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FILM CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
PART XI
From TARZAN ON FILM by Scott Tracy Griffin


  .

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #101

A publicity photo of James Pierce shot for 
the Tarzan radio show, in which he starred, which aired 1932-36.
When James Pierce married Joan Burroughs on his birthday, August 8, 1928, his new father-in-law, Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs, gifted him the promise of a role in another Tarzan picture.

On January 14, 1929, with the Universal serial “Tarzan the Mighty” a commercial success, “Mighty” director Jack C. Nelson and G. Walter Shumway purchased the option on a Tarzan film or serial from Burroughs, to be titled “Tarzan the Fearless.”
The contract stipulated the Pierce would play Tarzan, the film must be made within seven years, and Burroughs would receive $10,000 upfront when it went into production. Pierce also signed a contract with the pair, against Burroughs’ advice. Unable to obtain financing in the following year, in 1930 the pair began negotiating with Chadwick Productions to distribute.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #102
Universal Pictures’ extensive marketing campaign for their 1928 serial “Tarzan the Mighty” was a success, and the serial was a box office hit. Universal head Carl Laemmle decided to capitalize on the publicity and profit by putting a second Tarzan serial into production.

On March 15, 1929, Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs had a contentious meeting with Laemmle, believing that the serial format gave the studio the equivalent of two feature films for the price of one. Burroughs lobbied for the “Mighty” sequel to be produced as a feature film, while Laemmle preferred a serial format, which would double his profits. Burroughs suggested Laemmle buy an original Tarzan serial for him for $15,000, with restrictions, or the novel “Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle” for $25,000, with no restrictions.

Laemmle instead paid $10,000 to buy film rights to Burroughs’ novel “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” from Laemmle’s brother-in-law Julius Stern and his partners Oscar and Louis Jacobs. Burroughs had sold rights to the novel to the trio for $20,000 in 1922, with no further money due. Needless to say, Burroughs was not happy with the deal, and felt it was another instance of being cheated by Hollywood producers.

Below: The “Tarzan the Mighty” trio of Frank Merrill (Tarzan), Natalie Kingston (Mary Trevor) and Charlie Gemora (Taug the ape) would be reunited in the new serial, to be titled “Tarzan the Tiger,” but with Kingston now cast as Jane, Tarzan’s mate, and Gemora playing the apes Taglat and Chulk.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #103
The 1929 Universal Pictures serial “Tarzan the Tiger” marked the end of lead Frank Merrill’s film career. According to some accounts, Merrill’s voice was considered unsuitable for talkies. Plans for a third Universal serial, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel “Tarzan the Terrible” were scrapped as sound technology revolutionized the film industry. Merrill’s stint at Tarzan introduced two innovations to the series: vine-swinging and the Tarzan yell, which debuted when the serial was dubbed with sound effects.

When filming wrapped, Merrill went on a promotional tour for the films, challenging his audience to surpass his feats of strength. Reportedly, none could.

In 1933, Merrill was appointed Los Angeles Park Commissioner and became active in local politics. After retiring in 1963, he volunteered at the YMCA as a gym instructor. Merrill died at home in Hollywood on February 12, 1966, and is interred in the Abbey of the Psalms at Hollywood Forever Cemetery with his wife Elsie, who preceded him in death in 1965.

On June 19, 1928, Natalie Kingston took a break from filming to elope to Tijuana, Mexico with George Andersch, a Los Angeles broker. She retired from acting in 1933, and the pair remained married until Andersch’s death in 1960. Kingston died February 2, 1991 in West Hills, California.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #104
The 15-chapter Universal serial “Tarzan the Tiger” (1929) remained fairly true to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fifth apeman novel, “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” from which it was adapted.

With the Greystoke fortune depleted, Tarzan (Frank Merrill) returns to the lost city of Opar to replenish his bank account with Oparian gold, trailed by Albert Werper (Al Ferguson), who is in league with the slaver Achmet Zek (Sheldon Lewis). In Tarzan’s absence, Zek raids the ape man’s estate and kidnaps Jane (Natalie Kingston) to sell her into slavery. Stricken with amnesia during an accident, Tarzan must rescue Jane from Zek and Werper, as the jealous high priestess La of Opar (Kithnou), whose love Tarzan once renounced for Jane, schemes to kill Jane and claim Tarzan.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #105
Dubbed “The King of the Serial Makers,” producer and director Henry MacRae is credited with innovations like double exposures, nighttime filming, and using artificial light and wind (for which he invented the first wind machine). Specializing in action, he directed the 1929 Universal serial, “Tarzan the Tiger,” starring Frank Merrill and Natalie Kingston as Tarzan and Jane.

Born in Toronto on August 29, 1876, Henry Alexander McRae left Canada when he joined the Princess stock company, where Mary Pickford was a child star. McRae toured the U.S. with stock companies, entering the film industry in 1912. He was soon directing shorts for Universal Pictures, working with Wilfred Lucas on the 1914 serial “Trey of Hearts,” which starred Cleo Madison a dual role as twin sisters, good and bad.

MacRae produced many of the most popular serials of the sound era, including the three “Flash Gordon” serials starring Buster Crabbe. He discussed his pioneering methods with “Los Angeles Times” Hollywood columnist John Scott in 1936: “We try to cut corners with this type of film, without ruining the stories, of course. For instance, if the actors are to appear in the same setting several times during the various chapters, we attempt to take all those scenes at once, thereby saving the cost of carrying minor players for many weeks. The performers sometimes must change costumes several times a day to suit the action.”

MacRae was married to Universal actress Margaret Oswald, with whom he had a son. McRae continued to produce until the time of his death in Beverly Hills on October 2, 1944, averaging four Western serials a year. Upon his passing, he was touted as the longest-employed active film producer.

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 location footage?




MGM director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke with "Trader Horn" leading lady Edwina Booth. 
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 meal.
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #107

On April 15, 1931 Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, giving the company exclusive rights to a Tarzan picture for one year for $40,000. Burroughs was also to be hired as a consultant, paid $1,000 per week for five weeks, beginning September 23. The contract with the world-renowned studio was a turning point in the history of the Tarzan franchise, and Burroughs sensed this.

“When we closed the deal, (Burroughs) admitted he had always wanted the picture made at MGM and if I had held out, he would have let it go for nothing,” recalled MGM story editor Samuel Marx (who secured the deal for production head Irving Thalberg) in his memoir "Mayer and Thalberg: Make-Believe Saints." “‘If you had held out,’ I told him in return, ‘you would have got your hundred thousand. It was true; Thalberg had said, ‘Don’t lose it.’”


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer story editor Samuel Marx, who was commissioned by production head Irving Thalberg to secure rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan for a series of MGM films. The contract was signed April 15, 1931
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production head Irving Thalberg, who commissioned story editor Samuel Marx to secure rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan for a series of MGM films. The contract was signed April 15, 1931.
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #108

Sol Lesser, circa 1920. The son of a San Francisco Nickelodeon owner, 
he began producing films after inheriting the family business following his father's death.
As word of MGM’s pending production of a big-budget Tarzan film circulated in Hollywood, G. Walter Shumway, who had purchased the rights to make a Tarzan picture in 1929, decided the time was ripe to exercise his option. Shumway and attorney Lew Goldstone arrived unannounced at Burroughs’ Tarzana home, hoping to pay the $10,000 option to begin production. Burroughs, unwilling to launch a production that would compete with MGM, refused their money.

Shumway sold his option to Sol Lesser, and ambitious young producer, who tried his hand at exercising the option a few months later. Lesser gave Goldstone ten $1,000 bills and sent him back to Burroughs’ house. Having learned his lesson, this time, Goldstone thrust the $10,000 into Burroughs’ hands. “What’s this for?” asked Burroughs. When Goldstone responded that they had now exercised their option, Burroughs told him that the option had expired and tossed the money back at him. “It was a windy day and Mr. Goldstone had quite a time chasing after the bills,” recalled Lesser, years later.

The persistent Lesser cannily adopted another approach. Realizing that MGM’s looming blockbuster would cause Tarzan’s value to appreciate sharply, he tendered a deal to make his picture after MGM’s film was released, signing his revised contract with Burroughs on March 26, 1932.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #109
On December 8, 1931, the trade “Hollywood Reporter” published the brief: “Radio Pictures is hurrying preparation on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story ‘Tarzan and the Golden Lion’ for an early production. Merian C. Cooper is to be the director. Picture was made as a silent by the old FBO company.”

When Cooper discovered that MGM held the film rights to the ape man, he had RKO studio head David O. Selznick’s brother, talent agent Myron Selznick, tender a buyout offer to MGM head of production Irving Thalberg. Thalberg refused to budge, so Cooper decided to go forward his own ape picture, “King Kong,” which he had conceived a couple of years earlier. In 1935, Cooper brainstormed a cinematic meeting between Kong and Tarzan, but that never materialized, either.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #110

Olympic champion Weissmuller models his BVD swimwear

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production team realized that casting the role of Tarzan for the first talkie picture, “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) was a delicate business. They needed an actor who was comfortable with the nudity of the role, who embodied the peak of physical fitness and athleticism. Nearly every eligible actor in Hollywood tested for the role, including Joel McCrea, Johnny Mack Brown, Tom Tyler, Charles Bickford, and Clark Gable. MGM thought they had the right man when Douglas Fairbanks referred Herman Brix, a strapping Olympic shot putter, but Brix injured his shoulder on the football picture “Touchdown” and was out of the running.

The studio seemed to be at a loss until “Ape Man” screenwriter Cyril Hume happened to visit the Hollywood Athletic Club one day and saw a brawny athlete cutting through the water of the swimming pool. It was Johnny Weissmuller, five-time Olympic gold medalist, who had retired from sport after signing an endorsement deal with BVD swimwear. Weissmuller was in town to promote BVD at the May Company department store on Fairfax Boulevard. Hume referred Weissmuller to the Tarzan production staff, and history was made when he was signed on October 16, 1931, earning $250 per week for the role.


Click for full-size promo collage

Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Tarzan of the Apes in film with
SCOTT TRACY GRIFFIN and his TARZAN ON FILM
PART I :: PART II :: PART III :: PART IV :: PART V :: PART VI :: PART VII :: PART VIII
:: PART IX :: PART X :: PART XI :: PART XII


ERBzine SILVER SCREEN SERIES
www.ERBzine.com/movies

TARZAN OF THE APES (1918)
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0503.html
THE ROMANCE OF TARZAN
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0504.html
THE SON OF TARZAN: SERIAL and FEATURE FILM
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0589.html
THE ADVENTURES OF TARZAN
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0590.html
TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0591.html
TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION: Photoplay Edition
www.erbzine.com/mag4/0496.html
TARZAN THE MIGHTY
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0592.html




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