Real-Life Tarzan Shares Home With Big Cats
Former 'Tarzan' Actor Says Spiritual Connection to Lions, Tigers Protects Him and Family
ABC News ~ March 24, 2010 

There is no welcome mat at the front door, but the sign on the electronic front gate offers a greeting just as clear: "Trespassers will be eaten." Driving past the slowly withdrawing gate, even invited guests can feel some unease. And the tension only increases upon first sight of the yard. A gravestone is flanked by tusks protruding from the ground. Sculptures of menacing beasts are mixed with nudes of the human form, all showing the wear of wind and rain. It's an atmosphere of a carnival halted by grief. Somehow the place is both wondrous and a monument to the dead. One isn't sure initially who, or what, is buried here.

Inside, stone hallways give way to a most unusual household. Guests are kept behind bars for their own safety. And yet, in a scene as tender as it is bizarre, a young tiger named Lepa is enjoying her afternoon bottle on the kitchen counter. "I've had her since she was 18 days old and weighed 4 pounds. She's my baby," explains the tiger's caregiver, Melanie.

Part "Wild Kingdom," part "Addams Family," it is a home of startling domestic eccentricity where a tiger can be the apple of her human parents' eye. The home and the big cats that inhabit it belong to Steve Sipek, a former actor who once played the title role in a pair of Spanish language versions of Tarzan movies in the early 1970s. "I love her to pieces," Sipek says about Lepa. "She's so special. She bites me all the time, and she loves me, and I have to accept that, she's a tiger and I don't want to change her."

Humans and the most fearsome felines on the planet have coexisted here for more than 40 years, and have even become family. Important milestones are cause for celebration. Lepa's first birthday is no exception. "She has grown into my heart so deep, and I'll never be able to pull her out of there. Not that I want to. She's my baby forever and ever and always," says Sipek.

Sipek has been a proud papa to more than 100 lions, tigers and leopards over the years at his compound in Loxahatchee, Fla., about 15 miles west of Palm Beach. "Touching a tiger's face is touching the face of God," says Sipek. "I feel that enormous, overwhelming pleasure and it's just wonderful. It's almost equal to a woman you love."

These predators have always had the run of the place, eating, playing and swimming right alongside Sipek, his family and volunteer assistants. They even sleep with Sipek, who says he's protected by an extraordinary gift. "I have this sixth sense that always works for me. No tiger can come with the intent to hurt me without waking me up before that happens," says Sipek.

Russian Roulette?
So confident is Sipek of his abilities that he raised Steve Jr., his only child in a house full of wildlife. Grown lions and tigers could often be found slumbering in his son's bunk bed. "That's a perfect example, in my opinion, of playing Russian Roulette with wild animals," says Dave Salmoni a large predator expert often seen on the cable network Animal Planet. When he found out about the "20/20" shoot at Sipek's home, he wanted to ensure the crew's safety, and with good reason.

"When I heard the producer was coming, she's a friend of mine and I know that the majority of places that have cats in their backyard aren't professional and they don't know how to be safe. And the only way that I know I can ensure that she was safe was to be there," explains Salmoni. "You have to be ready for that worst case. And these cats will come. And they're great at killing."

Salmoni should know. Eleven years ago he was performing with a captive lion he trusted when it attacked -- breaking his ribs and then lunging for his throat. "I blocked with my forearm. He sunk his teeth into my forearm. I knew if I got to the ground, I was dead. So I squared up with all the power I had and just tore my arm out, flesh and all, out of his mouth," remembers Salmoni.

Even Sipek admits that in places like his backyard pool, the tigers can reveal their wild side. "In the pool, they think they're in a river attacking a crocodile," he says. "They see me as an object -- "Oh, I can get this object" -- because their mind locks up. And when it locks up, you don't want to be there."

Now 68 years old and 280 pounds, Sipek believes he still has the strength to escape an attack. Yet he says it's not his physical dominance but his spiritual connection with the animals that has kept him alive. "It's love. Once you love something you lose your fear. You can trust them and they can trust you. Once that happens, you're home free," he says.

Salmoni disagrees. Love, he says, cannot trump nature. "Wild animals cannot love him back. Wild animals, as much as we'd like them to, cannot think like human beings," counters Salmoni.

Sipek's desire to have a wild life began while he was growing up in what is now Croatia. He discovered one of the silver screen's first super heroes, Tarzan, played by Johnny Weissmuller. The laws of the jungle resonated with Sipek, and Hollywood's portrayal soon became an escape from a difficult childhood. "In the bottom of my heart I wanted to be like him," says Sipek. "I wanted to be like Johnny Weissmuller."

Tarzan Man: Lion Saved My Life
The forces of destiny conspired in his favor, and young Sipek grew up to be a strong, handsome man. He emigrated to America, and eight years later, under the name Steve Hawkes, he was cast as his hero in a new Tarzan movie. But Sipek's promising acting career quite literally went up in flames. On the set of only his second film, he was working with a lion, Samson, when a fire erupted. "I was burning alive," remembers Sipek. "All of a sudden I felt this enormous power. Somebody was dragging me out. I didn't know because there was smoke and fire. It was Samson."

Sipek suffered burns over 90 percent of his body and spent six months in a hospital recovering. His dramatic rescue by a lion led to a profound decision. He would adopt Samson, and devote the rest of his life to the care of big cats. "I knew I was never going to be able to go back and play Tarzan, 'cause I was crippled. I realized there was a higher power calling on me, and I knew that I needed to comply. And I did. For 40 long years," says Sipek.

That devotion has come at considerable personal cost. Twice divorced, Sipek currently lives with his girlfriend, Melanie, who shares his passion for tigers. His son is grown now and lives out West. There have been periods of estrangement. And no wonder. "I once said that I love Lepa [a tiger] more than I love my son. I don't know why. But I do," reveals Sipek.

It is clear that Lepa has taken up permanent residence in Sipek's heart, as well as his home. For Sipek has shown that what we thought were nature's boundaries are, in fact, very moveable lines ... and he's moved them right through his own front door. "Little Lepa, she's a terror in the house! She tears up the house, she tears up the couch, she tears up the chairs. But that's part of life. You have to accept it.... It's us, the way we live," says Sipek.

The full story was featured on ABC's "20/20" at 10 p.m on Friday, March 26, 2010

ABC News ~ March 24, 2010

LA Daily News ~ April 22, 1998

Casper Van Dien Casper Robert Van Dien, Jr. (born December 18 1968, in or Ridgefield, New Jersey[1]) is an American actor, best known for his role as Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers and most recently as bodyguard Andre in My Network TV's Watch Over Me.  grew up watching Tarzan movie marathons with his father, so when it came time to don the loin cloth for the upcoming ``Tarzan and the Lost City,'' the 29-year-old actor had all the moves down. 

"I never did get to do the Weissmuller yell," Van Dien says. "But I was all over the swinging and the chest-pounding." 

Van Dien, who was seen last year as the bug-killing Johnny Rico in "Starship Troopers" prepared for his role by spending time at Edgar Rice Burroughs' old Spanish hacienda on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana. Van Dien pored over Burroughs' novels and documentaries, soaking up as much information as Danton Burroughs, the writer's grandson, would give him. 

"And then I threw it all away and just went out and had fun," Van Dien says. "After all, this is like an Indiana Jones movie. Not too many deep philosophical discussions."

Here, Van Dien - who can be a philosophical guy - talks about swinging from trees, running from elephants and the pros and cons of leather and animal-skin loincloths. 

Q: So you're Tarzan and you're living in Tarzana. What gives? 

A: It's intentional. When I was growing up in Ridgewood, N.J., we lived on Van Dien Avenue, which was named after my great-great-great grandfather. Then I played James Dean Noun 1. James Dean - United States film actor whose moody rebellious roles made him a cult figure (1931-1955) James Byron Dean, Dean , which sounds like my last name, only with a Van in front of it. Then when we were making "Starship Troopers," I lived in Casper, Wyo. So after I got divorced, I was looking for a place to live and Tarzana seemed like a natural. 

Q: Did you grow up swinging from vines and pounding your chest? 

A: My father loved Tarzan, so the movies were always on TV at my house. He was a Weissmuller fan, and I am, too. In fact when my father was growing up, my grandfather used to hang rings and ropes in the back yard so he could be Tarzan. 

Q: So wearing a loin cloth runs in the family? 

A: I was comfortable wearing the loin cloth once they got rid of this antique leopard skin number they tried on me first. It wasn't comfortable and you could totally see my butt. So we went to the leather. And let me tell you, if you've got to wear a loin cloth, you want the leather. I got a pretty good tan, too. No lines. 

Q: I would imagine wearing a loin cloth inspired you to work out a bit. 

A: I started doing that for "Starship Troopers," working out six days a week, running, boxing, playing sports, whatever. I still have a 29-inch waist. Isn't that sick? 

Q: Did you do your own stunts for the movie? 

A: I did the swinging, which gave me a new appreciation for trapeze artists because your muscles just get so tight that they feel like they're going to burst. And I did most of my own running because one of my stunt men had a bad leg and the other ran kind of weird. 

Q: Sounds like you need to find some new stunt men. 

A: Well, one of them did do a great dive, an Olympic-style dive which, as it turns out, is the one thing that I hate about the movie. It's so out of place. The guy touches his toes, does a swan dive and flips over. Tarzan wouldn't do that. Tarzan would just jump in the water. 

Q: Did all the wear and tear eventually take its toll on you? 

A: I had holes all over my body. The jungle is very sharp. I'd be running through brush and sticks would poke me and I'd grab a handful of dirt and try to stop the bleeding. You know, because Tarzan doesn't mind a little blood. 

Q: Any other abrasions, wounds or close calls? 

A: I got charged by a baby elephant. He put his tusk into me, lifted me four feet in the air and threw me back. 

Q: Was it something you said? 

A: I touched its head. It was cute and I wanted to touch its head. Nobody ever told me not to touch a baby elephant's head because, if you do, it thinks you're pushing it and it wants to push back. The first hint I had that something was wrong was when it flipped its ears back. 

Q: They do say actors should always avoid animals and kids. 

A: I understand why, too. Another time, a monkey bit my chin. We had just finished a scene and they wanted to take a picture of us together. I guess the monkey had had a long day, so he just leaned over and chomped my face. It was OK, though. I dealt with the pain. 

Q: Because you were Tarzan. 

A: Exactly. 

Q: Have you always been such a tough guy? 

A: Not at all. I grew up with three sisters. I went to military school my last two years of high school and I was the only guy there who put the toilet seat down after peeing. I'd never admit it, though. Same way I'd never admit to writing poetry while I was in military school. Guys just don't understand those things at that age. 

Q: Apart from the name, what's the best thing about living in Tarzana? 

A: Breakfasts at the Little Cafe. I go there almost every day for the steak and eggs and potatoes. Best breakfast in town. 

Q: Do you eat the steak raw? 

A: Not yet, not yet. I used to be a well-done kind of guy and now I'm down to medium. So I'm getting there. It's something to aspire to. 

COPYRIGHT 1998 Daily News



A  New Eco-Hero for the PlayStation Generation 
as Tarzan Returns to his Roots In new books
London, April 2010. History is littered with examples of brands trying to reinvent themselves to appeal to a new generation, but for one of literature’s most successful franchises, all that’s required is a return to its roots – literally.

Since he first swung onto the world stage in 1912 the bare-chested, savage yet principled character of Tarzan has struck a chord with generation after generation as he fights to protect the jungle, its resources and its inhabitants. Now, almost a hundred years later, a partnership between the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate and one of Britain’s hottest writers is set to bring Tarzan the Eco Warrior to the PlayStation generation, with a new series of Tarzan novels.

“We’ve seen plenty of examples of literary brands being reinvented by new writers anxious to engage new young audiences, but it can be dangerous territory” said branding expert KD Adamson. “However, in the case of Tarzan there’s no search for a new angle: he’s been saving the planet for nearly a hundred years. On this occasion it’s a question of the audience catching up with Tarzan rather than the other way around.”

The power of a global brand isn’t an absolute guarantee of success and before committing to the new series, the first of which ‘Tarzan, The Greystoke Legacy’ is set to appear in 2011, the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate looked carefully for an author who could match the vivid storytelling which originally brought Tarzan to life and inspired millions including environmentalist Jane Goodall.

Andy Briggs, whose credits include the highly successful ‘ and’ book series, now in negotiation for an animated TV series, and a string of scriptwriting credits for the likes of Disney and Paramount Pictures has already been involved with iconic franchises such as Highlander and Judge Dredd. For him, the character of Tarzan and his beliefs are ripe for re-booting. Tarzan remains the iconic hero, the man raised by apes and protector of the wild but in the 21st century he is edgier and more feral. 

“Tarzan has more perils to face now: warring rebels, poaching of endangered animals, illegal logging and the decline of the environment are all issues that resonate with younger audiences” explains Andy. “He combines untamed savagery and power with a deep morality and love for the environment which genuinely speaks to them, as does the perennial love story of Tarzan and Jane, although Jane now carries an iPod.”

The combination of strong writing, a global icon and the up-coming Tarzan centenary provide the perfect springboard for what looks likely to be a major series of books with an inevitable cross-over to film and merchandising. It is a combination which Julian Friedmann, agent to both Andy Briggs and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. believes has all the right ingredients.

“Avatar was a huge movie but the story behind it was really about respecting and protecting indigenous species and communities at the expense of profit, and those are Tarzan’s brand values in a nutshell” said Julian Friedmann. “We will have the first chapters ready shortly and will be presenting them to publishers at the London Book Fair in a couple of week’s time.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. 

A family-owned corporation, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. has been in existence since 1923 and is located in Tarzana California. Both the corporation and the town in which it resides, Tarzana, owe their existence to the imaginative talent and business acumen of one man, Edgar Rice Burroughs who by the time of his death in 1950 had penned almost 70 novels and over 40 short stories. There is not a facet of popular culture which Tarzan has not explored at one time or another during the past eighty-some years, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. continues to oversee the marketing of Mr. Burroughs' ever-popular creations bringing Tarzan to new generations and audiences worldwide as it prepares for the literary centenary of the ‘ape-man’ in 2012. 

The Blake Friedmann Literary, Film & TV Agency

The Blake Friedmann Literary, Film & TV Agency is based in London UK with a strong network of sub-agents worldwide and currently represents over 200 book, film and TV writers and directors across the globe including Peter James, Sheila O’Flanaghan, Barbara Erskine,  Tess Stimson,  Gilbert Adair,  Deon Meyer, Lawrence Norfolk, Roger Spottiswoode and Andy Briggs. The agency continues to be guided by the founders Carole Blake and Julian Friedmann who  are well known and respected within the industry and, together with their ten colleagues, work closely with clients through the respective editorial, contractual, and marketing processes that lead to publication, or broadcast or cinema release.  Both Carole and Julian write, speak and comment widely on publishing, film and television. 

 Press and Media enquiries: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc & Blake Friedmann Literary, Film & TV Agency
Stark Moore Macmillan PR (London UK)
T: + 44 (0)20 7127 4262