Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #106
"Trader Horn" director Woody Van Dyke (right) and the safari's white
hunter, Major W.V.D. Dickinson,
shot a charging rhino for the film, photo-doubling for leads Harry
Carey and Duncan Renaldo.
On March 18, 1929, director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke and
a party of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer filmmakers departed Hollywood for Africa
to shoot an adaptation of the novel “Trader Horn” on location. The tale
centered on a pair of African adventurers, Trader Horn (Harry Carey) and
his young protégé (Duncan Renaldo), and their search for
a “white goddess” (Edwina Booth) who ruled a fierce tribe in the interior.
Finding her, they flee, with their gunbearer Renchero (played by Wagamba
tribesman Mutia Omooloo) aiding the trio, crossing the continent to escape
the vengeful tribesmen.
The film expedition consisted of 34 cars, one generator
truck, two sound wagons, 35 cast and crew members, and 192 bearers, conveying
92 tons of equipment. The safari, the largest ever mounted, covered 14,000
miles in the countries of British East Africa (Kenya), Tanganyika (Tanzania),
the Belgian Congo, and Uganda, filming 35 varieties of game and the ceremonies
of 15 local tribes over nine months.
Upon their return to Hollywood, MGM head Louis B. Mayer
feared the one-million feet of film they’d shot was unusable, but novelist
Cyril Hume, on contract as a screenwriter, managed to salvage the storyline
with reshoots. “Trader Horn” was nominated for an Academy Award as best
picture of 1931, losing to the Western “Cimarron” and leaving MGM bosses
with a quandary—how could they recoup their investment on all that African
MGM director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke with "Trader Horn" leading lady
Booth, who was touted for the role of Jane in "Tarzan the Ape Man,"
contracted sleeping sickness on the "Trader Horn" shoot and retired
from filmmaking to recover her health.
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs parodied the film shoot in his novel
"Tarzan and the Lion Man,"
which sees a hapless filmmaking safari invade Tarzan's jungle.
Booth's costume served as the inspiration for the wardrobe of Nemone,
the Mad Queen of Cathne,
in Burroughs' novel "Tarzan and the City of Gold."
"Driving the lions away"--the "Trader Horn" cast
was tasked with chasing lions away from their kill to scavenge a