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Volume 2871

Reprinted without editing from The Jasoomian 1973
PART 2 of 3 
As Lord Greystoke
FRANK MERRILL: March 21, 1893 - February 12, 1966
Star of Tarzan the Mighty and Tarzan the Tiger
And so, soon after "Perils of the Jungle" was released, announcements appeared in the press. . . "Tarzan to APPEAR ON THE SCREEN AGAIN" - JOE BONOMO is he!"

"Those refreshing stories of the jungle life by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which have thrilled children and adults always, are again to appear pictorially, it was bruited yesterday, with none other than Joe Bonomo, who is known as the "Hercules of the Screen" in the role of the super-hero, for Universal."

"It is understood the forthcoming picture will be issued as a super-jewel and will bring Bonomo back to the Laemmle fold after an absence of about two years."

So Universal was entering the Tarzan field, and Bonomo commenced shooting the Tarzan serial, but it was to be marred by mishap, for on the third day of shooting, tragedy overtook Bonomo.

At the top of a vine swinging incident from tree to tree the vine snapped and Joe suffered a fractured left leg.

This accident kept Joe out of the studios for seven weeks, and when the leg had mended he went on to make a high class serial, "The Chinatown Mystery" which boasted some very lavish and ornate settings. The old master of serials, Francis Ford was responsible for the extraordinary story, and it was directed by another master of serials J.P. McGowan, and handled by Syndicate Pictures.

Chinatown Mystery
Joe Bonomo who almost became Tarzan #5
In the meantime Universal were without a star for their Tarzan serial, and had to make an urgent search for a new star as a production hold-up can be a costly business.

After a large number had been rejected, along came a big six-footer of striking appearance to say that his one ambition, was to portray the jungle lord. Now, even the dumbest type of casting director could tell immediately that this applicant had two qualities vital to the role -- appearance and strength -- but could he act?

This was not strictly true, for Jack Nelson who was directing the serial suddenly remembered the daring athlete he had worked with on "Perils of the Jungle" and he promptly looked up Merrill and, of course Universal's  search was ended. No need to question Merrill's acting ability . . . many years of responsible roles as leading man proved that Merrill had acting ability.

His sensational stunt vehicles had created a sensation.

As already stated, famous author Edgar Rice Burroughs had already made Merrill his choice for Tarzan, about seven years before, immediately he noticed him.

Soon after this, announcements appeared around the middle of 1928 in the movie magazines, and one reviewer wrote: "I thought that film serials were quite dead by now, but Universal have decided otherwise. They had brought to life again our dear old friend "Tarzan," and are making "Tarzan the Mighty" in serial form, with Frank Merrill, famous American athlete, in the title role."

There was one great quality about Merrill, he looked equally at home in well-cut city clothes, tux or evening dress clothes as he did in a leopard skin, or athletic singlet, and the boxing ring.

We might say that Merrill was BORN to be Tarzan. Everything he did in his life, every move he made led him nearer, step by step to the ultimate goal, the gigantic Tarzan serials.

Yes. . . When Merrill was born he was destined to play Tarzan.

Merrill was expert in everything which made Tarzan.

There was absolutely no flaw in Merrill, anywhere. Not just one sport, but everything. He was the perfect Tarzan on every count, not just looks and appearance, but qualifications. It is not what I say, but FACTS. Facial characteristics, height, muscle-balance, agility, ability, handsome, genuine STRENGTH, all-round athlete and gymnast, etc., etc.

At that time -- in 1928 -- it was quite obvious that Frank Merrill was the only man in the world to take on this dangerous assignment with the exception of Joe Bonono, or perhaps Tom Tyler, who possessed an amazing physique, was tall, and had the perfect countenance for Tarzan -- the lean face, and with longer hair and leopard skin headband, with off shoulder leopard skin he would have proved a good Tarzan.

Merrill was expert in everything which made Tarzan: rope-climbing, Roman rings, trapeze, high bars, weightlifting, etc.

Let us make a quick appraisal of his assets. He was a champion on the Roman rings and had never been defeated.

Merrill prior to "Tarzan the Mighty" set up a new rope climbing record by going forty-five feet, hand over hand in 15 seconds from a  sitting position on the floor, the use of the feet being barred throughout.

As we have said Merrill was especially proficient on the Roman rings and trapeze and it was his great ability with them that enabled him to swing thru' the branches of the trees. . . climbing with lightning-like speed up and down the tangled vines of the jungle and pull himself rapidly out of bear traps and elephant pits which were laid by his enemies in these pictures.

And so "Tarzan the Mighty" went into production around spring 1928 and concluded shooting around the middle of October, 1928.

It was stated by Universal to be based on ERB's great book "The Jungle Tales of Tarzan" and was originally accorded the tentative title of the "Jungle Tales of Tarzan" and was scheduled for 12 episodes.

By the time this picture reached the cinema screens its title-head became "Tarzan the Mighty."

Jack Nelson directed the picture under the supervision of William Lord Wright. The screen adaptation and screen continuity were written by Ian McCloskey Heath.

Yes, a combination of the two experts Merrill and Nelson specialists in their respective fields.

"Mighty" proved such great box-office that Universal were compelled to extend it to 15 episodes by public demand.

Universal put out some quite colourful publicity on "Mighty" 6-sheet, 12-sheet, and 48-sheet posters, banners, 11 x 14 coloured lobby cards and stills

The cast of "Tarzan the Mighty" was as follows:
Frank Merrill . . . Tarzan
Natalie Kingston . . . feminine lead of Mary Trevor
Al Ferguson . . . as Black John, the beachcomber and leader of a lost pirate village
Bobby Nelson . . . as Bobby Trevor, the girl's little brother
Lorimer Johnson . . . as Lord Greystoke

"Mighty" proved such a tremendous success that Universal produced a sequel "Tarzan the Tiger" which was based fairly faithfully on ERB's "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar." This went for 15 episodes, and was released around October, 1929. For his second great serial Henry McRae was in charge of the direction side with the continuity and adaptation again in t he hands of Ian McCloskey Heath.

The cast of "Tarzan the Tiger" as supplied by Universal Pictures was as follows:
Tarzan, Lord Greystoke . . . Frank Merrill
Jane, Lady Greystoke . . . Natalie Kingston
Werper . . . Al Ferguson
Achment Zek . . . Sheldon Lewis
Queen La . . . Kithnou
Mohammed Bey . . . Paul Panzer

Al Ferguson proved such a good villain that he was again retained for "Tiger" as an adventure, posing as a scientist and minus his beard but sporting a wicked looking mustache.

Natalie Kingston was again retained as the feminine lead but in the capacity of Lady Jane, and of course there was no doubt that all who would continue to play Tarzan -- Frank Merrill.

Of course, I witnessed both "Mighty" and "Tiger" at two separate cinemas, following on from one to the other for 15 episodes each.

Although they were for unsophisticated, probably, they afforded me some of the greatest continuous pleasure of any movies I have see, and I could hardly wait for the next week's episode.

Here is a reviewer's account of "Mighty" in the trade press:

"Both Frank Merrill and Natalie Kingston are admirably suited for their star parts. Being endowed with grace and strength and beauty, and in a film of this type these are indispensable qualifications.

Plot: A female ape mourns the death of her young one and mothers a helpless human babe.

Grown to magnificent manhood he acquires knowledge from books left by his parents. Understands the speech of the animals around him and they love and obey him.

He saves a beautiful shipwrecked girl while bathing in a jungle pool, from a shoal of crocodiles and afterwards protects her from the descendants of a pirate crew settled on the island.

There is considerable charm and even poetry in these adventures -- and the most prosaic individual cannot fail to be delighted by the portrayal of primitive simplicity. . . . the wonders of the tropical jungle . . . the physical feats of the agile Tarzan . . . the desperate struggles and nick-of-time rescues. . . "

The following are the exciting title-heads of the chapters for
"Tarzan the Mighty" and "Tarzan the Tiger":

1. The Terror of Tarzan
2. The lOve Cry
3. The Call of the Jungle
4. The Lion's Leap
5. Flames of Hate
6. The Fiery Pit
7. The Leopard's Lair
8. The Jungle Traitor
9. Lost in the Jungle
10. Jaws of Death
11. A Thief in the NIght
12. The Enemy of Tarzan
13. Perilous Paths
14. Facing Death
15. The Reckoning
1. Call of the Jungle
2. The Road to Opar
3. Altar of the Flaming God
4. The Vengeance of La
5. Condemned to Death
6. Tantor - The Terror
7. In Deadly Peril
8. The Loop of Death
9. Flight of Werper
10. Prisoner of the Apes
11. Jaws of Death
12. The Jewels of Opar
13. A Human Sacrifice
14. Tarzan's Rage
15. Tarzan Triumphs

Frank Merrill at his home shortly befor his death.
Accompanied by Tom Tulley who was visiting him
with Hulbert Burroughs and Bob Hyde.
From the Bob Hyde Odyssey of a Tarzan FANatic
Chapter XXVIII ~ 1964

[Hulbert Burroughs] and I located Frank Merrill, who played Tarzan in two movie serials, and drove to his home. 

Although Merrill was 70 years old, he was in great physical shape, with bulging arm muscles. 

Merrill gave me a short film of him as Tarzan. 

It was a 35-mm nitrate film.  I was afraid of nitrate film because of its propensity to burst into flame, as happened in the ERB warehouse in 1958. 

So I turned it over to Hully who later transferred it to 16mm safety film, with prints for both of us.


Lorimer Johnston, Frank Merrill, Bobby Nelson, Natalie Kingston

Natalie Kingston 

Natalie Kingston and friend 
having fun on the Universal lot

Frank Miller

Tarzan the Mighty
1928 | Gallery
"Hercules of the Screen"
Tarzan the Tiger
Merrill Remembered
Part I
Merrill Remembered
Part II
Merrill Remembered
Part III
Photo Gallery

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