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
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
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
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
Some close-up shots of Merrill's upper back muscles give
one some idea of his extraordinary back muscles, deltoids and biceps, while
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Merrill's athletic body was covered with scars, the results
of hand-to-hand conflicts with such wild animals as lions, leopards, alligators
"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
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!!!