Guy Williams (actor)
Williams in 1965
|Born||Armand Joseph Catalano
January 14, 1924
New York, New York, United States
|Died||April 30, 1989
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Cause of death
|Children||Guy Steven Catalano
Guy Williams (January 14, 1924 – c. April 30, 1989) was an American actor and former fashion model, who played swashbuckling action heroes in the 1950s and 1960s, but never quite achieved movie-star status despite his appearance (including hazel eyes, 6′ 3″ (1m90) height, and 190 lb (86 kg) weight) and charisma, which helped launch his early successful photographic modeling career.
Among his most prominent achievements were two memorable TV series: Zorro, in the title role and Lost in Space, as the father of the Robinson family. The sci-fi TV program was highly popular, noted for the design of the sleek silver spacesuits, which Guy Williams wore in many publicity photos (see image at right).
Guy Williams was born on January 14, 1924, as Armand Joseph Catalano (nicknamed "Armando" by his family) of Italian parentage, in the Washington Heights area in New York City. He was the son of Attilio (son of a wealthy timber grower in Messina who purchased land in New Jersey), who was working as an insurance broker, and Clare Catalano. His parents, who arrived from Sicily (Italy), were by then living in poverty. He grew up in the Little Italy, Brooklyn neighborhood.
In NYC's Public School 189, Armand stood out in mathematics. Later he attended George Washington High School, where he occasionally worked in its soda fountain. He then left to attend the Peekskill Military Academy, where he was an enthusiastic student. His interests included football and chess.
First artistic steps
Williams wanted to be an actor, spurred by his good looks and 6'3" height. When Armand decided not to continue studying, his mother (who later became an executive of a foreign film company) was very disappointed because they expected that he would follow in his father's footsteps as an insurance broker.
After working as a welder, cost accountant and aircraft-parts inspector during World War II, Armand became a salesman in the luggage department at Wanamaker's. While there, he decided to send his photos to a modeling agency. He quickly found great success with assignments resulting in photographs in newspapers and magazines (like Harper's Bazaar) as well as on billboards and book covers. He was paid well and became famous. He then adopted the name "Guy Williams" (1940s).
In 1946, he signed a single-year contract offered by MGM and moved to Hollywood. Guy Williams had a featured role as a pilot in the film The Beginning or the End (1947), about the first U.S. deployed atom bomb. He appeared in only a few films and soon moved back to New York.
In 1948, to advertise cigarettes while skiing, Guy Williams did an extensive filming trip accompanied by Janice Cooper, a beautiful John Robert Powers model. During the long photographic sessions, they fell in love, marrying on December 8, just after they returned to New York City. Later they had two children, Guy Steven Catalano (aka Guy Williams, Jr.) and Antoinette Catalano (aka Toni Williams), both of whom act.
By 1950, Guy Williams had begun to film some of the pioneering television commercials in the USA. Unfortunately, his father died in 1951, never to witness his son's full rise to fame. Guy Williams then obtained a new one-year contract with Universal-International in 1952 and moved to Hollywood.
Early Hollywood (1952–1957)
Guy Williams appeared in small supporting roles in films, including:
- Bonzo Goes to College (1952) – as Ronald Calkins,
- The Mississippi Gambler (1953) – as Andre
- The Golden Blade (1953) – as Baghdad's town crier
- The Man from the Alamo (1953) – as a sergeant
- Take Me to Town (1953) – as a small hero
- I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) – as police officer
In 1953, he suffered a serious accident when he fell from a horse and was dragged over 200 yards, resulting in a long scar on his left shoulder. Because of this he returned to New York to continue acting and modeling there and temporarily abandoned his film career. In 1953, he left Universal and became a freelancer for movies produced by Allied Artists and Warner Brothers.
Zorro (1957–1959, 1960–1961)
Early in 1957, Williams appeared twice in the role of Steve Clay in the syndicated television series, Men of Annapolis, a military drama set at the United States Naval Academy. He also appeared in the Rod Cameron drama State Trooper in the episode "No Fancy Cowboys" about the defrauding of guests at a dude ranch.
About this time, the Walt Disney Company was casting for Disney's Zorro, a new television series based on the character. To play the main character, the chosen actor would have to be handsome and have some experience with fencing. Walt Disney himself interviewed Guy Williams, telling him to start growing a mustache "neither very long or thick." The exclusive contract paid Williams the then very high wage of $2,500 per week, as he had demanded. Williams resumed his professional training in fencing with the Belgian champion Fred Cavens (who also trained Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power), since the show required swordfights in most episodes. He also took guitar lessons with the famous Vicente Gomez.
Williams first appearance as Zorro was on the Disney anthology television series, "The Fourth Anniversary Show", where he challenged the notion that Zorro was a "fictional character".
The series of half-hour episodes finally debuted on ABC on October 10, 1957. It was an instant hit in the USA.
Seventy-eight episodes were produced over two seasons (1957–1959), and two movies were edited from TV episodes: The Sign of Zorro (1958) and Zorro the Avenger (1959). The theme song was composed by Norman Foster and George Bruns, and performed by The Mellomen; it reached #17 of the Hit Parade. In 1959, a legal dispute arose between Disney and ABC, causing a hiatus and the eventual cancellation of Zorro. However, four hour long episodes were later produced with the original primary cast, including Williams. These episodes were released as part of the Walt Disney Presents series between October 30, 1960 and April 12, 1961.
After finishing his contract with Disney, Guy Williams went to Europe to film two movies:
- Damon and Pythias (MGM production filmed in Italy in 1962, directed by Curtis Bernhardt), as Damon, the classic Greek hero who offers his life as warrant of the word of Pythias, his friend who has been condemned to death for political reasons;
- Captain Sindbad (MGM production filmed in Germany in 1962, directed by the American adventure director Byron Haskin, based on the classic tale of the Arabian Nights), in the role of Sindbad the Sailor.
In 1964, Guy Williams returned to Hollywood to resume his career, being added to the cast of the NBC's hit TV series Bonanza as Ben's nephew Will Cartwright. Williams found himself forced out of the series after only five episodes, despite being originally slated to become one of the four permanent leads. He was originally to replace Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright), who had planned to leave the show at the end of that season, thus allowing the format with four regular leads to continue.
Roberts decided late in the season to stay for one more year. This, plus the cast's concern that replacement of a regular character might create a threatening precedent, cost Williams the role.
Lost in Space (1965–1968)
Guy Williams played Professor John Robinson, expert in astrophysics and geology, who commanded the mission of the Jupiter 2 spaceship, taking his family in a voyage to colonize the Alpha Centauri star system.
Retirement in Argentina (1979–1989)
After Lost in Space, Guy Williams decided to retire in order to better enjoy his wealth, which had been largely generated by investments in several businesses, buying and selling on the stock market. When Guy had first visited Argentina in 1973 he was quite taken by the admiration and fascination the Argentine people expressed for him and his character of 'El Zorro'. In return, Guy fell in love with the culture and people of Argentina. In the late 1970s he retired, except for personal appearances, to Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
In subsequent years, Guy Williams also brought to Argentina some of the original cast members of the Zorro series, including Henry Calvin who played Sergeant Garcia. Williams even formed a circus (Circo Real Madrid) with the local fencing champion Fernando Lupiz, traveling all over South America (1977).
In 1983 he agreed to return to Los Angeles to make two final television appearances; he reunited with the Lost in Space cast – with the exceptions of Jonathan Harris (who declined to participate) and Bill Mumy (since there was a limit of five members to a team) – to play on a celebrity edition episode of Family Feud. He later appeared as a guest on Good Morning America.
Later in 1989, while spending solitary months in Argentina, Williams disappeared. The local police searched his apartment in Recoleta on May 6, finding his body. He had suffered a brain aneurysm and had been dead for several days. Due to his great popularity in Argentina, his ashes lay for two years at the Argentine Actors' Society cemetery at La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires. In 1991, in accordance with his wishes, Williams' ashes were spread over the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California.
- In 2000, Williams was the first local celebrity inducted into the Bronx Walk of Fame, of New York City. He was represented at the ceremony by his son, Steven Catalono (Guy Williams Jr.)
- In 2001, (August 2), he was posthumously granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7080 Hollywood Blvd, after petitions from thousands of his fans in front of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 2000.
- In October 2002, the fans of Williams, with his children Steven and Janice in attendance, dedicated to him a bench in New York's Central Park.
- In August 2003, Disney enterprise placed a commemorative badge dedicated to Williams in the mansion of the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia at Oceanside, California, where the Zorro series was filmed in 1957.
- In 2011, Williams was named a Disney Legend.
- The impression of a US Postage Stamp commemorative of Guy Williams was cancelled due to the change of the US Postal Service's protocol, though the fans had been campaigning for the stamp since 1998.
A number of books have been written which feature Williams, particularly in his role as Zorro. This includes the Zorro Television Companion, detailing the making of Disney series, as well as a biography by Antoinette Girgenti Lane, Guy Williams: The Man Behind the Mask (2005).
A collection of original Zorro short stories, some inspired specifically by Guy Williams, was edited by Richard Dean Starr and released in 2008. It includes an introduction by Guy Williams, Jr. (with Matthew Baugh) and an afterword by Isabel Allende. The cover art on the trade paperback edition by Douglas Klauba was an homage to Guy Williams.
- "A Brief Biography of Guy Williams". The Guy Williams Webshrine. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
His body was found on Saturday May 6, 1989 but he had already been dead for a number of days; he was last seen alive on April 30; his death date has often been reported as May 7, but this was already a day after his body was found, and probably almost a week after he actually died.
- "Guy Williams Filmography". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". ctva.biz. Retrieved November 25, 2010.
- "Guy Williams". Actordatabase.com. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
- Lee, John H. (8 May 1989). "Guy Williams, `Zorro' of TV Series, Dies at 65". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- Nina Siegal (May 28, 2000). "Fan of a Masked TV Swashbuckler Makes His Mark". The New York Times. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- Jose Martinez (May 19, 2000). "Zorro Slashes Grand Concourse Walk Of Fame Adds Buy Williams". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 6, 2011.[dead link]
- "'Zorro' gets Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Telegraph Herald. August 5, 2001. p. 9. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- Dooley, Jerry (2005). The Zorro Television Companion: A Critical Appreciation. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786420588.
- Girgenti Lane, Antoinette (2005). Guy Williams: The Man Behind the Mask. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1593930165.
- Starr, Richard Dean (2008). Tales Of Zorro. Moonstone. ISBN 978-1933076317.