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Volume 2870

Reprinted without editing from The Jasoomian 1973
PART 1 of 3 ~ plus Filmography
FRANK MERRILL: March 21, 1893 - February 12, 1966

Star of Tarzan the Mighty and Tarzan the Tiger
"That is the man to play Tarzan" -- declared Edgar Rice Burroughs the famous author of the famous stories without hesitation. Immediately he noticed an actor of remarkable and striking appearance at one of the major studios, while Burroughs was on a brief trip to Hollywood. This incident took place about seven years before Universal ever thought of entering the Tarzan field.

This man was doing bit parts and "doubling" for other palyers. He had been boxing trainer to Charles Ray, had boxed and wrestled with Buck Jones and had "doubled" and played bit parts for a number of players including Elmo Lincoln, and had  been on the stage with a monologue act featuring athletic stunts, and for a time appeared in stock.

HIs name was Frank Merrill one of the greatest all-round athletes in the world. At that time Merrill was practically unknown, and had not the remotest idea he would ever play Tarzan. At childhood Merrill gave promise of becoming a physical marvel. During his schooldays he was a leading athlete , and ever since he kept up the strenuous work. The full story goes that after completing his education, Merrill put together a monologue act featuring athletic stunts, and for a time appeared in stock.

His embarkation on a movie career resulted from a trip to Los Angeles to compete in an athletic contest, and while there drifted into the film game. His remarkable and striking appearance and prodigious strength attracted the favourable attention of motion picture executives, and he immediately went into pictures of the action type. Of course most of us know that Merrill was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 21, 1898. He was adjudged "The World's Most Perfect Man" in a physical culture contest in Newark, N.J. and was pronounced 100% perfect by the president of the Medical Association at Los Angeles. He was holder of more than twenty championships in Roman rings, rope-climbing, wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, swimming, hurdling, shot putting, broad jumping, etc. He was the winner of more than a hundred prizes and medals in athletic contests throughout the world. Let's take a look at Frank's measurements. He was 6 ft. tall, weighed 185, chest 44, biceps, 16 1/2, forearms 14, wrist 8 1/2, thigh 22, calves 15. His legs might appear on the slim side, but, that's strength.

In 1927 Merrill played in a gigantic 10 Episode serial for Weiss Brothers-Artclass Pictures, PERILS OF THE JUNGLE . . . but that's another story.

Merrill was destined to make a mass of thrilling action pictures in the meantime, to the intense pleasure of young and old alike. Better than all your doctor's "tonics."

Merrill justifiably earned the title "Hercules of the screen," just as Elmo Lincoln was always know as "Elmo the Mighty" and Joe Bonono as "Samson of the Circus."

Frank made a series of high-class action pictures around 1925, such as "Battling Mason" . . . "Reckless Speed" . . . "A Fighting Heart" . . . "Savages of the Sea" . . . "Shackled Lightning" . . . and "Dashing Thru," these were released over this side by the Western Import Co. The Renters Review of these 6 pictures gives the reader some idea of their quality . . .
 

"In this series of six pictures Frank Merrill, the athletic star has climbed the ladder of film fame to a point where he is supreme in his field. He is a stunt artist whom you can rely upon to deliver new thrills in every succeeding production. His youth, his daring and his versatility have a world-wide appeal, and apart from his daring as the holder of forty-two champs, his acting ability is of the highest order."

In "Battling Mason" Frank treats us to some good grand boxing, a fight on the roof of a warehouse and goes hand over hand for a good distance on a cable stretched between two warehouses over a railway goods yard, He also "juggles" with three men at once.

"Reckless Speed" was a great favourite, a strictly conventional story of crooked oil deals, mixed up with plenty of quick-firing incidents and thrills.

The Trade Reviewers comments on this high-powered thriller were as follows . . .

"Frank Merrill shows tremendous energy in turning somersaults over all obstacles . . ."

"The future happiness of the hero and his friends depends on an oil well starting to gush before the stroke of 12 on a certain date.

The hero is the son of the man who holds an option on the oil field and the heroin is the pretty reporter of a newspaper who has instructions to make a story out of the possible chances of rival companies -- and the villain is the representative of the company that will take up the option if the hero's father fails to strike oil."

"By the exercising of tremendous agility -- "Speed Cresswell" -- (Frank Merrill, of course), circumvents the villains attempts to retard the working of the mine and returns with the news a few minutes before the stipulated dead-line."

In "Dashing Thru" we are treated to some splendid boxing by Merrill and some excellent construction camp scenes of a construction camp of a big river diversion belonging to the State of California, which the authorities kindly lent to the producer . . .

One picture Merrill completed for Hercules PIctures around 1925 . . . "Little Wild Girl" from the story by Putnam Hoover, had quite an imposing cast. Lial, Lee, Cullen Landis, Sheldon Lewis, Boris Karloff, Jimmy Aubrey, Bud Shaw, etc. Merrill was Tavish McBride.

I believe one of the earliest movies Merrill ever appeared in must have been "Son of Tarzan" a serial, the lead of which was originally assigned to Jack Hoxie, the popular cowboy star, but was eventually awarded to Kamuela Searle, who was originally a sculptor. Merrill played the role of the Sheikh.

The cast of "The Son of Tarzan" was given as follows: Gordon Griffith (Jack at age 15), Dempsey Tabler (Lord Greystoke), Karla Schramm (Lady Greystoke), Kamuela Searle (Jack), and Frank Merrill (The Sheikh).

Frank made another splendid series of athletic pictures around 1927 which were released by Ideal Films (in England).

They were released under the title of "The Great Athletic Champion" in a series of pictures by a new kind of hero.

Frank proved he could wear well-cut clothes just as well as an athletic singlet in these great series.

"Man Proposes" . . . "Dare-Do-Wells" . . . ""Unknown Dangers" . . . "The Hollywood Reporter" . . . "Cupids Knockout" . . . "The Fighting Doctor"

In "Savages of the Sea" we are treated to some grand glimpses of Merrill's extraordinary development in the scenes on board the ship, etc. Later he appears very smart in well-cut clothes and also white flannels.

Merrill did play in another athletic "A Gentleman Roughneck" for Hercules Film Productions, Inc. around 1925 written and directed by Grower JOnes, but regrettably it did not come my way.

All the six stunt dramas: "Dashing Thru," "Reckless Speed," etc. were all produced by Hercules Film Productions, Inc.

In the summer of 1927 some large posters appeared on the hoardings and outside the picture theatres announcing The Greatest Wild Animal Serial ever produced -- "Perils of the Jungle" with the greatest aggregation of wild animals ever assembled. This was a rather controversial serial produced and distributed by Weiss Brothers, Artclass Pictures of 1540 Broadway, New York. It was handled by F.B.O. in Britain.

The story was by Harry P. Crist . . . supervision by George M. Merrick, and directed by that master of serial direction Jack Nelson. Frank Merrill was the hero, Rod Bedford, a young explorer, and Eugenia Gilbert was attractive as the girl, Phyllis Marley, who has been shipwrecked on the desolate African Coast with her father, a scientist and archaeologist.

Milburn Morante also appears and Bobby Nelson, son of Jack Neslon, as Kimpo.

Certain critics attempted to play "Perils" down and ridicule it as a cheap job, and only made for lowest quality houses. But, I like to give credit where credit is due.

Weiss Brothers did put out some elaborate advance publicity and exploitation on this serial. "Ten Episodes of a Thousand Thrills with a Million Dollar Cast! The fiercest and largest aggregation of wild animals ever assembled. . ."

Anyway, for my money 10-episodes of Frank Merrill PLUS the huge aggregation of jungle cats, etc. must have given much pleasure week after week to watch Frank Merrill perform. You've had your money's worth to watch Merrill's feats.

Let us take a brief rundown on the story of "Perils."

Mystery, thrills, and romance marked the opening chapters of this realistically produced picture of life in the wild African jungles, with the animals competing with the human actors in securing amazing and startling effects.

Eugenia Gilbert plays the role of the girl, Phyllis Marley, who has been shipwrecked on a desolate African coast with her father, a scientist and archaeologist. They have come in search of her sister, Helen, who for several years has been lost in the interior and is believed to be in the hands of a wild tribe, known as the "Tiger Men."

The part of Rod Bedford, a young explorer, who has been captured by cannibals, is played by Frank Merrill and his companion, Joe Marks, who furnishes occasional comedy is portrayed by Milburn Morante. They are rescued by Kimpo, a mysterious white boy who is regarded by the natives with superstitious awe and right there the story begins. Little Bobby Nelson -- of course -- plays the part of Kimpo.

After their rescue from the natives, Bedford meets Phyllis Marley, whose father is dying of fever. Her only protector is a sinister-looking companion, who is called Brute Hanley, portrayed by Albert J. Smith.

It is very evident that the latter has his own special plans about Phyllis and also that he had some other matter on his mind, which is equally villainous. What it was, later chapters gradually developed.

The closing thrill of the first episode was a charging Hippo who upset the raft on which Phyllis was drifting, with Bedford coming into the scene just in time to prevent a certain casualty.

All the actors do extremely well in their respective parts, but the medal for realism must go to the hippo who unquestionably meant business. The audience go the thrill of their lives when he went into action.

Merrill of course wore clothes in "Perils," breeches and a shirt, but more often than not the shirt was very conveniently ripped off him.

When President Carl Laemmle of Universal decided to make his essay into Tarzan business in 1928, he immediately enlisted none other than the great Joe Bonomo -- already known as "Samson of the Circus" and the "Hercules of the Screen" in the title role of a huge serial based on ERB's famous book The Jungle Tales of Tarzan.

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FRANK MERRILL FILMOGRAPHY from IMDB


Tarzan the Tiger (1929) .... Tarzan / Lord Greystoke
The Little Wild Girl (1928) .... Tavish McBride
... aka Flaming Justice (UK)
Tarzan the Mighty (1928) .... Tarzan
Perils of the Jungle (1927) .... Rod Bedford
Cupid's Knockout (1926) .... Frank Gibson
The Fighting Doctor (1926) .... Dr. Frank Martin
Dashing Thru (1926)
Unknown Dangers (1926) .... Frank Carter
The Hollywood Reporter (1926) .... Billy Hudson
Gentleman Roughneck (1925)
Speed Madness (1925)
Shackled Lightning (1925)
Savages of the Sea (1925) .... Silent Saunders
The Trailer (1925) .... The Trailer
Battling Mason (1924) .... Mason
Reckless Speed (1924) .... Speed Creswell
A Fighting Heart (1924) .... Jack Melford
The Adventures of Tarzan (1921) .... Arab guard

Stunts:
Tarzan of the Apes (1918) (stunt double: Elmo Lincoln)
The Adventures of Tarzan (1921) (stunt double: Elmo Lincoln)

Archive Footage:
Tarzan at the Movies, Part 2: The Many Faces of Tarzan (1996) (V)
The White Gorilla (1945) (uncredited) .... Ed Bradford

Birth: 21 March 1893, Newark, New Jersey, USA
Death: 12 February 1966, Los Angeles, California, USA
Birth Name: Otto Poll
Height: 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Biography from IMDB
Frank Merrill won 58 National, Southern California and Los Angeles championships in gymnastics (Roman rings, high bars and rope climbing). He was national gymnastics champion from 1916 to 1918. Prior to his roles as the fifth Tarzan, he worked as a stuntman, doubling for Elmo Lincoln in the 1921 "Adventures of Tarzan". His first starring role was in "Perils of the Jungle" for Weiss Brother Artclass Productions. The director of that movie offered him the job of Tarzan when the man who already had the job (Joe Bonono, already billed as "the greatest of all Tarzans") fractured his leg and broke his contract. Merrill invented the vine-swinging techniques used in later Tarzan films and the Tarzan yell, played on a record accompanying a "semi-sound" version of this second Tarzan movie. His voice was thought unsuitable for talkies, so he retired from movies to work with children, as Park Commissioner and recreation director for the city of Los Angeles. On retirement in 1963, following a serious operation, he donated his services to the YMCA as a gym instructor.

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Tarzan the Mighty
1928 | Gallery
FRANK MERRILL
"Hercules of the Screen"
Tarzan the Tiger
1929
Merrill Remembered
Part I
Merrill Remembered
Part II
Merrill Remembered
Part III
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NATALIE KINGSTON
Photo Gallery
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