Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #20
"Is courage only for men, then?"
In the first Tarzan novel, “Tarzan of the Apes,” an
orphaned baby is raised by Kala the she-ape to become Tarzan, King of the
Tarzan’s human parents, the British Lord and Lady Greystoke,
were bound for Africa on a diplomatic mission to investigate colonial crimes
against the native populace when the sailors on their vessel, the “Fuwalda,”
mutinied and left the couple marooned on the shore of West Africa (in some
later film versions, they are stranded by shipwreck). The pair try to carve
out a living in the wild, but fall victim to its perils, leaving their
heir to be raised by the anthropoid apes.
In the 1918 film, “Tarzan of the Apes,” Lord and Lady
Greystoke were portrayed by True Boardman, Sr. and Kathleen Kirkham. The
film is notable for casting Lady Greystoke as a strong, determined woman
who demands to accompany her husband on his voyage; this film was screening
two years before the 19th Amendment recognized women’s right to vote in
the United States.
Boardman, a theatrical matinee idol, was part of an
entertainment dynasty spanning five generations from nineteenth century
stagework to modern sitcoms. Born in Oakland, California on April 21, 1880
to actress and playwright Caro True Boardman, the younger Boardman became
a stage player, marrying ingénue Virginia Eames in 1909. Son True,
Jr., made his theatrical debut in 1910 at eight weeks of age in the Seattle
stock company in which his parents performed. In 1911, the family began
acting in films for Selig Polyscope in Chicago, soon relocating to California
to appear in Essanay’s Broncho Billy series, where True played the sheriff.
In 1914, he portrayed Stingaree (a sort of Australian Robin Hood) for Kalem,
later appearing in the serial “The Hazards of Helen.” Boardman succumbed
to the influenza epidemic and died on in Los Angeles on September 28, 1918,
at age 38. Virginia and True, Jr. went on to have long film careers. True
Sr.’s great-granddaughter, Lisa Gerritsen, continued the family profession
by appearing onscreen in the 1960s and ‘70s.
A statuesque, 5'8", blue-eyed brunette, Kirkham was
born April 15, 1895 in Menominee, Michigan, and was educated locally at
the Cummock School. Kirkham joined a stock theater company in Lakeside,
Wisconsin and eventually ended up in Hollywood. She played a number of
supporting roles onscreen, usually winning assignments free-lance, through
the 1920s, when she married H.N. Woodruff and retired from acting. She
died in Santa Barbara on November 7, 1961.