In "Tarzan the Tiger" the camera work was taken care of by Wilfred
Cline, and the titles by Ford I. Beebe another well-known name, and direction
by Henry McRae.
Let's take a look at the brief biography of Natalie Kingston who was
originally a Sennett Comedienne. Born in Sonoma, California. Educated at
Dominican Convent, San Rafael, California, specialising in literature and
history. Height 5 ft. 6 inches, weighing 126 lbs., with golden hair, brown
eyes. Her hair appeared dark in the Universal serials. She entered pictures
in 1924 and previous to pictures was on the legitimate stage.
Al Ferguson was born in Rosslarre, Ireland on April 19, 1897, height
6 ft. and weight 185 lbs. He had brown eyes and hair.
He was educated in London, England. He played in American films for
Selig, Universal, FBO, and Radio pictures. He entered films in 1910.
As we have stated, it was not luck or pull that secured the Tarzan role
for Merrill, there was no other man in the world at that time who was qualified
to attempt that responsible role. He was able to express himself thru'
the medium of motion pictures and pass on his enthusiasm, his exuberance,
his strength were contagious.
Merrill was both a strong man and a wise man, a clear thinker and a
man of alert mentality, who realised that success depended upon his body
and condition. He kept in trim shape by exercising regularly at the Los
Angeles Athletic Club between pictures and also when he was working and
he was never out of training at any time. He also used to exercise regularly
at home . . . twenty minutes every morning and evening.
Just prior to "MIGHTY" Merrill created a new world's record in the lateral
raise lift lying down, with two dumbbells, which had stood for 15 years.
Herewith you will find the official judges press:
Lateral Rais - Lying
N. Mammarella, F. . . . 50 1/4
S. Levani, L . . . *80
A. Losey (Prof.) . . . *91 1/4
A. Losey (Prof.) M . . . *97 1/2
R. Gerhardt . . . 92 1/2
F. Merrill, HM . . . *106
The Lateral Raise is the lift which develops the muscles essential to
the Tarzan role. The deltoids (of the shoulders) and the pectorals (chest
muscles). HM against Merrill's name I take to mean heavy-middle-weight.
In this lift the contestant lies flat on his back, body rigid, and feet
together, and arms are extended out each side of the shoulders, in the
form of a cross, a dumbbell gripped in each hand, with palms facing upwards.
The contestant endeavours to lift each dumbbell with arms rigid like a
lever, until they are directly brought together above his face.
Of course I witnessed both these great serials twice each at two different
picture houses around 43 years ago. I have never actually read the story
or a synopsis of either of them so I cannot actually recount the story.
They were merely a series of incidents of clashes between the infamous
Black John, and his supporters or of incidents and clashes between Tarzan
and Werper and Tarzan and Queen La the High Priestess, with the abduction
of Mary Trevor or Jane, as the case may be.
It is indeed a tragedy that apparently all these wonderful episodes
have been destroyed forever, never to return, and lost forever is most
of the publicity and exploitation matter connected with these films, unless
they can be found in some remote place.
"MIGHTY" opened up, if my memory serves me right, after all this great
passage of time, with the sturdy looking log cabin in a thickly wooded
part of the jungle. I distinctly remember the scene of a big-ape (Kale,
I assume), emerging from the jungle cabin with a tiny mite of a babe in
her arms, which, of course was to be Tarzan. After she mourns the death
of her young one she mothers a helpless human babe.
I cannot rightfully recollect if there was a Tarzan as a boy, or if
so, who played the role.
If there was, it must have been of very brief duration.
Suddenly, Tarzan, now grown to manhood, bursts in upon the scene, a
magnificent figure, with amazing agility and vigor, resplendent in a smart
leopard skin outfit.
Personally . . . I wouldn't have had Merrill dressed any other way than
the smart off-shoulder leopard skin outfit including headband and shoes.
It made him look Tarzanic, and added to the fascination of the episodes.
Also, I was glad he wore the sheath-knife with the crest on the handle
and the vine rope over his shoulder.
This dress gave him a closer association with the jungle.
We looked forward, eagerly each week to seeing Merrill in his smart
leopard skin outfit. . . had he appeared in drab, dirty leather loincloth
it would have ruined the fascinations of the episodes.
I was relieved to see Merrill did not resort to a quiver of arrows across
Both Tarzan and Black John (Ferguson), wore fur topped shoes which was
a good innovation for if they had sustained foot injuries from thorns or
anything cutting the foot, it might have held up production for some days
or a week.
"MIGHTY" was really a series of incidents and clashes between Tarzan
and the rascally Black John and his continuous attempts to abduct Mary
Black John was a beachcomber, a ruler of an African Village of the descendants
of a pirate crew.
He was an unkept bearded ruffian, with dark matted hair and dirty headband
and dressed in dirty looking rough leather clothes, in striking contrast
to Merrill's smart outfit.
Tarzan met up with Mary Trevor who was a castaway, when he saved her
from drowning when she was bathing in a jungle pool infested with crocodiles..
. after she had been shipwrecked with her little brother Bobby (the
son of Jack Nelson).
Merrill was pulling apart the jaws of one monster saurian when another
one was bearing down on him. Quick work with the knife was all that averted
a tragedy. Of course Tarzan became their friends.
Of course the villainous Black John, eventually learns of Tarzan's heritage,
and wants a slice of it.
When Lord Greystoke, Tarzan's uncle, came searching for the Greystoke
heir, Tarzan of the Apes, Black John, attempted to pass himself off as
the real heir. He nearly accomplished this, and the ceremony is about to
take place at the Greystoke mansion in England, when Tarzan (Merrill),
bursts in and averts a tragedy.
In Chapter 3: "The Call of the Jungle" -- Tarzan suffered a reverse,
and was tied by heavy ropes to a very thick stake, surrounded by a milling
mass of natives, and menaced by a big spear by Black John, their leader.
And there were some close-ups of contorted faces. Merrill looking very
handsome and determined was rescued by the intervention of Tantor.
In Chapter 9: "Lost in the Jungle" -- Tarzan is in a clearing in the
jungle near some tents and Black John is lying on the ground. Tarzan bends
down, snatches Black John up to full arms length above his head and throws
him about 15 feet thru' the grass wall of a hut.
Frank Merrill about to throw Black John
In one sequence Merrill climbs hand over hand up a rope hanging from
a cliff face, without using his legs, and . . . carrying Al Ferguson on
his back, and Ferguson was no light weight. This sounds pretty well incredible
but we must remember that Merrill was an athlete of tremendous strength.
I witnessed this episode and made typewritten notes about some of these
episodes soon after they were screened. Perhaps there is someone alive
who can correct me if I am wrong.
Of course they had a retaining rope also as a precaution, but this snapped.
Vine swinging can be fraught with danger.
Merrill was the first Tarzan to introduce his own vine-swinging technique.
Some close-up shots of Merrill's upper back muscles give one some idea
of his extraordinary back muscles, deltoids and biceps, while climbing.
A very warm friendship developed between "Tantor" the famous elephant
and Frank Merrill during the filming of "Tarzan the Tiger." Tantor went
to Merrill's aid on more than one occasion. Once he reached down with his
trunk and lifted Merrill out of a wild animal pit. IN another scene Merrill
is riding on the elephant's back, when with alacrity he (Merrill) swung
onto a tree by means of a vine. "Tantor" halted in evident concern and
refused to continue until he had see that Merrill was safe.
In Episode 6 of "Mighty" titled "The Fiery Pit" Tarzan is engaged in
combat with two or three of Black John's henchmen dressed in off-shoulder
fur skins while Black John drags Mary off again from inside the jungle
Merrill was exceptionally graceful and lithe in his movements when he
made daring swings through space from one vine to another and alighting
softly on the ground.
He was one motion picture star who definitely refused to take refuge
behind a "double," and all thru' his spectatulcar film career he personally
performed every stunt the script called for.
In one sequence he made a dangerous swing thru' space on the end of
a vine and crashed thru' the roof of a hut.
I can visualize a scene which I can recollect fairly clearly either
from Chapter 14 or 15 of "Mighty" where Tarzan is in a cabin on board ship,
and he is dressed in white cotton trousers, canvas deck shoes and an old
khaki shirt from which both the sleeves have been conveniently ripped out.
Merrill is still wearing his Tarzan headband. He is kneeling over a heavily
built man in a sea captain's uniform and half strangling him while Mary
is frightened in a corner and Bobby Trevor is cheering Merrill on. I assume
it is Black John cleaned up because he is minus beard and has a thin moustache.
I don't think it can be Werper because this incident took place at the
end of "Mighty" and not "Tiger."
It is rather confusing, in a way, because Tarzan is married to Marry
Trevor at the close of "Mighty" and in "Tiger" she is Tarzan's wife, again,
and is known as Lady Jane.
I can not recall after all this passage of time if Tarzan was married
on board ship by Dr. Porter, who was of course still an ordained minister.
In one version, in a picture story book Tarzan is presented with a pile
of virgin gold ingots by the chief of the Waziri Tribe, who were great
friends of Tarzan. Tarzan was made king of the Waziri Tribe!
"Tarzan the Tiger" opens up, if my memory serves me right after all
this passage of time, on a brilliant sunny afternoon on a beautiful day
in mid-summer. The sun is blazing down and Merrill looking very handsome
and clean cut in the traditional white flannels and white open-neck shirt
of the Englishman, and Lady Jane, Natalie Kingston, looking very lovely
in a delightful floral dress and they are on a wide expanse of well-kept
lawn on the Greystoke Estate, and I am not sure, after all this time if
it is their Estate in Africa or their English Estate.
Later on, in the evening I believe they have a visitor dressed in smart
city clothes and sporting a thin villainous moustache. I can't recollect
if he was wearing a tropical helmet at this time. He is posing as a scientist
or explorer but in reality he is a villain, and adventurer.
I believe he was visiting Tarzan with the idea of enticing Lord Greystoke
to get together a small party to search for the fabulous city of Opar,
the enchanted city of the dead and forgotten past. While they were sitting
conversing, it was noticeable that Tarzan's leopard skin outfit was hanging
in a prominent position of the wall of the expansive lounge.
Of course Ferguson, as Werper looks much more smart and civilised than
he did as Black John in "Mighty."
Suddenly, for no apparent reason Tarzan's handsome crested sheath knife
falls to the floor which was a kind of omen or challenge attracting their
attentions. I expect Werper says, "There you are it's a challenge . . .
calling you to the jungle."
Werper has two-fold motives for discovering Opar, to abduct Lady Jane
and also to plunder the jewel vaults of Opar.
And so Tarzan made preparations for leading a small expedition in search
of the lost and ruined city which an old Waziri had described to him.
I believe Jane was referred to as Lady Jane all thru' "Tiger" and I
cannot recollect if Tarzan and Jane were married in the first chapter.
I have a vision of a lovely scene I can remember from "Tiger" with Lady
Jane looking very lovely in evening gown and white feathered wrap and reading
a cablegram and Tarzan looking very handsome with shorter hair, and an
off-white evening dress suite with white bow tie. Whether it was a scene
after their marriage and they were reading a cablegram of congratulations
or whether they had returned from a society party I cannot remember. The
cablegram may have been a call to the jungle. Anyway, Tarzan could do with
some of the gold from the fabulous city, Opar, as he had heard he was somewhat
financially embarrassed due to the failure of a company he had an interest
in, for an enormous sum.
Of course, Tarzan had previously visited the treasure chamber and the
jewel vault of the fabulous city of Opar of which Queen La, was the High
priestess of the Temple of the Sun. La was played by Kithnou.
On second thoughts, I believe the cablegram Lady Jane was reading was
to warn Tarzan that his monetary affairs required some bolstering up.
Of course "Tiger was more or less a series of incidents and clashes
between Achmet Zek and Mohammed Bey, and the attempts to abduct Jane and
to sell her to the highest bidder.
Yes, there were tow more arch-villains in "Tiger" besides Al Ferguson.
There were Paul Panzer and Sheldon Lewis -- both of "Exploits of Elaine"
In one sequence I remember a close-up up Merrill just going to
put Mohammed Bey to sleep, and he is flexing his phenomenal arm muscles.
He doesn't stand much chance against Merrill.
Merrill had to be careful not to put forth his full strength when acting
before the camera. Film villains coming to grips with him would have been
poor insurance risks had he not exercised restraint in his battles.
Frank Merrill and Natalie Kingston
in TARZAN THE MIGHTY
In one episode Lady Jane, in her jungle clothes, is humiliated and degraded
and made to stand on a platform in the market place to be auctioned off
to the highest bidder, when quite suddenly Tarzan bursts in on the scene
and averts a tragedy.
A scene comes vividly back to my mind from Chapter 3 - "The Altar of
the Flaming God" and we see Tarzan triumphantly holding a number of virgin
gold ingots in front of him tied together by one of his vine ropes, with
a contented smile on his face. This is in the treasure chamber, and the
walls are composed of granite blocks and rock. Of course, Werper stands
in the background -- ominous with his knife poised. This incident happens
just before there is a terrible rumbling noise. One minute all is tranquility,
next minute there is this terrible rumbling noise, and the whole of Opar
rocks, the tortured sides of the narrow passageway split and crumbled blocks
of granite tumbled into the corridor, blocking it and the walls of the
chambers bulged inward. In the spacy treasure vaults the walls cracked
and a number of ingots toppled over. The ceiling cracked and a piece of
granite struck Tarzan a blow on the temple. Tarzan staggered back against
the heavy door of the treasure vault, dropped to the floor and lay still.
This havoc was wrought by the earthquake, but there was just this one single
shock. No more. Of course, Werper eventually escapes, taking Tarzan for
This is the incident which causes Tarzan to lose his memory as he has
also lost a lot of blood.
I witnessed the sound version of "Tiger" and the loud rumbling noise
was clearly audible preceding the disaster.
Tarzan suffers this amnesia, and hardly knows his friends from
his enemies until Chapter 13, when he regained his memory.
I was sorry, in a way, that this loss of memory was so long drawn out.
Of course, Tarzan eventually makes his exit from t he pits of Opar.
It was amazing, in his condition, how he negotiated all the passages, chambers
and vaults, the pits beneath the Temple of the Flaming God in that stygian
blackness . . . and that he also remembered the loose blocks of granite,
not retained by cement -- by which he made his exit to the outside world.
In his muddled state, owing to his amnesia it was quite an ordeal. We must
remember that Tarzan had visited these vaults and chambers before, and
knew of the secret escape route which none of the others knew.
Werper was later nearly sacrificed on the altar of the Flaming God,
but was saved by the intervention of a huge lion's roar.
Of course, Queen La, High Priestess of the Temple of the Sun, in the
city of Opar was really deeply in love with the magnificent Tarzan. We
must realize that previously, the only men she had seen were the stunted,
misshapen men of Opar. Tarzan reminded her of her forebears.
Of course, La nursed an intense hate for Lady Jane, as she wanted Tarzan
for herself. She was going to subject Tarzan to sacrifice on the Altar
of the Flaming God, but she eventually saved his life, as Tarzan had saved
her from the hands of a mad priest. But she had to make him a virtual prisoner
for his own safety in a small chamber called the Chamber of the Dead until
she had a plan for his escape from the priests. How Tarzan escaped by his
own secret way she never knew. Only she had the key.
In Chapter 15 - "Tarzan Triumphs," Tarzan again suffers a reverse. At
gun point he is again tied to a tree by Werper and one of his henchmen
-- both wearing tropical knit and Lady Jane still wearing her jungle outfit
is abducted again.
In Chapter 14 - "Tarzan's Rage" Merrill is in an open clearing in the
jungle. He snaps rifles as tho' they were mere matchsticks, tears up small
trees with his bare hands, and hurls heavy tree stumps about. Some of our
readers may recall this incident . . .
I should have mentioned that when Tarzan regained consciousness after
he had been knocked out by the tremor, he felt no ill effect physically,
but his mind was very confused, and, in the stygian gloom he accidentally
stumbled upon the long-forgotten jewel chamber of Opar. For ages it had
remained buried beneath the "Temple of the Flaming God." Only a mere suggestion
of light filtered thru' a tiny grating high up in the ceiling.
Tarzan returned to the primitive due to his injury, and looked upon
the large chests of precious stones he had discovered as pretty pebbles.
Having no conception in his condition of their priceless value, he filled
his leather pouch with them, simply because he was attracted to them.
In Chapter 9 -
"The Flight of Werper" Tarzan is robbed of his pretty pebbles by a trick
by Werper, and it was some chapters later before he recovered them, either
Chapter 12 - "The Jewels of Opar" or I believe, Chapter 13. Tarzan and
Jane, still wearing her jungle outfit, come across Werper in an open clearing
in the jungle, either dead or unconscious, lying prostrate, face down,
and still wearing his white tropical helmet, breeches and knee boots. Our
very rare accompanying picture gives a good idea of the scene. We are lucky
to still be able to see this scene. Tarzan promptly relieves him of the
pouch which is rightfully Tarzan's.
Of course, Merrill, great athlete that he was, suffered one or two accidents
the same as anyone else,. The dangers he encountered he viewed in but a
matter-of-fact way, passing them off as all in the day's work. In one sequence
he was 235 feet above the ground and he leaped across 14 feet from one
vine to the other, in mid-air, and as he jumped the breeze blew it just
beyond his reach. He missed and fell, but this time avoided any injury
by turning somersaults and alighting on his feet unhurt.
He suffered his worst accident while performing on the Roman rings.
His hands slipped and he fell 45 feet. Again, his presence of mind saved
him, and he somersaulted, somewhat breaking his fall, but at this great
height he dropped forward on his hands breaking both wrists. He treated
the matter lightly, "I only suffered broken wrists," he remarked, laconically.
Merrill's athletic body was covered with scars, the results of hand-to-hand
conflicts with such wild animals as lions, leopards, alligators and apes.
"Lions are the most dangerous," declared Merrill. "A man has a fighting
chance with his bare hands with a leopard, but the strength and ferocity
of a lion is too much for the natural fighting ability of any human being."
I don't know what Tarzan, Mary Trevor and Bobby Trevor subsisted on
or whether they were vegetarians, but the only food I noticed on the table
in the jungle cabin was piles of bananas, grapes, etc.
Merrill was the very last silent Tarzan and the FIRST sound Tarzan.
He was the very first one to emit the Tarzan yell, and you could also hear
the roar of the animals and the loud rumbling of the brief earthquake.
After the completion of "Tiger" Frank made a personal appearance tour
in his leopard skin outfit visiting all the houses which had shown "Mighty"
At the close of this exhausting personal appearance tour of 18 months,
Merrill was scheduled to embark immediately for Africa to make "Tarzan
the Terrible" to be shot with a real African background. A Hollywood producer
rung him on the completion of his tour.
Merrill had made 30 episodes, or 60 reels of serials fraught with dangers,
risks and injuries in every episode even for a marvelous athlete and strongman
such as he. He was entitled to at least two weeks rest after all this effort
and told the producer he needed two months.
The Hollywood producer couldn't wait. "Time is money" I suppose he thought.
No sentiment -- just routine. Frank didn't want to know, he had had enough
of Tarzan anyway.
From TARZAN THE MIGHTY
Frank Merrill originally came from Newark, New Jersey from a section
that had some poor and middle class people: German, Polish, Irish, Russian,
Slavic and Italians. Merrill's real name was Otto Pohl and early in his
life he was a mounted policeman and he was known as the "Adonis Cop." He
worked out at National Turner's Gymnasium. He was married there to Elsie
and remained married to her for over 50 years.
I felt Frank's passing quite profoundly, on February 12th, 1966. I felt
the loss of someone I came to think of a s a dear friend.
I never gave it a thought that anything would happen to him and thought
he would just go on and on, and that an athlete of his tremendous strength
would never be defeated by anything.
We are always thinking of you Frank!!!