Iíd like to start off with a little trivia question. Who is the only female to play Tarzan in a movie? I know of only one, so if you know another one please let me know. Iíll answer this question at the end, so in the meantime cogitate on it.
Iíd like to take a look at the "sons" of Tarzan as they were portrayed on the silver screen. The first has the distinction of playing both father and son. Gordon Griffith, the screen's very first Tarzan also got to portray Jack Clayton in the 1920s chapter play "The Son of Tarzan," directed by Arthur J. Flaven and Harry Revier. Griffith also took on the role of another iconic boy, Tom Sawyer, in 1920's "Huckleberry Finn," directed by the notorious William Desmond Taylor.
Later in that same chapter play the role of the adult Korak was taken on by Kamuela (Samuel) Cooper Searle, who was hurt badly by a misadventure during a stunt involving an elephant carrying him on a stake. A bit of a legend surrounds this incident about Searle dying as a result of this. A later film credit in 1921's Cecil B. DeMile's "Fool's Paradise" and his brother indicate otherwise. Sadly he did not live all that much longer and died of cancer in 1924.
Johnny Sheffield answered a call placed in the Hollywood Reporter, "Have you a Tarzan Jr. in your backyard?", and became "Boy," an orphan rescued from a plane crash. To me a much better solution to the question of morality raised by the issue would have been to open the film with a marriage ceremony.
This would have eliminated this convoluted relationship as well as saved a lot of copies of the books yanked from libraries by people who didnít read them. "Boy" is one of my favorite screen names, second only to Hondo Lane's dog's name.
Sheffield continued in the role until 1947 when he left the series after "Tarzan and the Huntress." He tried to fulfill the promise made by the German title for his film "Killer Leopard,Ē ďBomba, Der Erbe Tarzans" or "Bomba, Tarzan's Heir!" He made a series of films based on the character Bomba created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. After Bomba he tried his hand at a tv series, "Bantu the Zebra Boy" but it never got further than a pilot. For you completists "Bantu" is available informally from a variety of sources. Ironically Johnny Sheffield died in 2010 while trimming a tree.
Not sure if Tommy Carlton counts but his character Joe Martin is sort of adopted by Tarzan, played by Lex Barker, after he rescues him for what promises to be a dead end career as crocodile bait. He is not to be seen again after 1952's "Tarzan's Savage Fury."
Gordon Scott's Tarzan tries his hand at adoption with Tartu (Tarzan 2?) played by Rickie Sorensen. Sorensen would also go on to play "Boy" in the tv series that turned into the movie "Tarzan and the Trappers." Of all the actors who played the son of Tarzan he had the most prolific career, going on to play future wolfman Creighton Chaney in "Man of a Thousand Faces" and a slew of television parts.
Finally we get to the Jar Jar Binks of Tarzan films. You either love him or hate him as the orphan boy in Ron Ely's Tarzan tv series, Jai, Manuel Padilla Jr. Padilla was pretty successful on television and even had a nice part in "American Graffiti". While looking around the internet for information about him I stumbled on something very interesting. Evidently there were talks with Johnny Weissmuller to have him play Tarzan's father to Ron Ely's Tarzan. To paraphrase Chester A. Riley, "What a revoltin' development that would have been."
On a completely different note, there is a new Blu Ray release of 1984's "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" directed by Hugh Hudson. It is a beautiful transfer, complete with film grain so donít expect the kind of scraped clean image of todayís digital offerings. The sound has been faithfully restored. I only wished they had maintained the level of immersive surround sound established at the start throughout the film. Despite the filmís many faults, I find it entertaining. I have problems with Christopher Lambert's Tarzan, but in my mind Ralph Richardson is perfect as Tarzan's grandfather the Sixth Earl of Greystoke. His love of the land, empathy and wild side all come through in his wonderful performance, a fitting forebearer of Tarzan. I had forgotten how sad this movie is, made doubly so by the realization that this would be Richardson's last performance. In fact the film is dedicated to his memory.
Nothing really new in this release other than the quality of the transfer and that won't really be realized unless it is viewed in a large format. The commentary track is interesting but shows that the film makers know more about making movies than Edgar Rice Burroughs. That is where I got the trivia question. Tali McGregor plays the infant Tarzan. Evidently she was a recent birth among the folks at the studio and as luck would have it a young lady. In a humorous side note Hudson talks about getting complaints about showing her "male" genitalia.
Many thanks to Rob "Tex" Donkers for his help with this piece.
Tarzan of the Apes - 1918
Gordon Griffith as 10-year-old Tarzan
Son of Tarzan
Gordon Griffith and Kamuela C. Searle as Korak, Son of Tarzan
Kamuela Searle soon to be injured
Finds a Son!
Tarzan and the Huntress
Johnny Sheffield Tribute
Tarzan's Savage Fury
Tarzan and the Trappers
Tarzan Goes To India
Tarzan and the Great River
Tarzan and the Jungle Boy
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