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  • Viva Zapata! A Tribute to Steinbeck, Kazan and Brando
  • Arthur Pettit (bio)
Arthur Pettit

Arthur Pettit is a member of the department of History at The Colorado College. He is the author of Mark Twain and the South and has published several articles on Zapata and the Mexican revolution.


1. Some of the better known border-bandido films include Bandolero! (1968); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974); Duck, You Sucker (1972); A Fistful of Dollars (1967); For a Few Dollars More (1967); The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1969); The Magnificent Seven (1960); The Professionals (1966); Rancho Notorious (1952); Ride Vaquero! (1953); Rio Lobo (1970); Villa! (1958); Villa Rides (1968); Viva Villa! (1934); and The Wild Bunch (1969).

2. Viva Zapata! Twentieth Century-Fox, 1952; Elia Kazan, director; Darryl F. Zanuck, producer. I wish to thank Elia Kazan for sending me a list of the sources Steinbeck used in researching his script; Elia Kazan to Arthur Pettit, December 1, 1961. As part of my own research, I used a copy of the original screenplay provided by the Stenographic Department at Twentieth Century-Fox; since then, the screenplay has been published as Viva Zapata! The Original screen-play by John Steinbeck, ed. Robert E. Morsberger (New York: The Viking Press, 1975). I am indebted to Professor Morsberger for helping me obtain the screenplay before it was published, and for his excellent essay, "Steinbeck's Zapata: Rebel versus Revolutionary," originally published in Steinbeck: The Man and His Work, eds. Richard Astro and Tetsumaro Hayashi (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1971), pp. 43-63, and reprinted in Viva Zapata! Morsberger's essay has decisively influenced my own views on Zapata.

3. When Fernando first meets Zapata and his followers in the mountains, he is wholly unaware that they are passing signals back and forth. Zapata's carefree brother Eufemio squats lazily on his hams and whistles signals that elude Fernando, Zapata, grinding corn, uses the domestic chore to cover up his secretive survey of the arrogant revolutionary. A soldadera (female revolutionary) pats tortillas and sings to distract Fernando. When Fernando shows Zapata a picture of Francisco Madero, leader of the northern faction of the revolution, Zapata feigns disinterest, then surreptitiously sends his trusted lieutenant Pablo Gomez to visit Madero. When Pablo, the soldadera, and the Zapata brothers depart in four directions, Fernando, the organized professional who goes by the book, is left alone on the barren plateau, shouting to the wind that the Zapatista portion of the rebellion is "all very disorganized."

4. The name Zapata had been prominent in local Morelos affairs since the War of Independence in 1810, including several elected posts. Zapata's mother was a Salazar, a well-known family with some past social and financial prestige. Between 1906 and 1909, Zapata himself was a prominent member of a group of younger men in the village who signed protests and formed delegations to the local authorities, seeking redress of grievances. In 1901, at the age of thirty, Zapata was elected president of the council of Anenecuilco, his native village. Of the many books on the historical Zapata, the ones I have found most useful for his family background, and the manner in which he came to prominence, are Silvano Barba Gonzalez, La lucha por la sierra; Emiliano Zapata (Mexico, 1960); Baltasar Dromundo, Emiliano Zapata, Biografia (Mexico, 1934); Gildardo Magana, Emiliano Zapata y el agrarismo en Mexico, 3 vols. (Mexico, 193452); Mario Mena, Zapata (Mexico, 1959); Porfirio Palacios, Emiliano Zapata: Datos biograficos-historicos (Mexico, 1960); Alfonso Reyes H., Emiliano Zapata, Su Vida y su Obra (Mexico, 1963); and John Womack, Jr., Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1968).

5. Later, when he is offered command of the southern armies of the revolution, Zapata repeats Don Nacio's words: "I don't want to be the conscience of the world." Morsberger, ed., Viva Zapata! pp. 23, 30-34. Regrettably, the film does not mention that Don Nacio actually was dictator Porfirio Diaz' son-in-law.

6. Ibid., pp. 35-41. The real Zapata married Josefa Espejo, daughter of a prosperous livestock dealer whom he courted as part of the solemn contrato de matrimonio by which...


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