FOREWORD by VERN CORIELL
Jim 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
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
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 Tarzan.
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
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 style.
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 slammed.
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,
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
Now to the story of what happened to me before and after my experiences
as Tarzan in Hollywood.