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Volume 6395

ERB of the Silver Screen
A Resource Guide to the Movies of Edgar Rice Burroughs
An ongoing ERBzine and ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. ENCYCLOPEDIA project

From TARZAN ON FILM by Scott Tracy Griffin


Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #131
The second Tarzan talkie, MGM’s “Tarzan and His Mate,” starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, opened on April 9, 1934, in Los Angeles and April 20 in New York.

After critics in the trade papers “Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety” complained about the length, the film was cut from 11 reels to 9. 14½ minutes was deleted, including trading post footage, suggestiveness in Martin Arlington’s (Paul Cavanagh) comments to Jane, some gruesome shots, and the final lion battle (though the part where O’Sullivan holds the lions at bay with fire, shot March 20 after the official wrap, remained in the film).

Many critics and film fans cite this picture as the high-point in the 52-film Tarzan series, and critical reviews of the time reflect this opinion:

“even more fantastic than its predecessor.” (Mordaunt Hall, “New York Times,” Apr. 21, 1934)

“There hasn’t been anything like this one since the days of the Circus Maximus” (“New York American”)

“not only a grand cinema show, but . . . a genuinely brilliant motion picture.” (“New York Herald Tribune”)

In 2003, the film was added to the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board, as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film” worth of preservation. It is the only Tarzan film to be so honored—thus far.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #132

An early acting headshot of Ashton Dearholt
As Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer awaited the box office results of the latest ape-man epic, “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934), producer Ashton Dearholt saw an opportunity to join the jungle bandwagon by convincing Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs to make his own Tarzan picture.

Lee Ashton Dearholt, Jr. was born into a prosperous family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 4, 1894. As a teen, his family moved to Santa Barbara, California. Dearholt was soon producing, directing, and playing lead in B-movie Westerns (under the stage name Jack Holt), marrying and later divorcing actress Helene Rosson.

In 1926, Dearholt married silent film actress Florence Gilbert, who bore a son, Lee Ashton III, and a daughter, Caryl Lee (later nicknamed Cindy). On February 14, 1927, Burroughs’ diary noted a visit from Dearholt, who had proposed to Pathé that he produce five films from Burroughs’ novels, with Dearholt to star. The novels included “The Outlaw of Torn,” “The Mad King,” “The Mucker,” “The Bandit of Hell’s Bend,” and “H.R.H. The Rider.” Since Pathé was only offering $10,000 per book, and Burroughs wanted Jim Pierce (who played the ape-man in “Tarzan and the Golden Lion”) to play the leads, the author was unwilling to reach a deal with the studio. With the advent of sound, Dearholt moved from acting to production manager jobs.

Dearholt took a position with RKO Studios, which sent him to Guatemala in September 1933 to organize its local production company. There, he became romantically involved with actress Ula Holt; upon returning to Los Angeles, Dearholt founded Romance Productions, Inc. with George W. Stout and Ben S. Cohen, temporarily headquartered at Mack Sennett Studios in Hollywood, with the express intent to produce a Tarzan picture. With Burroughs’ agreement, Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises, headquartered at 8476 Sunset Boulevard was founded to replace Romance Productions, and pre-production began on a new Tarzan serial.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #133
On October 24, 1934, producer Ashton Dearholt announced that he had found his Tarzan: “Herman Brix has outclassed every other applicant, in our opinion,” he wrote to author Edgar Rice Burroughs. “He has stage presence, considerable picture experience and is an individual who can be handled. Subject to your approval, we are now ready to sign him on a five year, optional contract, starting at $75 for first twenty weeks, and $100 second twenty weeks, and so on.”

Harold Herman Brix was born in Tacoma, Washington on May 19, 1906 to a prosperous timber cutter; he played football and ran track at the University of Washington with his brother, Egbert. Brix won the 1927 NCAA shot put championship in his junior year and won a spot on the Olympic squad the following year following an undefeated senior season. He won the silver medal in Amsterdam, and joined the Los Angeles Athletic Club upon his return to the States.

There, he began appearing in small roles in film, and won the lead in MGM’s “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) upon Douglas Fairbanks’ referral. Unfortunately, Brix injured his shoulder in the football picture “Touchdown,” which cost him the role—and paved the way for Johnny Weissmuller’s stardom.

After the 6’2” Brix won the lead in the Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises serial, “The New Adventures of Tarzan,” location shooting in Guatemala proved a grueling ordeal. Brix was bitten by Cheeta, endued a badly infected cut on his knee, and lost 30 pounds to dysentery.

Upon his return to Hollywood he appeared in low-paying serials including “The Lone Ranger” (1938) “Hawk of the Wilderness” (1938), “The Fighting Devil Dogs” (1938), and “Daredevils of the Red Circle” (1939). Hoping to break into the mainstream, he changed his name to Bruce Bennett, continued to take acting lessons, and began winning roles in films like “Sahara” (1943), “Mildred Pierce” (1945), “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (1948), and “The Man I Love” (1946).

Brix passed away on February 24, 2007, at age 100; he was preceded in death by wife, the former Jeanette Braddock. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #134
The 1935 Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises serial “The New Adventures of Tarzan” (and the two feature films that were compiled from it) did not include a romantic interest for the ape man.

Ula Holt portrayed the mystery woman Ula Vale, whose closest brush with romance is sharing a few flirtatious glances with Tarzan, Lord Greystoke (Herman Brix) in the final scene of the film, after they have returned to civilization.

Ula Holt was the stage name given to Florence Eugene Watson (born May 18, 1915 in Los Angeles) by her paramour, “New Adventures” director Ashton Dearholt. The two had met on the set of the RKO film “Adventure Girl” (1934), which was also shot in Guatemala. Holt, a competitive swimmer, appeared uncredited onscreen as a Mayan princess, while Dearholt, an RKO executive, was reorganizing the studio’s Guatemala operation.

Upon their return to the States, Dearholt divorced his wife, the former silent film actress Florence Gilbert (who later married Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs), and married Holt. The Tarzan films were to prove Holt’s only credited screen appearance. After Dearholt died an untimely death at age 48 on April 27, 1942, Holt married William Anderson Gleason and took the name Jewel Watson Gleason, bearing a son and daughter.

Holt died in Clay County, Florida on January 18, 1982 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Charlottesville City, Virginia, alongside her second husband, who died in 1986.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #135
The 12-chapter Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises (BTE) serial, “The New Adventures of Tarzan” (1935) shot for three days at Los Angeles’ Selig Zoo (including lion wrestling sequences with Melvin Koontz) before decamping for Guatemala to shoot the balance of the serial. Seeking to get as much mileage as possible from the hard-won footage, BTE cut two feature films from the serial reels. The first, titled “The New Adventures of Tarzan” was adapted from the initial chapters of the serial; the second feature, “Tarzan and the Green Goddess,” was edited from the later chapters.

The plot: Major Francis Martling (Frank Baker), his daughter Alice (Dale Walsh), and her fiancé Gordon Hamilton (Harry Ernest) hire Tarzan, Lord Greystoke (Herman Brix) to guide their Guatemalan safari. The party hopes to recover the Green Goddess—a Mayan idol that contains jewels and the secret to a powerful explosive—and rescue Tarzan’s friend D’Arnot (uncredited), held captive in the lost city. They are trailed by Raglan (Don Castello), a mercenary who hopes to purloin the priceless idol, and Ula Vale (Ula Holt), a mystery woman working to stop Raglan. Upon reaching the Dead City, the party is able to rescue D’Arnot, but Raglan makes off with the idol. Here, the feature film version of the serial ends; a second film, “Tarzan and the Green Goddess,” was cut from the footage in the later chapters of the serial.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #136
On December 1, 1934, 28 cast and crew members of the Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises serial “The New Adventures of Tarzan” departed Los Angeles aboard the “Seattle” for location shooting in Guatemala.

The party encountered incredible difficulties, beginning with their landing. As San José had no harbor, the company had to disembark the steamer three miles at sea, being lowered into three small boats in the roiling ocean via crane during a storm. Even the four-ton sound truck made the transfer.

After a rigorous customs inspection, it took 18 hours to drive the overloaded trucks 100 miles to Chichicastenango, on an 8,000-foot plateau. The vehicles had to be wrestled through the mud along a narrow, treacherous mountain trail through a tropical storm, in darkness after they lost their electricity.

For the jungle scene, the company took a boat upriver on the Rio Dulce and shot footage in the trees along the riverbank, just a few feet from the boat—the foliage was nearly impenetrable, so they didn’t go inland. The crew also shot at the Mayan ruins in Tikal and in the old Spanish capital of Antigua, the “little Paris” of Central America. In a personal interview, Brix later recalled that the native extras were paid a nickel a day, but those who volunteered to fight Brix in a mob scene were given 20 cents. He remarked that they nearly killed him in their zeal to earn the extra 15 cents.

While in-country, Dearholt ran out of money and had to wire author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who took out a second bank loan to cover the company’s debts and bring them back to the States. The hardship and privation the company endured cast a pall over the under-financed production.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #137
While producer/director Ashton Dearholt and his Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises company were in Guatemala shooting “The New Adventures of Tarzan,” Metro-Goldwyn Mayer decided to produce a third Tarzan picture. Author Edgar Rice Burroughs signed a new contract for three films, with MGM purchasing Sol Lesser’s option on the films. Lesser later claimed he was paid $500,000 for the option, while Burroughs made considerably less on the deal.

Cameraman, director, and writer Karl Brown completed the first draft of the screenplay, titled “Tarzan Returns,” in early 1935. Louis Mosher, Wyndham Gittens, Otis Garrett, and John Farrow (who married Maureen O’Sullivan following the production’s wrap), all subsequently worked on the story, which evolved when MGM decided to incorporate the mechanical bats crafted for the movie “Mark of the Vampire” as a new threat for the ape man and his mate.

The popular duo Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan reprised their roles as Tarzan and Jane in the film, which now had the working title “Tarzan and the Vampires.” With the Hays Code now in full effect, O’Sullivan’s sexy two-piece wardrobe was replaced with a modest leather shift.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #138

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
Maureen O’Sullivan once recalled that at any given time on the Tarzan set, 
she bore the scars of three chimp bites: one fresh, one healing, and one healed.
In photos, she was usually separated from Cheeta by Johnny Weissmuller, 
whom the ape respected as the alpha male of their family group.
Filming of “Tarzan and the Vampires” began on July 8, 1935, and concluded in late October, 95 days later, with the title now changed to “The Capture of Tarzan.” James C. McKay, who had shot second unit animal sequences for “Trader Horn” (1930) and the previous MGM Tarzan films, directed, later replaced by writer/director John Farrow, who was also working on the script.

From the beginning, the shoot was plagued with difficulties, with the trade paper “Hollywood Reporter” eventually dubbing it a “jinxed” production for the many mishaps on set. First, a canoe carrying lead Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane), co-star William Henry (Eric Parker), director McKay, and two crew members, capsized in the studio lake, with a loss of the camera equipment.

Seventy-five men playing native extras went on strike and were released from duty when they refused to be recast from porters to hostile tribesmen without the usual upgrade in pay (the body makeup was an irritant, and difficult to remove).
Pigeons, delivered COD for a scene at the Malibu Creek location, proved to be homing pigeons, and immediately flew back to the city when released. Actor John Buckler (Captain Fry) broke his arm in a fall, and had to wear a special cast on-camera.

Maureen O’Sullivan spent one lunch break treed by a lion after the rest of the crew departed the set; in another scene, sharpshooter Fred Lee shot a lion that charged O’Sullivan—and these misfortunes were only precursors of what was to come.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #139
After Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio wrapped the troubled production of “The Capture of Tarzan” in October 1935, studio executives called a series of internal conferences from November 10 through the end of the year to troubleshoot the picture. The executives were dissatisfied with the finished project, believing it lacked a central plot menace, among other flaws, and the story was retooled, toning down the romantic tension between Jane’s duplicitous cousin Rita Parker (Benita Hume) and Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), changing the characters’ motivations.

The character Henry Herbert Rawlins (Herbert Mundin) was added for comic relief as writer Cyril Hume, who had previously salvaged he Best Picture Academy Award nominated “Trader Horn” and had launched MGM’s Tarzan franchise with “Tarzan the Ape Man,” was assigned the task of re-working the script, while journeyman director Richard Thorpe was given directorial duties on the reshoot—the first of four MGM Tarzan films he helmed. The film, which was eventually re-titled “Tarzan Escapes” resumed production from July 13 through September 4, 1936, with the same cast and cinematographer, Leonard Smith.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #140

Captain Fry (John Buckler) and Rita and Eric Parker (Benita Hume and William Henry) 
meet Tarzan and Jane (Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan).
Cyril Hume’s rewrite of “The Capture of Tarzan,” now titled “Tarzan Escapes,” toned down some of the violence, sexual suggestiveness, and horror in the original film.

The plot sees Eric and Rita Parker (William Henry and Benita Hume) trek to Africa seeking their cousin Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), hoping she will return to England with them to secure their inheritance. They are led by devious safari guide Captain Fry (John Buckler) and his fumbling sidekick Rawlins (Herbert Mundin). Fry hopes to capture Tarzan for display in a circus, and secretly cuts a deal with the Hymandi tribe to allow him safe passage in exchange for the Parkers as human sacrifices. The Hymandis (whose name is an inside joke on producer Bernard Hyman’s name) double-cross Fry, and Tarzan and his elephants must rescue the safari party from sacrifice and escape the hostile country.

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