How Henry Calvin, the Beloved Sergeant Garcia of Zorro, Died of Throat Cancer

Henry Calvin was an American actor who rose to fame for his role as the Spanish soldier Sergeant Garcia on Walt Disney’s live-action television series Zorro (1957–1959). He was also known for his musical talents and his appearances in other Disney films, such as Toby Tyler and Babes in Toyland. But behind his cheerful and comedic persona, Calvin was battling a serious illness that eventually claimed his life. Here is the story of how Henry Calvin, the beloved Sergeant Garcia of Zorro, died of throat cancer.

Early Life and Career

Henry Calvin was born as Wimberly Calvin Goodman on May 25, 1918, in Dallas, Texas. He sang in the choir of his local Baptist church as a child and was often the featured soloist. He attended Southern Methodist University before pursuing a career as an actor and singer. He hosted a 1950 NBC radio show and appeared on Broadway, most notably in Kismet as the Wazir of Police. He also portrayed Big Ben on the children’s TV series Howdy Doody and made his film debut in Crime Against Joe in 1956.

Zorro and Disney Fame

Calvin’s breakthrough role came in 1957, when he was cast as Sergeant Demetrio Lopez Garcia on Walt Disney’s Zorro. His character was a comedic foil for Zorro and his secret identity, Don Diego de la Vega, played by Guy Williams. Sometimes a friend, sometimes a reluctant foe, Garcia was constantly outwitted by other characters and was often his own worst enemy due to his weakness for food and wine. Calvin also sang and released a version of the “Zorro” theme song. His rich baritone voice also contributed to a number of musical interludes over the course of the series, singing everything from drinking songs to a serenade, and even a duet with Annette Funicello in one episode.

After the series ended due to a contract dispute with ABC, he reprised the role of Garcia in all four Zorro stories that aired as part of Walt Disney Presents in 1960 and 1961. He also appeared in Disney’s 1960 film Toby Tyler as gruff circus wagon driver Ben Cotter, Toby’s friend and protector. Toby’s other mentor in the film, clown and animal trainer Sam Treat, was played by Gene Sheldon, who co-starred in Zorro as Bernardo. Toby Tyler was played by Kevin Corcoran, a prolific child actor at the studio in that era. All three actors also appeared in another Disney film, Babes in Toyland, in 1961. Calvin sang the children’s song “Never Smile at a Crocodile” for Disneyland Records, a recording that was later reissued as part of a Peter Pan soundtrack CD. He also sang “We Won’t Be Happy Till We Get It” with Ray Bolger and “Slowly He Sank To The Bottom of the Sea” on the Babes in Toyland soundtrack.

Illness and Death

After Zorro and his Disney contract ended, Calvin guest starred in numerous television series during the 1960s, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and Hogan’s Heroes. He also appeared in the film Ship of Fools in 1965. However, his health began to deteriorate as he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent surgery and radiation therapy, but the disease was too advanced to be cured. He died in Dallas from throat cancer on October 6, 1975, at the age of 57. He was buried at Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas.

Legacy and Tribute

Henry Calvin was a versatile and talented actor who brought joy and laughter to millions of viewers with his portrayal of Sergeant Garcia. He was also a gifted singer who showcased his musical abilities in various Disney productions. He was admired and respected by his co-stars and colleagues, who remembered him as a kind and generous person. He left behind a legacy of memorable performances that continue to entertain and inspire generations of fans.

In 2009, a tribute to Henry Calvin was held at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Zorro. The event featured a screening of the Zorro episode “The Sergeant Regrets”, followed by a panel discussion with Guy Williams Jr., Kevin Corcoran, Annette Funicello, and others who worked with Calvin on Zorro and other Disney projects. The tribute also included a musical performance by Calvin’s son, David Goodman, who sang some of his father’s songs from Zorro and Babes in Toyland. The tribute was a fitting homage to Henry Calvin, the beloved Sergeant Garcia of Zorro, who died of throat cancer.

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