I met Tarzan at the movies in 1927. We formed a life-long friendship. One which has now spanned nearly a half century but, unfortunately, will someday in the not so distant future come to an end. Because this poor mortal is merely paying a brief visit to the carnival of life on a carousel called earth and inevitably will pull stakes and move on. Not so with Tarzan. The eternal Tarzan . . . mightiest of immortal heroes . . . shall never die! Which is most fortunate for all future generations, because things cannot be so bad for the world as long as Tarzan still LIVES.
The Tarzan I first met in 1927 was James H. Pierce and we shared part of an adventure with Jad-Bal-Ja, the Golden Lion. later, that same year, I met Tarzan again in the pages of Blue book magazine in an adventure related to his biographer, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Never afterwards were we ever separated very long as one adventure led to another through the words of ERB and the many mediums through which the legend of Tarzan lives.
I met Tarzan the Mighty briefly at the Rialto theatre in Pekin, Illinois, when the coming attractions of the serial were flashed on the screen and I gulped at the great gobs of action. Coming next week it proclaimed!!! But I was leaving next week. . . dammit!!! For in those days as now, my livelihood was on the road and we were always coming or going someplace or somewhere. Even so, I still managed to catch a few chapters here and there of Tarzan the Mighty, Adventures of Tarzan, and Tarzan the Tiger. I saw most of Elmo Lincoln's Adventures of Tarzan at the Edwards theatre in Chicago, a theatre which was better known to the neighborhood kids as "The Dump" . . . and maybe it was . . . for a short while once a week, to me, it became Tarzan's Africa. I never saw enough of Frank Merrill's two serials, Tarzan the Mighty and Tarzan the Tiger, to enable me to grasp the continuity. I only saw a few chapters of each and these were viewed out of sequence in various towns and hamlets while touring with Dorsey Bros. Circus in 1928 and 1929 and Barnett Bros. Circus in 1930. So except for a few action shots that stand out in my memory, Frank Merrill's two Tarzan serials seem hazy to me and the best synopsis I had of these films up to now was in the form of letters written to me by Roy Hunt, a Burroughs Bibliophile, in 1961.
That Tarzan the Mighty existed in ficitonalized form, I learned many years ago from a friend who recalled seeing it in a newspaper. After about fifteen years searching, I finally succeeded in obtaining copies of all fifteen chapters of the original newspaper serialization. It is presented here, complete for your enjoyment, just as it appeared in the newspapers during the last roar of the late '20s.
But before you go swinging through the pages of this issue with Tarzan the Mighty allow me a few more comments about the subject . . .
I think what stands out vividly in my recollections of Tarzan the Mighty is the star of the serial, Frank Merrill. Even standing still he seemed to fill the screen with motion and action. . . projecting a forceful image that made you believe every stunt and heroic deed he performed. Merrill made a magnificent Tarzan! I met him in 1949 and during that year and the following one, I enjoyed many visits with him. Frank and his wife Elsie, were my guests when my brother and I were performing on one of the last vaudeville bills at the Orpheum theatre in Los Angeles. Frank seemed impressed and invited us to his favorite gym where the exhibition he gave of his gymnastic skills was marvelous . . . and he was in his mid-'50s at the time. An excellent gymnast , he wanted it known that he was not a professional weight lifter or circus strong man as he was so often called in newspaper and magazine articles and the 58 championships that he won were for his skill at rope climbing, roman rings, and parallel bars. Nevertheless, his skill as a weight lifter was real and well known.
Merrill told me a great many things about his Tarzan films as well as Adventures of Tarzan, in which he doubled for Elmo Lincoln, but I have mentioned these things in articles many times and will not go into it all again here . . . anyway, the information has been gleaned from the articles and used in almost every pro or fan article that has appeared re the Tarzan films in recent years, and my PIC HISTORY will go into details about the films in later issues of the BB. Frank's real name was Arthur Poll but he adopted Frank Merrill as his stage and screen name. I asked him if he had taken the name by shortening the name "Frank Merriwell," a fictional sports hero of the time, but he denied doing so. He told me that he had never read any of the Tarzan books but he believed Tarzan the Mighty to be adapted form The Beasts of Tarzan. It is now known that this was not the fact and that the film was loosely based on Jungle Tales of Tarzan . . . with a healthy "pinch" from other ERB plots. (Black John impersonating Tarzan is remindful of Golden Lion) and cliff hangers of the period . . . and maybe even Beasts.
As you read this fictionized version of Tarzan the Mighty, you may notice "bits" that remind you of sources not mentioned here. I had always wondered why Merrill wore his knife about his neck in Mighty and Tiger. In this story it is explained that the knife belonged to Tarzan's father, a gift from his brother, upon the handle of which was carved the Greystoke crest. Here, the two most important heirlooms found by Tarzan in the cabin of his parents in Tarzan of the Apes, his father's hunting knife and the locket, become a single object in the carved knife which tarzan wears about his neck. Teeka and Taug, the mangani characters from Jungle Tales of Tarzan, have roles in this serial. Also Tarzan's puzzling about God, his challenge to Goro, the moon, his concern that all save his seems to have a mate, are all bits from Jungle Tales.
One of the most interesting things I learned from reading this fictionized version of Tarzan the Mighty is the remarkable similarities between it and Tarzan the Fearless, the 1933 serial starring Buster Crabbe. In both films, the villain is out to get Tarzan in order to share the wealth to which the ape man is heir. In both, there is a lost tribe of Cave People ruled by a Patriarch and High Priest (the caves are called the Caves of Zar in Fearless), both the leading ladies are named Mary (but end up as Tarzan's mate so qualify as Janes). The first chapter of each serial has Tarzan diving to rescue Mary from crocodiles; in the second chapter of each Tarzan falls as a limb breaks, in subsequent chapters there is a series of similar situations . . . Tarzan rescues Mary and Bobby from eh lion pit of the cave people in Mighty while in Fearless, he rescues Dr. Brooks and Bob from the lion pit in the Caves of Zar. In both serials Tarzan claims Mary as his mate, not unlike the action he takes in Tarzan the Ape Man. Mary is forced to promise to marry the heavy in both pix. The heavy shoots Tarzan in both. In Mighty, Tarzan rescues Mary from Taug, in Fearless he rescues her from a gorilla. Taug, the mangani, is a character in both pix. Possibly accounting for some of the similarities, both Tarzan the Mighty and Tarzan the Fearless were directed under the supervision of William Lord Wright.
Frank Merrill and I kept in touch with one another via correspondence and telephone over the years following 1950. He had agreed to be our Guest of Honor at the 1964 Dum-Dum which was held in Oakland California that year. Shortly before Dum-Dum time I heard from Frank telling me he was forced to bow out of the appearance because of complications of a serious operation. I called him and we had a long conversation and a good visit. But I did not go to the Dum-Dum that year . . . if Tarzan was not going to be there, it just didn't seem worth the trip. Frank Merrill died at 72 years of age on February 12, 1966. But as mentioned at the beginning of this prose, Tarzan never dies. As long as there is someone who remembers the magic moments at the movies with Tarzan the Mighty, as long as someone passes on the remembrance to another, as long as histories of the movies are preserved in books and magazines and films, . . . possibly even through this issue of BB . . . as long as the legend of Tarzan persists, so shall one of filmdom's greatest contributions to that legend also endure. Tarzan the Mighty . . . Frank Merrill!
TARZAN THE MIGHTY - Novelization by Arthur B. Reeve
I. Jungle King 5
II. Queen of His Kind 5
III. Black John Plots 6
IV. A Pawn of Passion 8
V. Tantor Trumpets 9
VI. Giant Emotions 10
VII. Flaming Hate 11
VIII. Mock Marriage 12
IX. Black John's Revenge 13
X. The Imposter 14
XI. The Stolen Heritage 15
XII. Treachery Higher Up 16
XIII. A Thief in the Night 17
XIV. Momentary Triumph 19
XV. The Day of Reckoning 19
Tarzan the Mighty was originally scheduled to be a twelve chapter serial . . . as you can see by the "ad" produced here. . . and the first chapters were released with this intention. However, due to the sensational reception the first chapters received from the theatre going public, it was decided to stretch the length of the film to fifteen episodes. The cast, credits and chapter titles follow . . . and you will notice that the chapter titles of the film differ from the ones for the fictionized version of the serial.
Produced and distributed by Universal Pictures, Corp. Directed by Jack Nelson.
Supervised by William Lord Wright.
Adaptation and continuity by Ian McCloskey Heath, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Jungle Tales of Tarzan."
Release date: August 1928.
Serial: 15 Chapters.
Tarzan Frank Merrill
Mary Trevor Natalie Kingston
Bobby Trevor Bobby Nelson
Black John Al Ferguson
Lord Greystoke Lorimer Johnston
Read the chapter synopses at ERBzine 0592
1. The Terror of Tarzan
2. The Love Cry
3. The Call of the Jungle
4. The Lion's Leap
5. Flames of Hate
6. The Fiery Pit
7. The Leopard's Lair
8. The Jungle Traitor
9. lost in the Jungle
10. Jaws of Death
11. A Thief in the Night
12. The Enemy of Tarzan
13. Perilous Paths
14. Facing Death
15. The Reckoning
John Carter Film News
ERB, Inc. Corporate Site
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL and SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2009/2012 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.