Zorro (Spanish for fox) is the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega (originally Don Diego Vega), a nobleman and master living in the Spanish colonial era of California. The character has undergone changes through the years, but the typical image of him is a dashing black-clad masked outlaw who defends the people of the land against tyrannical officials and other villains. Not only is he much too cunning and foxlike for the bumbling authorities to catch, but he delights in publicly humiliating those same foes.
Zorro (often called Señor or El Zorro in early stories) debuted in McCulley's 1919 story The Curse of Capistrano, serialized in five parts in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. At the denouement, Zorro's true identity is revealed to all.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, on their honeymoon, selected the story as the inaugural picture for their new studio, United Artists, beginning the character's cinematic tradition. The story was adapted as The Mark of Zorro in 1920, which was a success. McCulley's story was re-released by the publisher Grosset & Dunlap under the same title, to tie in with the film.
Due to public demand fueled by the film, McCulley wrote over 60 additional Zorro stories starting in 1922. The last, The Mask of Zorro (not to be confused with the 1998 film), was published posthumously in 1959. These stories ignore Zorro's public revelation of his identity. The black costume that modern audiences associate with the character stems from Fairbanks' smash hit movie rather than McCulley's original story, and McCulley's subsequent Zorro adventures copied Fairbanks's Zorro rather than the other way around. McCulley died in 1958, just as the Disney-produced Zorro television show was becoming phenomenally successful.