More than one equine actor played that black horse.
Article by Jennifer L. Schooley, written March 2002
Photographs Courtesy of Jill Panvini and Guy Williams Jr.
He stole the hearts of the señoritas and brought justice to the Pueblo de Los Angeles. He was “El Zorro,” the fox, and he thundered across screens in America and worldwide in the late 1950s.
Walt Disney had envisioned a series based on Johnston McCulley’s fictional dual character, Don Diego-Zorro, and set in 1820s Los Angeles when California was still under the flag of Spain. So an old-time California plaza was built on the Disney lot, and among those who answered the casting call was Guy Williams. Tall, elegant, and stunningly handsome, he was perfect for the role.
But who would be Tornado, his equine co-star? Who would faithfully and fearlessly carry the dashing hero on his daring rides to right wrongs and bring justice to all?
For this role of honor, Disney chose and purchased Diamond Decorator, a registered Quarter Horse. The gelding was foaled in 1950 and registered as a gray, but, according to legendary Hollywood horse trainer Corky Randall, Diamond Decorator was a beautiful coal-black horse. Randall, along with Bobby Davenport, trained the Disney Zorro horses for the series.
Foaled at the Double Diamond Ranch in Reno, Nev., Diamond Decorator started his career as a racehorse. At 3 he was trained as a reining horse, or stock horse as it was referred to in those days. He was spotted for Disney at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, where he was successfully shown in stockhorse competition.
Diamond Decorator’s counterpart was a beautiful white horse named King, better known as Phantom. He was owned by Corky Randall’s father, Glenn Randall Sr., who has passed away. Considered a legend among Hollywood horse trainers, he had trained, among many others, Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger.
“King was white, almost silver-white,” remarked Corky Randall, adding, “His skin was pink, and his eyes were black. He was very unusual in color. He was very good to work with.” King was used extensively in the series. “Anytime you saw a white horse on Zorro, it was King.”
Actor Britt Lomond, who portrayed the evil Monastario during the first 13 episodes of Zorro, referred to King as a very talented actor. “He never missed a cue. He would stand quietly, listening for his cue, and move through the scene flawlessly.”
Unlike King, whose bloodlines Randall could only guess as possibly some Thoroughbred and maybe some Arab, Diamond Decorator’s background glows. His pedigree lists his maternal grandsire as Quarter Horse racing legend Joe Hancock, and his paternal grandsire was foundation sire Old Sorrel. Both are in the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame.
According to AQHA records Diamond Decorator’s racing career is an honor to Joe Hancock. In 1952 he achieved a Register of Merit for racing with a speed index of 85. Entered in 15 races he placed third twice, took second place once, and twice crossed the finish line first. With earnings of $1,117, he ran his last race as a 3-year-old in September 1953.
Click page 2 to find out just how many horses played “Tornado.”