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Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932)
Based on the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Scenarist, Cyril Hume. Dialogue, Ivor Novello. Editors, Ben Lewis and Tom Heldl Camera, Harold Rosson and Clyde DeVinna. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Running time, 90 minutes.
Harry Hold........................Neil Hamilton
James Parker.....................C. Aubrey Smith
Jane Parker........................Maureen O’Sullivan
Mrs. Cutten........................Doris Lloyd
A few years ago, Maureen O’Sullivan was reminiscing about the genesis of perhaps the most famous line of movie dialogue.
It came from Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932), the first feature-length talking Tarzan film. “I was deadly afraid of height,” Miss O’Sullivan said. “And one day, Johnny Weissmuller and I had to cower in the high branches of a tree for one of our scenes. Johnny was a practical joker. He knew I was afraid of height. So he began to shake our branch and I screamed.”
“As I shrieked, Johnny smiled,” she recalled. It then occurred to him that she was, in a sense, stealing his thunder. After all, he was the one who was supposed to boom out with the blood-chilling, bull-ape call. So, with dry sarcasm Weissmuller said sternly:
“ME... Tarzan. YOU... Jane.”
Everyone on the lot broke up. Miss O’Sullivan said, “It was so funny, it was kept in the script. As far as I know, Johnny never got a penny for his contribution. Nor did I.”
But memory plays tricks on us. That line actually never was said in the film although a similar line, without the pronouns, was spoken. Nevertheless, the apocryphal quotation has somehow been handed down through the years and become the butt of countless jokes.
Ironically, this item of movie trivia probably would not have seemed a bit humorous to Tarzan’s creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was in 1912 that Burroughs’ first Tarzan story appeared in a pulp magazine. The jungle lord became an instant hit and even went on to appear in a pulp magazine. The jungle lord became an instant hit and went on to appear in books, movies, radio serials, comics and newspaper strips. All these enterprises earned more than $20 million for Burroughs and mad Tarzan possibly the world’s best known fictional hero.
But past-adventure buffs remember the ape-man best from the flicks, rather than from Burroughs stories. And the motion-picture versions of his novels made Burroughs bitterly disappointed for they virtually ignored the dialogue and plots of his books.
“My father was never able to understand why the Tarzan motion pictures would not follow his stories more closely,” Burroughs’ daughter Joan Burroughs Pierce said. “Instead, Hollywood writers changed the stories and created their own version of Dad’s hero.”
For example, far from being a mono-syllabic caveman, Burroughs’s fictional character, Tarzan, was actually a self-educated, titled Englishman. He was the son of John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (Marlon Brando sometimes uses the name Lord Greystoke in signing a hotel register), who was stranded with his wife on the West African coast by a mutinous crew. Lady Alice lost her mind and then her life a year after giving birth to a son. Soon afterward, a band of great apes killed Lord Greystoke. But the gentle she-ape Kala, who had lost her own newborn, adopted the strange white baby. She nursed him, and called him Tarzan. “Tar” means white and “zan” means skin in the language spoken by Burroughs’s fictional apes.
As he grew up, Tarzan taught himself to read and write from books discovered at his parents’ cabin. Later, he learned French, German, and Italian as well as Bantu and other local dialects. Tarzan eventually returned to civilization where he mixed in upper-class circles in London and Paris. But he eventually left because he preferred life in the jungle.
“One time, we saw a Tarzan movie together,” Burroughs’s daughter recalled. “After it was all over, although the audience seemed enthusiastic, my father remained in his seat and kept shaking his head sadly.”
Just why this aristocrat-turned-noble-savage characterization and storyline did not appeal to Hollywood remains a mystery. For the Burroughs version won a huge following from the day the first ape-man story appeared in All-Story magazine when he was 37 years old. It was the turning point of his life.
The son of wealthy parents, ERB, as his fans called him, had been unsuccessful in everything he tried. As a youth, he had flunked out of a succession of prep schools, including the exclusive Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. West Point rejected him and so did Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
He worked for his father’s firm, the American Storage Battery Company for a while, then decided to try it on his own. He drifted from job to job. He was a cattle-driver, miner, railroad cop, salesman, accountant. For a time, he was head of the stenographic department for Sears, Roebuck in Chicago. Then he failed in several business ventures, including an advertising agency he managed into bankruptcy in less than a year. He was the type of person who some say expected to make a fortune at everything he did, but then quit when he did not get quick results.
At 35, a failure in all he had attempted, Burroughs turned to writing. In his despondency, he would escape from his setbacks in the real world by daydreaming, conjuring up fanciful adventures. One day, reading some pulp magazine, he became convinced he could do better. “I... made up my mind,” said Burroughs, “that if people were paid for writing rot such as I read, I could write stories just as rotten.”
That year, he sold his first effort, a science-fiction novella called Under the Moons of Mars to All-Story for $400. But it was his second published work, Tarzan of the Apes (for which he was paid $700) that captured the public’s fancy. It became possibly the most popular story any US magazine has ever published.
Tarzan, the virile, God-like lord of a jungle empire, was a masculine hero with whom every man could identify. He offered a unique escape to an exotic world that presented one hair-raising adventure after another. "Tarzan," wrote Russell Nye in the Unembarrassed Muse, "was science-fiction, combining the super-being theme, the lost world theme, the Utopian theme and the time-warp device."
Critics have said Burroughs probably found his inspirations in the he Romulus and Remus legend, The Jungle Book of Rudyard Kipling, and H. Rider Haggard's She and King Solomon's Mines. What is certain is that Burroughs did not draw on his own experiences. He never set foot in Africa. His description of that exotic continent came in large part from H. M. Stanley's In Darkest Africa and other books he found in the Chicago Public Library. ONce he used Sabor, the tiger, as a lead character -- although tigers of course, roam the wilds of India.
Burroughs never claimed to be a classical writer. But he had a gift for spellbinding narrative and boundless imagination. His editor, Thomas Metcalf of All-Story magazine, knew he had a pulp classic as soon as he had finished reading that first Tarzan tale. "If you will stop and realize how many thousands and thousands of stories an editor has to read, day in, day out." Metcalf wrote in an introduction to the piece, "you will be impressed when we tell you that we read this yarn at one sitting and had the time of our young lives. It is the most exciting story we have seen in a blue moon, and about as original as they make 'em." Collectors pay $100 and more today for that 15-cent issue published in October 1912.
The original Tarzan created an immediate sensation. An avalanche of letters demanded a sequel. Soon, Burroughs was turning out one Tarzan tale after another. They were translated into 31 languages -- including Chinese, Esperanto, Hebrew, Serbo-Croation, and Urdu. He became a hero of the Russians -- even the Germans until World War I, then Tarzan took on the Huns in one of his adventures.
In all, Burroughs wrote 26 Tarzan books. One estimate is that 36 million copies have been sold. But Robert M. Hodes, vice president of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., in Tarzana, California, which continues to manage ERB's properties puts the total at from 50 to 100 million copies.
Tarzana is something of a story in itself. Burroughs died in 1950 at the age of 75. But a four-man company continues to manage his properties from a small one-story office building ERB built in 1927 in the San Fernando Valley. Although it has its own post office, it is now situated on Ventura Boulevard within the Los Angeles city limits.
"When my father got the property in 1919," said 64-year old Hulbert Burroughs, one of the corporation owners, "he bought the 550-acre estate from Harrison Gray Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times. Burroughs made it a ranch and the town that grew up around it was called Tarzana."
Today, the ERB corporation owns only about two acres of the original land, and its office building, designed in the spanish-style architecture much in vogue then, looks more like a mission or a church. So there really isn't much there for summer visitors who make the pilgrimage. But they come anyway because they want to see where it all began. They get a cordial welcome and a tour through the corporation's three office rooms and one storage room. And they are shown the original Tarzan books and illustrations. Some of the loyal buffs belong to fan clubs -- the Burroughs Bibliophiles, Erbania, the Barsoomian (the name "Barsoomian" comes from ERB's John Carter tales of Martian adventure -- the inhabitants of Mars called their planet Barsoom, hence, "Barsoomian" is the equivalent to "Martian") -- and they read ERB-dom Magazine.
Tarzan probably reached the height of his popularity in the 1930s. Burroughs had extensive merchandising arrangements then. Tarzan's image appeared on bread wrappers, ice-cream cups, and in promotions for gasoline. "Drive with the power of Tarzan," billboards read. There were also Tarzan statuettes, Tarzan knives, and Tarzan loincloths. Though these business ventures have long since faded, today's kids can still see Tarzan in comic strips in about 100 papers, comic books, TV reruns, and second-run movie houses. Europe has replace the United States as the jungle lord's commercial stamping grounds. Hulbert Burroughs says Tarzan books are enjoying a revival there. They were best sellers in France last year, he said. And they're going great guns in Italy now.
Ironically, the 26 Tarzan novels comprise less than half the 68 books Burroughs turned out in his lifetime. Many of his science-fiction works deal with life on other worlds. They include 11 Martian adventures, seven tales from the Inner World (the earth's core), and five Venusian fantasies. He also wrote a Hollywood expose, a book on slum youth in Chicago, historical novels, two Apache novels (from the Indian's viewpoint), and several detective and humorous books. None matched the sales of his Tarzan stories.
Still, as popular as Tarzan was in books and pulp magazines, he undoubtedly reached an even wider audience on the screen. The first to portray him was Elmo Lincoln, a 200-pound, barrel-chested actor who had featured roles in D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915 -- as a blacksmith) and Intolerance (1916 -- as Belshazzar's Bodyguard). IN 1918, Lincoln appeared in Tarzan of the Apes, one of the first silent films to gross more than $1 million. (Technically, Lincoln was the first adult Tarzan. Silent screen buffs fastidiously point out that ht first Tarzan was actually ten-year-old Gordon Griffith, who played the ape-man as a boy in (1918) Tarzan of the apes.
Over the years, 15 actors and athletes have played the jungle lord. Tarzan #2 was Gene Pollar, a New York City fireman, (3) P. Dempsey Tabler, a flabby balding, former Tennessee athlete and later a silent film actor who, at the age of 41, played the ape-man under a shaggy, ill-fitting wig. (4) James H. Pierce, Burroughs' s son-in-law and also a radio Tarzan with his wife, Joan Burroughs Pierce, as Jane; (5) Frank Merrill, a champion gymnast and the first who shod his feet with sandles; and (6) Weissmuller.
Then (7) Buster Crabbe, another Olympic swimming champ who later starred in the Flash Gordon serials; (8) Herman Brix, an Olympic shot-putter whose acting name became Bruce Bennett; (9) Glenn Morris, 1936 decathlon champion; (10) Lex Barker, an adventure film actor who would marry and divorce such Hollywood beauties as Arlene Dahl and Lana Turner; (11) Gordon Scott, a Las Vegas lifeguard; (12) Denny Miller, UCLA basketball star and the first blond Tarzan; (13) Jock Mahoney, stuntman and stepfather of Sally Field, the Flying Nun of television; (14) Mike Henry, Los Angeles Rams linebacker; and (15) Ron Ely, the first TV Tarzan.
Enid Markey was the original Jane. Among those who followed were Julie Bishop, Dorothy Hart, Vanessa Brown, Virginia Huston, Brenda Joyce, Joyce MacKenzie, and swim star Eleanor Holm. Other actresses who appeared in the films but did not play Jane included Linda Christian, Denise Darcel, Frances Gifford, Nancy Kelly, Vera Miles, Monique Van Vooren, Evelyn Ankers, Acquanetta, and Patricia Morison.
Weissmuller and Miss O'Sullivan were easily the most famous pair. They teamed in six jungle epics from 1932 to 1942. A lithe, pretty, Irish-born colleen (who 30 years later would become better known as Mia Farrow's mother), Miss O'Sullivan gave the part a delicate blend of femininity, spunk, and sophistication. But she had no great love for the role, which offered her few lines and fewer clothes. In Tarzan and His Mate (1934), she wore only a bra and loincloth. "She is practically nude," gasped critic P. S. Harrison of Harrison's Reports, a reviewing service for theater owners. In fact, one underwater sequence showed Jane bare-breasted for an instant (it was actually a double filmed in profile). PTA groups howled. The scene was subsequently cut from the film.
However, this was the least of Miss O'Sullivan's worries. "I was never more consistently sick and miserable in all my life," she said later. ".... I was never without an ache or a pain. I was never completely or comfortably warm. And I was never without a bite from one of those monkeys. I always had the same average -- one fresh bite, one about half healed, and one scar." She was also pregnant a good deal of the time and had to get used to saying her lines half hidden behind props.
Weissmuller wasn't exactly thrilled with his parts either. Tarzan had a vocabulary of only 60 words. "My lines read like a backward two-year old talking to his nurse," he once said. But he took his share of lumps, too. "Once I was following my elephant by vine when he stopped." Weissmuller said. "I ran into his ass and broke my nose."
However, Weissmuller was content with his lot because he never considered himself an actor. In fact, he was a superlative swimmer. Representing the United States in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, he won five gold medals. For years, he was unbeatable in races from 50 yards to a half-mile. During his long and glorious career, he set 67 world swimming records. He maintained his 100-yard freestyle mark (51 seconds) from 1927 to 1944. In 1953, the Associated Press named him the greatest swimmer of the half-century.
So in 1932, it was not totally unexpected when, at the peak of his career, MGM picked the six-foot-three-inch, 190-pound Olympic champion to play the first talking Tarzan. The studio had decided to do a Tarzan picture after its success with Trader Horn (1931), a jungle thriller about a white goddess brought back to civilization. William S. Van Dyke, its director and Tarzan's as well, began a meticulous search for the ape-man. He tested scores of actors, college men, and athletes. He thought Clark Gable wasn't built well enough. Johnny Mack Brown wasn't tall enough. "I want someone like Jack Dempsey, only younger," Van Dyke said, "Tom Tyler is the best so far. But he's not muscular enough."
Van Dyke was ready to settle for Herman Brix. But Brix broke a shoulder filming Touchdown (1931). Then one day, screenwriter Cyril Hume happened to spot Weissmuller swimming at his hotel pool. Impressed by his physique, Hume brought Weissmuller to Van Dyke. The director asked the big guy to strip to his shorts. He did. Van Dyke couldn't have made a better choice. Weissmuller's voice was strangely high pitched, but his broad chest, ample crop of dark hair, cat-like walk, and powerful swim style fit the role perfectly.
The studio pulled out all stops for its first talking Tarzan film, Tarzan the Ape Man. Production costs mounted to a cool $1 million, and the publicity department launched a spectacular promotion campaign. No angle was overlooked. "Girls," the ads said, "would you live like Eve if you found the right Adam?"
In fact, Weissmuller's sex appeal had a lot to do with the picture's success. Crowds filing out of the Stanley Theatre at the Baltimore premiere in 1932 were enthralled by Weissmuller's manliness. The Baltimore Sun's inquiring photographer turned up these typical reactions: "If all of us could handle the women like Johnny Weissmuller, the world would be a wonderful place," said H. Raymond Grove of 6216 Baltimore Avenue. "Tarzan," said Miss Bea Knighton of 735 East 21st Street, "is certainly the ideal lover that every girl would love to have -- if she only dared."
The movie, besides being a dandy adventure yarn, is memorable for at least three reasons. First, it introduced Cheta, the chimpanzee who became Tarzan's jungle buddy. Second, the picture depicted how Tarzan and Jane met. Finally, it gave us Weissmuller's famous yodel, "aaah--eee-aaaah" or was it "eh--wa--au--wau--aooow?" Tarzan used it as a victory cry or a danger shout to summon help from elephants and other animal pals. Actually, Merrill, Tarzan #5, developed the ape-call in a 1928 semi sound serial. But the jungle lord's "triumphantery" as we know it today was a creation of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sound department.
To produce it, technicians ingeniously blended a whole series of unconnected sounds. They reportedly mixed a camel's bleat, a hyena's yowl played backward, the pluck of a violin string, a soprano's high C, and Weissmuller's bellowing at the top of his lungs. Then, they played them a fraction of a second after one another, thus creating a weird jungle call that became Weissmuller's trademark. Amazingly, Weissmuller learned to imitate it. At Saturday matinees, kids often greeted the apeman's yowl with cheers.
The picture begins with Jane Parker (Miss O'Sullivan) joining her father (C. Aubrey Smith) and his young associate Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) on a dangerous African safari. They are bound for the unexplored land beyond the Mutia Escarpment, a wall-like barrier of mountains. The safari is searching for an elephant burial ground where a fortune in ivory tusks lies buried.
"Enough ivory to supply the world," Parker tells Jane. "There's a million pounds for the man who finds it."
During their trek through the wilderness, Harry becomes keenly aware of Jane's beauty and personal charm. "If we get through this all right," he asks her, "is there any chance for me?" But Jane is noncommittal.
Days later, they reach the escarpment and begin a tortuous climb. "A bit tricky here," Harry says, leaping across a crevice. Moments afterward, a native carrier makes the same leap, misses a narrow ledge and plunges to his death. Still, the safari goes on over sun-baked cliffs, through crocodile-infested waters, sleeping at night with animals baying just beyond their campfire. ONe night, just before retiring to bed, they hear a long, animal-like cry.
"What was that?" Jane asks.
"Bwana -- maybe hyena," says Riano (Curtis Nero), one of the native men. Again, the call sounds, this time nearer.
"That was a human cry," Parker says. Concerned about Jane, Parker considers turning back. The natives become restless, too. But Jane won't hear of quitting.
The next morning, they break camp and forge ahead. They pick up the tracks of an elephant herd and follow them to a turbulent stream. There they build two rafts. But as they set out, a herd of hippopotamuses wallow into the water and capsize one of the rafts. Hold and Parker drag most of the struggling natives aboard their craft. But crocodiles pull two men to the river bottom before they can swim ashore.
Some of the beasts follow the party up the river bank. Then, from overhead, that strange, fearful cry booms out again. As if in obedience to a command, the hippos back off and wade into the water. Moments later, the tall figure of a wild man appears in the trees. He makes no response to any questions. Nor does he answer Riano's Swahili dialect questions.
Just for an instant, Parker's and Holt's attention are diverted. And in that instant, Jane disappears.
The jungle man has whisked her away, swinging her up into the overhanging branches to his tree home among a group of apes. Terrified, she tries to escape. But one of them pushes her down. She shrinks back. "Let me go," she screams hysterically. When she looks up at the white man, it's clear that he doesn't understand.
Suddenly the ape approaches her again and tries to grab her arm. This time the ape-man does understand. He sternly motions the ape off.
"Thank you," Jane says more calmly. There is no response. She adds, "Thank you for protecting me."
Me --," the giant repeats, pointing to Jane.
"No," Jane answers. Then, like a schoolteacher, she points to herself. "It's only 'me' for me."
Tarzan still does not comprehend.
Jane pauses, trying to figure out how to make it plain. "I'm Jane Parker -- understand? Jane Jane."
"Jane -- Jane," Tarzan says, at last understanding her. "Jane," he says, pointing to her.
"Yes, Jane. And you? You?"
"Tarzan," he says stabbing his chest proudly. "Tarzan."
Then, Tarzan points enthusiastically to her and back to him. "Jane -- Tarzan."
He continues like a child with a new toy, poking her harder each time he says her name, delightedly pairing his and her names faster and faster like a train gathering speed.
"Jane -- Tarzan. Jane -- Tarzan. Jane -- Tarzan. Jane -- Tarzan. Jane -- Tarzan. Jane -- Tarzan.
"Oh, please stop it," Jane says, exasperated and on the verge of tears. She suddenly realizes she is separated from her hunting party, thousands of miles form civilization with a wild man who speaks no English. "Let me go," she screams. "I can't stand this."
And so that immortal line -- "Me Tarzan, you Jane" -- was never spoken. Such is the reality from which one Hollywood myth was born. (Tarzan and Jane had a more breathless first encounter in the Burroughs version. Tarzan saves Jane from Terkoz, a giant anthropoid ape. When she goes to thank him with open arms, what does Tarzan do? "He did what no red-blooded man needs lessons in doing," Burroughs wrote in Tarzan of the Apes. "He took his woman in his arms and smothered her upturned ... lips with kisses. For a moment, Jane lay there with half-closed eyes. For a moment -- the first in her young life -- she knew the meaning of love.")
That night, Jane sleeps in Tarzan's simple tree home. He spreads a leopard skin, draws a screen of vines around her, and stretches his huge form outside on a big branch.
Days later, Parker hears Jane's voice as he and his party search the jungle. He calls her and she runs to him.
"Were you very frightened? he asks, embracing his daughter, whom he had given up for dead.
"At first, I thought he was a savage," Jane says, "but I found out he wasn't."
"Oh, my dear, he's not like us..." parker says -- in what must be the movie's most notorious use of that cliché.
But it's obvious from Jane's changed attitude that her experience in the wilderness with Tarzan has affected her deeply. For one thin, she has lost her fear of the ape-man's animal friends. She has begun to sense the beauty of the untamed jungle. And Tarzan's protectiveness and gentleness has kindled a growing affection. When Tarzan joins the safari, she takes notice of his magnificent body. "I wonder what you'd look like dressed," she muses. And then answers herself. "Pretty good."
As Tarzan leads the expedition through the unmapped wilderness, movie audiences of the 1930s got their first glimpse of his jungle prowess. He swims up a storm, commands an army of loyal jungle animals, and glides from vine to vine with the ease and agility of a trapeze artist. Cheta accompanies Tarzan on many of his exploits. The chimp, who is utilized as comic relief, became one of Hollywood's all-time favorite animal characters.
One day, while Tarzan is frolicking with his animal friends, a savage tribe of pygmies attack the party, capture them, and begin lowering them one by one into a pit -- where a giant gorilla awaits them. Tarzan rushes to the rescue with a herd of elephants, stampedes the pygmies, and kills the gorilla with his knife.
After the battle royal, a wounded elephant leads the safari through a waterfall to the elephant's graveyard. Tusks and skeletons of hundreds of pachyderms are scattered across an immense plateau. "It's beautiful," says Jane. "Solemn and beautiful. We shouldn't be here."
Hold sees things differently. "It's riches. Millions," he says, looking greedily over the ivory-strewn landscape.
But the exhausting journey has been too hectic for the elderly Parker. After finally reaching his goal, he collapses and dies. "He found what he was looking for," Jane says. Then, anticipating mourners in thousands of B-films to come, she adds, "I know that somewhere -- wherever great hunters go -- he's happy."
After the party has buried Parker in the elephants graveyard, they retrace their steps through the waterfall and back toward civilization. Jane has decided to stay with Tarzan. Holt, she feels, can only give her worldly things that no longer have meaning for her -- money, civilization, clothes. Tarzan, the animals, and the rich warm earth of the jungle have become her new natural life.
"You'll be coming back, Harry," Jane says consolingly. "I can see a huge safari with you at the head bearing ivory down to the coast. Only this time, there'll be no danger. Because we'll be there to protect you every step of the way."
As the safari moves on, Holt looks back. There in the distance, Tarzan and Jane stand side by side on a hill waving. Behind them the African sun is setting, its rays bathing the jungle in long, deepening shadows. The sound track fades out with Tchaikovsky's plaintive theme from Romeo and Juliet.
The second Weissmuller-O'Sullivan movie, Tarzan and His Mate, appeared two years later in 1934. Critics said the sequel had the rare attribute of being even better than the original. From then on, the Tarzan movies came out about every two or three years right on up till the 1960s. Though they were never mentioned in Academy Award circles, they became tremendous money-makers, particularly in foreign markets, where they earned 75 percent of their gross. In some Western European and Asian countries, they opened with the pomp and circumstance of a Hollywood premiere -- including white tie and tails and evening gowns. Producer Sol Lesser, who bought the Tarzan story rights form MGM and eventually Weissmuller's contract, estimated that the silent and talking Tarzan movies grossed more than $500,000,000 and played to more than two billion people.
There were many anecdotal footprints left along that endless, gold-paved jungle trail:
* Burroughs had invented an ape language with which Tarzan talked with his animal friends. "Kambu" was jungle, "gree-ah" love, and "gomangani" black. In the movies screenwriters added to the dialect. "Umgawa" was Weissmuller's favorite expression. He translated it as "Let's get the hell out of here."
* None of the Weissmuller movies was made in Africa. The early films picked up much of the leftover footage from Trader Horn. The studios shot the rest in a thickly wooded area in North Hollywood, augmenting natural scenery with imported fruit trees, tropical plants, and lush vegetation.
* In the early Tarzan flicks, the natives were American blacks, many of whom were hired off the streets of Los Angeles. "One day my friend and I were walking down Central Avenue in L.A.," said Rudy Morgan, who played a native in six Weissmuller pictures. "This big bus pulls up with a few colored actors. They started honking their horn and asked us if we wanted to work in pictures. I saw the MGM sign on the bus. I said, 'sure.' We got in and went to the studio and they lined us up. There were about 75 of us. And since I'm one of the few actors born with natural makeup, I think I was number 3 chosen. They told me I looked more like the natives than the natives." Morgan said he got about $12 a day in those nonunion times, double pay if he came in contact with animals. But Morgan said he was never afraid. The animals were well trained and a trainer was always nearby with a whip and a gun, he said. And most of them, especially the alligators didn't have any teeth.
* One of the most publicized incidents connected with Tarzan movies happened in 1961. Parents in Downey, California, objected on moral grounds to the Burroughs books in a school library. They accused the jungle pair of living together in sin. While Tarzan and Jane were having a swinging time in the trees, they allegedly had never gotten married. But the scandalous accusation proved false. Tarzan and his mate had indeed been married by a minister -- Jane's father. Anybody who read the second of Burroughs' jungle books, The Return of Tarzan, would have known that the great jungle couple steered clear of monkey business.
* However, it is true that the Weissmuller-O'Sullivan team were never formally married in their films. When MGM decided to give them a son, they had Tarzan and Jane adopt him. It seemed the simplest way to avoid criticism from the Legion of Decency. So in Tarzan Finds a Son (1939), the script called for a young couple to be killed a jungle plane crash. Tarzan rescues their youngster. He calls the lad "Boy" and he and Jane raise him. Weissmuller himself picked five-year-old Johnny Sheffield for the role.
Weissmuller went on to do 12 Tarzan pictures -- more than any other actor. Then, his waistline ballooned. Columbia pictures simply put clothes on him, made him a hunter, and started a new series called Jungle Jim (1948). Weissmuller liked doing these pictures. He owned a share in them and made a small fortune. He lost most of it, though, through high living, bad investments, and expensive divorce settlements. He married five times -- wife #3 was actress Lupe Velez, The Mexican Spitfire.
But he aged gracefully and remained active in his golden years. In 1972, with a full mane of hair at age 68, he was actively promoting swimming pools and mail-order vitamins and health foods. However, his Tarzan image is indelible. In restaurants, at conventions -- wherever he goes -- children and even adults ask him to boom out with just one more bull-ape call. He usually obliges.
He throws his head back and cups his hand around his mouth. And for an instant in time, we are back with Weissmuller in the primeval jungle, swinging from tree to tree with Jane, riding the back of swimming hippos, barking orders to great anthropoid apes, fighting lions and tigers barehanded, throwing a water buck with one mighty twist of the neck. "Aaaah--eee-aaaah." The voice of Tarzan echoes again in the land.
From Saturday Afternoon At The Bijou - Arlington House
This excerpt appeared in Gallery Magazine ~ April 1973