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Volume 6390

ERB of the Silver Screen
A Resource Guide to the Movies of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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From TARZAN ON FILM by Scott Tracy Griffin


Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #81
Following the success of Great Western Producing Company’s 1921 serial “The Adventures of Tarzan,” starring Elmo Lincoln and Louise Lorraine, author Edgar Rice Burroughs sold picture rights to his fifth and sixth apeman novels, “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar” and “Jungle Tales of Tarzan,” to Great Western’s Stern brothers and Louis Jacobs. Burroughs was paid $20,000 outright for each of the two Tarzan stories, with no royalties or succeeding payments due. When the serials were made years later, with no further royalties paid to Burroughs, he was incensed.
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #82
Following the successful release of the 1921 serial “The Adventures of Tarzan,” a five-year drought in the apeman franchise ensued, the longest period without a Tarzan film until the 1970s. In 1924, author Edgar Rice Burroughs began negotiating with FBO studios for the rights to his ninth Tarzan novel, “Tarzan and the Golden Lion.” Negotiations dragged on for two years, until February 15, 1926, when Burroughs signed a contract with Joseph Schnitzer, Vice President of FBO, with the movie to be produced by Roberston Cole (R-C) Pictures of FBO, executive produced by Joseph P. Kennedy.
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #83
“There’s my Tarzan!” exclaimed Edgar Rice Burroughs when he spotted a tall, tanned athlete at a Tarzana Ranch pool party. Jim Pierce, a former All American football player at the University of Indiana, was coaching football at Glendale Union High School (where Marion Morrison was playing on the line) and hoping to enroll in USC law school when he accompanied his best friend to the Burroughs soirée.

Burroughs quickly arranged for Pierce to take a screen test for the lead in “Tarzan and the Golden Lion,” in pre-production at FBO Studios. On July 24, Burroughs wrote to Frank Ormiston of FBO that “he comes nearer approaching my visualization of Tarzan of the Apes than any man I have ever seen. If he can only act, I believe that he is a distinct find . . .”

The son of a farmer, James Hubert Pierce was born August 8, 1900 in Freedom, Indiana (population 500), traveling west to seek his fortune after graduating from college. After meeting the author’s daughter Joan Burroughs at the party, the couple began dating and eventually married on his birthday, August 8, 1928.

Pierce, whose previous filmwork was limited to extra and bit parts, was cast as the apeman, and production on “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” began in fall, 1926. Charles Gay’s lion Numa played the title character Jab, Tarzan’s “loyal companion”; Burroughs, impressed with Gay’s kind methods of animal training, had referred him to the production.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #84
Co-starring opposite Jim Pierce in FBO’s “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” (1927), Dorothy Dunbar played Jane, Lady Greystoke, though her role was overshadowed by that of Edna Murphy, whose abduction to the City of Diamonds drives the plot.

Born May 28, 1902, in Cripple Creek, Colorado, Dunbar only appeared in nine films, retiring shortly after completing “Tarzan” to travel the world with her husband, Minneapolis millionaire Thomas Bucklin-Wells II. Following his untimely death in her arms from a tropical disease contracted on his African rubber plantation, Dunbar married six more times, with husbands including Hollywood portrait painter Tino Costa, Spanish diplomat Jaime S. De Gerson y Baretto, and heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer (a tempestuous union dubbed “The Battling Baers” by sportswriters).

Following her final marriage to flight pioneer Russell Lawson, the couple moved to Seattle, where they had two sons and avoided the limelight. Dunbar died October 23, 1992, in Seattle, at the age of 90.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #85
Beautiful Edna Murphy played the second female lead, Jane’s niece Ruth Porter, in “Tarzan and the Golden Lion. In the inter-titles for the French release, Murphy was renamed Betty Greystoke, “Tarzan’s favorite sister” (no word on whether she, too, was raised by apes). Murphy’s character actually overshadowed Jane in the storyline, as Ruth/Betty is abducted to the lost Palace of Diamonds and destined for sacrifice, necessitating rescue by Tarzan.

Petite (5’2”) and blonde, Murphy was born in New York City on November 17, 1899. She began working as a commercial model, and made her screen debut in “To the Highest Bidder” (1918). She was soon working regularly in Hollywood in B pictures and serials, voted “The Most Photographed Movie Star of 1925” by “ScreenLand Magazine”.

Murphy and lead Jim Pierce dated briefly during the production of “Golden Lion,” while he and Joan Burroughs were on a break from their relationship (Pierce and Burroughs later reunited and married in 1928). Murphy married director Mervyn LeRoy in 1927, but he left her in 1933, blacklisting her in Hollywood. She retired from film and moved in with her sister, passing away in Santa Monica, California on August 3, 1974.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #86
The plot to FBO’s “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” (1927) was a simplified version of the titular novel’s storyline.

Tarzan, Lord Greystoke (Jim Pierce) awaits his wife Jane (Dorothy Dunbar) and her niece Ruth (Edna Murphy) at his African estate. The ladies’ safari is attacked by the villainous Esteban Miranda (Frederic Peters), aided by his henchmen John Peebles (Robert Bolder), and Awaza (Boris Karloff), a renegade Wazari (sic) chief.

Tarzan arrives just in time to repulse the attackers, and later encounters an ancient man, John Gordon (D’Arcy Corrigan), who has escaped slavery among the Tangani tribe. Gordon tells Tarzan of the fantastic wealth held by the tribe in their Palace of Diamonds.

Miranda, learning of the treasure, abducts Ruth and Gordon and strikes out for the lost city to plunder its riches. There, Ruth is taken captive and destined for sacrifice to the Lion God—as Tarzan and Jab, the Golden Lion, race to the rescue.

For decades, the film was believed to be lost. Pierce even corresponded with Joseph Kennedy, seeking copy, but came up empty-handed. In 1995 a copy was located in France and subsequently translated (with supporting characters retaining their alternate names from the French version) into English for U.S. DVD release. This version is only 57 minutes long and lacks the opening credits and final few minutes of the film.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #87
“Tarzan and the Golden Lion” (1927) was helmed by J.P. McGowan, an experienced and prolific action director whose adventurous life influenced his artistic efforts.

John Paterson McGowan was born February 24, 1880 in Terowie, South Australia to a railroading family, and left school at 17 to work as a sailor and, later, cowpuncher. An experienced horseman, he traveled to South Africa seeking his fortune in mining; there he served in the Boer war as a dispatch rider with the British unit Montmorency’s Scouts, and was severely injured when his horse went over a precipice, killing the horse and hospitalizing McGowan for a year with a concussion, smashed ribs, and both legs and arms broken.

Following his recuperation, he unsuccessfully sought work as an explorer and big game hunter, emigrating to the U.S. for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 as part of a riding exhibition. He helped establish the Paterson, New Jersey mounted police unit and worked as a cowboy in Texas before taking a job with Shakespearean actor Robert Mantell training actors to play soldiers, soon joining their ranks on stage.

McGowan began working with Kalem Motion Picture Company as a bit player in 1909, and travelled the world with the company, acting and directing films in Florida, Alabama, Ireland, London, Germany, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Following his return from his overseas journey to film the groundbreaking five-reel story of Jesus Christ, “From the Manger to the Cross,” McGowan advanced in the company when several key personnel quit, incensed at being shut out of sharing in the film’s profits.

He moved to California in 1912, directing weekly episodes of the “Hazards of Helen” serial, marrying lead Helen Holmes and founding Signal Films with her. He also continued to appear on-camera as a villain in Westerns. Upon retirement from directing and acting, he served as the Executive Secretary of the Screen Directors Guild (later renamed the Directors Guild of America) from 1939-51, and was awarded a lifetime membership.

McGowan died in his sleep at his West Hollywood home on March 26, 1952, survived by his adopted daughter Dorothy and third wife Kaye. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. In 2005, McFarland Books released “J.P. McGowan: Biography of a Hollywood Pioneer,” penned by John J. McGowan, a relative.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #88
In 1927, Grosset & Dunlap released a photoplay edition of the 1923 novel “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” with dust jacket art based on a photo of Tarzan (Jim Pierce) and Jab the lion (played by Numa). The novel included four photo stills from the film and was reprinted at least four times.

At a special banquet to celebrate the release of the novel, several editions were signed by the luminaries in attendance, including author Edgar Rice Burroughs; publishers Alexander Grosset and George Dunlap; FBO Studio head Joseph P. Kennedy; director J.P. McGowan; star Jim Pierce (Tarzan); co-stars Boris Karloff (Owaza), D’Arcy Corrigan (John Gordon), Robert Bolder (John Peebles), Harold Goodwin (Jack Bradley), and Frederic Peters (Esteban Miranda); and other members of the production crew. Today, these signed books are a coveted collectible.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #89
In his 1978 autobiography, “The Battle of Hollywood, by James H. Pierce, Oldest Living Tarzan,” Jim Pierce, star of FBO’s “Tarzan and the Golden Lion” (1927) recounts several humorous anecdotes from the production, including his first day on set:

“As soon as I arrived (director J.P. McGowan) rushed me to the camera set up and told me to lead the band of one hundred or more black extras dressed in native costumes. There was a war going on in the story between the good and bad tribes.

“I was dressed only in a leopard skin and barefooted when off we went through the rocks and brush. My feet were not tough enough for this, and after a few strides, I let out the greatest Tarzan yell ever. The rocks and briars were killing me, and I stopped the scene and started limping back toward the camera on my bleeding and bruised tootsies, walking like a frozen toe rooster. McGowan, the director yelled and screamed, ‘You really are some Tarzan!’ I was terribly embarrassed of course, because here I was, the mighty Tarzan, king of the jungle, a real panty-waist! It seemed like a big joke to everyone to me.

“The director was pacing back and forth, shaking his head, ‘What the Hell will we do now?’ he roared.

“‘May I make a suggestion, Mr. Mac,’ I asked meekly.

“‘Well what the devil is it?’ he questioned.

“‘Let me get some sneakers, put body make up on them, and let me give it another try.’”

“’Okay—what have we got to lose?’ he snapped, ‘We can skip to another scene that you are not in.’

“I went to the wardrobe man who had heard the ‘brew-ha’, and he said, ‘I’ll fix you up, no problem. I have just the things you mentioned in my truck.’

“The sneakers worked out just great. Ten feet from the cameras the sneakers would never pick up on the film and the audience would never know the difference. The makeup man and the wardrobe man did a great job camouflaging a pair of tennis shoes. They matched my tanned legs beautifully. From then on I leaped through the jungle like a gazelle.”

Click for full-size collage

Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Tarzan of the Apes in film with


Tarzan and the Golden Lion: Photoplay Edition
Tarzan the Mighty

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