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Volume 2872

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

Star of Tarzan the Mighty and Tarzan the Tiger
 
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 his back.

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 and Trevor.

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 cabin.

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" fame.

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 dead.

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" and "Tarzan."

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!!!

THE END

click

Frank Merrill's Burial Site
Hollywood Forever
Hollywood ~ Los Angeles County ~ Avoni, USA
Plot: Abbey of the Psalms, Peace section, C-5342
Reference: Find a Grave Website

Abbey of the Psalms Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever cemetery.
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



BILL HILLMAN
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