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Volume 2730
James H. Pierce
An Autobiography by the Oldest Living Tarzan
House of Greystoke

To My Eternal Love
Joan Burroughs Pierce

Foreword by Vern Coriell

1. From Whence Came A Tarzan
2. Tarzan's Big Entrance
3. Freedom Is Not Enough
4. By The Time I Got To Tucson
5. California, There I Went
6. Swinging Into Hollywood
7. Tarzan Find His Mate
8. Slipping The Surly Bonds of Earth
9. My Famous Father-In-Law
10. The Years Went This-Away
11. Only Tarzan Is Immortal
12. Filmography
13. Photo Section 

Letters to Joan, Mike and Me from ERB
Pre-War to 1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945



Jim Pierce played an important part in my life . . . he introduced me to TARZAN OF THE APES. Because the very first Tarzan film I ever saw was the last few reels of TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION in 1927. In those few moments, Tarzan reached out and took hold of me, and through him, I discovered the marvelous magic of the world's greatest myth-maker, Edgar Rice Burroughs I was never ever to escape the steely grip of Tarzan or the wondrous worlds of Burroughs. Who wants to?

James H. Pierce has played the role of Tarzan longer than anyone with the exception of Johnny Weissmuller. For although he appeared in a single feature film, Jim portrayed Tarzan in 364 recorded radio programs with his wife, Joan Burroughs Pierce, playing Jane. These programs are still being broadcast and heard on tape cassettes all over the world.

Jim likes to refer to himself as a "silent Tarzan" in order to dodge having to give a speech on occasions. . . but don't let him kid you . . . the blood chilling "yell" you hear on those records and in the films which starred Herman Brix, comes straight from the lungs of none other than James H. Pierce.

As you read this book and of the Tarzanic deeds and feats performed by Pierce, you will realize that ERB and Joan have been right along . . . Jim Pierce is Tarzan of the Apes. But more than that, the book is a Jasoomian love story!

-- Vern W. Coriell
Founder of the Burroughs Bibliophiles
August 1, 1978

Photo courtesy Keith Johnson ~ Photo Shop Guy

It was over fifty years ago in December 1926 that I spent my first day as TARZAN OF THE APES at the F.B.O. studios in Hollywood. The picture was TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION by Edgar Rice Burroughs and produced by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of our late President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. The studio was F.B.O. (Film Booking Offices). Later to become R.K.O., owned at different times by Howard Hughes and Desi and Lucy Arnez.

The first day I shall long remember. We traveled to Sherwood Forest for location. A place that somewhat simulated the Af
rican jungle, about twenty five miles west of Hollywood. The company had already been working several hours when they brought me out to the location. The director was J.P. McGowan. He was known for his cliffhanger serials where it was knock 'em down, drag 'em out and leave the audience in suspense until the following week when the picture would be continued. He was always in a hurry and wanted to get as many scenes as possible, leaving little time for rehearsals.

As soon as I arrived, he 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 cameras on my bruised and bleeding tootsies, walking like a frozen toe rooster. McGowan, the director yelled and screamed, "You are really 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 but 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, no problem. I have just the things you 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.

As the picture progressed, I had several hair-raising experiences. The worst was a scene at Santa Ana Canyon that called for me to cross a wide ravine hand over hand on a rope. The ravine was about 75 feet wide and sixty feet deep. The rope was camouflaged with a lot of moss to make it look like the huge vines that were a mode of travel for Tarzan.

The cameras rolled and shortly thereafter so did I. After a few swings, the moss started turning on the rope and my grip was slipping so rapidly that I had to throw my leg over the rope to see from falling into the rocky ravine.

The scene was spoiled as I scooted back to the starting point with my knees hooked over the rope. Again the great Tarzan was a flop. The director was purple with rage and screamed, "How the Hell do you expect us to get this scene? Any more bright ideas."

"Why not tape some hooks inside my hands?" I suggested.

"We'll try anything to make a Tarzan out of you," he replied with a half smile. We had become a little better acquainted by now and my work had pleased him in many ways.

They worked on another scene while the prop man scrounged up some large hooks and tape. The tape was covered with makeup and the hooks were hidden in the palms of my hands. In an hour we were ready to shoot the scene. This time I zipped across the ravine in typical Tarzan style.

Another experience provided a lions share of danger. The lion I was working with was not tame by any means, but with the aid of trainer Charley Gay, of the famous GAy Lion farm, who stood just out of camera range with a whip and a chair and a gun we managed to get the scenes in good time. (In the story, the Lion "Numa" was supposed to be my pet and ever-loving apl.) The day had been long and the lion was tired. The scene was to be the wrap (final scene) of the day.

I was standing on the porch of my jungle house with the golden lion beside me. I was to point into the jungle and "Numa" was to run off into the trees and brush. Each time the camera turned and the trainer cracked his whip (off camera) to make him run, the lion would yawn and turn to go back inside the house where his cage was located.

After several attempts, I became pretty disgusted. We had been trying to get the scene for a long time, the light was fading and it had been a hard day, so when he turned to back in the house again, I just moved over in front of him and put my knees together and stopped him. No one had ever touched the animal in a scene before. The trainer went wild. He started yelling, shooting blanks, and running around like crazy to distract the lion before he decided to take a leg off me. The crew ran for cover.

Instead of going for me, he just sat down and looked at me quizzically. The trainer yanked me out of the scene and his assistant inside the cabin rattled the cage door to attract the lion's attention. There was always a tidbit of fresh horse meat awaiting him there, rattling the door was his cue. Finally he ambled inside his cage and the gate was slammed.

This ended the shooting for the day and needless to say, I never touched the animal again. I got as close as possible for the scenes but there was always daylight between us -- especially the time I had to swing down from the rafters in the "Palace of Diamonds" set, onto a podium where the lion was menacing the leading lady, Edna Murphy. He got a bid excited but luckily, didn't attack.

Another way they had to make the lion run from one place to another and follow me was to have him in a cage just off camera. Then there was another cage placed in the bushes, hidden from the camera, near the path he was to follow. Beef blood was poured on the ground and the lion would run like mad following the trail to the cage where he would find a nice hunk of beef. I had to run through smoke and jump a large ditch with the lion following me. I traveled faster than the lion, believe me.

Tarzan's mode of transportation, aside from the vines and swinging through the  trees, was on the back of his faithful friend, Tantor, the elephant -- a sort of a jungle taxi service. ONce scene called for Tarzan to pick up an ape from one of the tree branches along the route. The ape was also a buddy according to the story, but our "ape" was really Crash Corrigan, well known stunt man, in an ape suit.

When the phone ape dropped on his back, Tantor didn't like his smell. He trumpeted wildly and took off like a Sherman tank. One might thing that an elephant does not move fast because of his stiff back legs. But he can go from a slow walk to about twenty-five or thirty miles an hour in two or three lunges. He headed for thick foliage to scrape us off his back. I knew I had to unload in a hurry. I yelled, "Jump Crash!!!" I threw my leg over his back and looked at the ground which was passing by like a streak. Clad only in a loin cloth, I slid off some ten feet or so down across the millions of tiny bristles on the elephant's skin, to the ground, rolling and bouncing several feet before I came to a stop. No bones were broken, but I was bleeding profusely from my "fanny" and legs, thanks to the sharp bristles. Crash got a break because of the ape suit he was dressed which prevented the bristles from penetrating to the skin. Fortunately the scene was taken out of the script and I always rode solo from then on.

Now to the story of what happened to me before and after my experiences as Tarzan in Hollywood.

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