FOREWORD by VERN CORIELL
Pierce played an important part in my life . . . he introduced me to TARZAN
OF THE APES. Because the very first Tarzan film I ever saw was the last
few reels of TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION in 1927. In those few moments,
Tarzan reached out and took hold of me, and through him, I discovered the
marvelous magic of the world's greatest myth-maker, Edgar Rice Burroughs
I was never ever to escape the steely grip of Tarzan or the wondrous worlds
of Burroughs. Who wants to?
James H. Pierce has played the role of Tarzan longer than
anyone with the exception of Johnny Weissmuller. For although he appeared
in a single feature film, Jim portrayed Tarzan in 364 recorded radio programs
with his wife, Joan Burroughs Pierce, playing Jane. These programs are
still being broadcast and heard on tape cassettes all over the world.
Jim likes to refer to himself as a "silent Tarzan" in
order to dodge having to give a speech on occasions. . . but don't let
him kid you . . . the blood chilling "yell" you hear on those records and
in the films which starred Herman Brix, comes straight from the lungs of
none other than James H. Pierce.
As you read this book and of the Tarzanic deeds and feats
performed by Pierce, you will realize that ERB and Joan have been right
along . . . Jim Pierce is Tarzan of the Apes. But more than that, the book
is a Jasoomian love story!
JAMES H. PIERCE
Photo courtesy Keith
Johnson ~ Photo Shop Guy
It was over fifty years ago in December 1926 that I spent
my first day as TARZAN OF THE APES at the F.B.O. studios in Hollywood.
The picture was TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION by Edgar Rice Burroughs and
produced by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of our late President of the United
States, John F. Kennedy. The studio was F.B.O. (Film Booking Offices).
Later to become R.K.O., owned at different times by Howard Hughes and Desi
and Lucy Arnez.
The first day I shall long remember. We traveled to Sherwood
Forest for location. A place that somewhat simulated the Af
rican jungle, about twenty five miles west of Hollywood.
The company had already been working several hours when they brought me
out to the location. The director was J.P. McGowan. He was known for his
cliffhanger serials where it was knock 'em down, drag 'em out and leave
the audience in suspense until the following week when the picture would
be continued. He was always in a hurry and wanted to get as many scenes
as possible, leaving little time for rehearsals.
As soon as I arrived, he rushed me to the camera set up
and told me to lead the band of one hundred or more black extras dressed
in native costumes. There was a war going on in the story between the good
and bad tribes.
I was dressed only in a leopard skin and barefooted when
off we went through the rocks and brush. My feet were not tough enough
for this, and after a few strides, I let out the greatest Tarzan yell ever.
The rocks and briars were killing me, and I stopped the scene and started
limping back toward the cameras on my bruised and bleeding tootsies, walking
like a frozen toe rooster. McGowan, the director yelled and screamed, "You
are really some Tarzan!". I was terribly embarrassed of course, because
here I was, the mighty Tarzan, king of the jungle, a real panty-waist!
It seemed like a big joke to everyone but me.
The director was pacing back and forth, shaking his head,
"What the Hell will we do now?" he roared.
"May I make a suggestion, Mr. Mac," I asked meekly.
"Well what the devil is it?" he questioned.
"Let me get some sneakers, put body make-up on them, and
let me give it another try."
"Okay -- what have we got to lose?" he snapped. "We can
skip to another scene that you are not in."
I went to the wardrobe man who had heard the "brew-ha,"
and he said, "I'll fix you up, no problem, no problem. I have just the
things you you mentioned in my truck."
The sneakers worked out just great. Ten feet from the
cameras the sneakers would never pick up on the film and the audience would
never know the difference. The makeup man and the wardrobe man did a great
job camouflaging a pair of tennis shoes. They matched my tanned legs beautifully.
From then on I leaped through the jungle like a gazelle.
As the picture progressed, I had several hair-raising
experiences. The worst was a scene at Santa Ana Canyon that called for
me to cross a wide ravine hand over hand on a rope. The ravine was about
75 feet wide and sixty feet deep. The rope was camouflaged with a lot of
moss to make it look like the huge vines that were a mode of travel for
The cameras rolled and shortly thereafter so did I. After
a few swings, the moss started turning on the rope and my grip was slipping
so rapidly that I had to throw my leg over the rope to see from falling
into the rocky ravine.
The scene was spoiled as I scooted back to the starting
point with my knees hooked over the rope. Again the great Tarzan was a
flop. The director was purple with rage and screamed, "How the Hell do
you expect us to get this scene? Any more bright ideas."
"Why not tape some hooks inside my hands?" I suggested.
"We'll try anything to make a Tarzan out of you," he replied
with a half smile. We had become a little better acquainted by now and
my work had pleased him in many ways.
They worked on another scene while the prop man scrounged
up some large hooks and tape. The tape was covered with makeup and the
hooks were hidden in the palms of my hands. In an hour we were ready to
shoot the scene. This time I zipped across the ravine in typical Tarzan
experience provided a lions share of danger. The lion I was working with
was not tame by any means, but with the aid of trainer Charley Gay, of
the famous GAy Lion farm, who stood just out of camera range with a whip
and a chair and a gun we managed to get the scenes in good time. (In the
story, the Lion "Numa" was supposed to be my pet and ever-loving apl.)
The day had been long and the lion was tired. The scene was to be the wrap
(final scene) of the day.
I was standing on the porch of my jungle house with the
golden lion beside me. I was to point into the jungle and "Numa" was to
run off into the trees and brush. Each time the camera turned and the trainer
cracked his whip (off camera) to make him run, the lion would yawn and
turn to go back inside the house where his cage was located.
After several attempts, I became pretty disgusted. We
had been trying to get the scene for a long time, the light was fading
and it had been a hard day, so when he turned to back in the house again,
I just moved over in front of him and put my knees together and stopped
him. No one had ever touched the animal in a scene before. The trainer
went wild. He started yelling, shooting blanks, and running around like
crazy to distract the lion before he decided to take a leg off me. The
crew ran for cover.
Instead of going for me, he just sat down and looked at
me quizzically. The trainer yanked me out of the scene and his assistant
inside the cabin rattled the cage door to attract the lion's attention.
There was always a tidbit of fresh horse meat awaiting him there, rattling
the door was his cue. Finally he ambled inside his cage and the gate was
This ended the shooting for the day and needless to say,
I never touched the animal again. I got as close as possible for the scenes
but there was always daylight between us -- especially the time I had to
swing down from the rafters in the "Palace of Diamonds" set, onto a podium
where the lion was menacing the leading lady, Edna Murphy. He got a bid
excited but luckily, didn't attack.
Another way they had to make the lion run from one place
to another and follow me was to have him in a cage just off camera. Then
there was another cage placed in the bushes, hidden from the camera, near
the path he was to follow. Beef blood was poured on the ground and the
lion would run like mad following the trail to the cage where he would
find a nice hunk of beef. I had to run through smoke and jump a large ditch
with the lion following me. I traveled faster than the lion, believe me.
Tarzan's mode of transportation, aside from the vines
and swinging through the trees, was on the back of his faithful friend,
Tantor, the elephant -- a sort of a jungle taxi service. ONce scene called
for Tarzan to pick up an ape from one of the tree branches along the route.
The ape was also a buddy according to the story, but our "ape" was really
Crash Corrigan, well known stunt man, in an ape suit.
When the phone ape dropped on his back, Tantor didn't
like his smell. He trumpeted wildly and took off like a Sherman tank. One
might thing that an elephant does not move fast because of his stiff back
legs. But he can go from a slow walk to about twenty-five or thirty miles
an hour in two or three lunges. He headed for thick foliage to scrape us
off his back. I knew I had to unload in a hurry. I yelled, "Jump Crash!!!"
I threw my leg over his back and looked at the ground which was passing
by like a streak. Clad only in a loin cloth, I slid off some ten feet or
so down across the millions of tiny bristles on the elephant's skin, to
the ground, rolling and bouncing several feet before I came to a stop.
No bones were broken, but I was bleeding profusely from my "fanny" and
legs, thanks to the sharp bristles. Crash got a break because of the ape
suit he was dressed which prevented the bristles from penetrating to the
skin. Fortunately the scene was taken out of the script and I always rode
solo from then on.
Now to the story of what happened to me before and after
my experiences as Tarzan in Hollywood.