
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.