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Issue 0611
ERBzine Silver Screen Series ~ ERBzine 0502

I: Intro Tarzan the Ape Man Memories II by W. Armstrong
1a: Tarzan Memories I
II: Tarzan the Ape Man: Notes ~ Credits ~ Photos
III: Big Little Book Illustrated Summary I
IV: Big Little Book Illustrated Summary II
V. Tarzan, The Ape Man: Film Log Notes & Study Guide
VI. Tarzan the Ape Man Lobby Gallery I
VII. Lobby Gallery II: Tarzan Make Love
VIII. Lobby Gallery III: Tarzan and Jungle Friends
IX: Lobby Gallery IV
X: Lobby Gallery V
XI: Lobby Gallery: Neil Hamilton



Johnny Weissmuller
Maureen O'Sullivan

In 1931 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was in possession of much leftover jungle location footage from their very successful Trader Horn film. Ralph Rothmund of ERB, Inc. suggested that all this African footage might be used for a Tarzan film. Metro agreed and, acting under Louis B. Mayer's instructions, young production head Irving Thalberg obtained rights from ERB Inc. for two Tarzan films. The next step was to send director William S. Van Dyke in search of an actor to portray the apeman. During this star search, "Woody" Van Dyke often said, "What I want is a man who is young, strong, well-built, reasonably attractive, but not necessarily handsome, and a competent actor."

Van Dyke tested hundreds of athletes and most of the leading men of the day until he found Herman Brix, an All-American football star and Olympic medal winner. Before Brix could be signed, however, he broke his shoulder during production of his first picture, Touchdown, and the search was on again.

Meanwhile, the project screenwriter, Cyril Hume, recommended another athlete, Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller was offered the role, but first MGM had to make arrangements with BVD who had him under exclusive contract to endorse their line of swim trunks. Metro and Burroughs also had to deal with delaying film producer Sol Lesser's dormant 1928 option for five Tarzan pictures, a contract that was ruled binding by the courts.

For the role of Jane, Thalberg chose lovely twenty-year-old Irish actress, Maureen O'Sullivan.  This proved to be a brilliant piece of casting as the fair, dark-haired, curvaceous beauty was as feminine as Weissmuller was masculine. ERB noted that she added quite a bit to the picture and that she was far more attractive off the screen than on, "which is unusual for motion picture actresses."

For comic effect, a chimpanzee was hired to play the part of Tarzan's friend and confidant, Cheetah. In addition to the chimp, the film's million dollar budget permitted Van Dyke to gather a large menagerie of exotic wildlife for the production.

Film scholar and author, Jerry Schneider, notes in Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Silver Screen: Vol. II: "The majority of the film was shot utilizing the sound stages and Lot 1 at M-G-M, Culver City.  At the west end of Lot 1 were the river/lake and the Mutia Escarpment rocks (aka "Tarzan" rocks).  Lake Sherwood was used for the sequence involving the hippos attacking the safari rafts.  Adjacent Sherwood Forest was utilized for the tree swinging scenes, accomplished by The Flying Codonas aerialists.  The Iverson Movie Location Ranch appears in the films final scenes where Holt says goodbye to Tarzan and Jane." 

. . . On April 15, 1931, Burroughs signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which “grants rights to Metro to write an original story using character of Tarzan … Author to point out any material which conflicts or infringes upon any story heretofore written by author …” They paid Burroughs $20,000 plus “$1,000 per week for each of five weeks of author’s services”. In an October 13, 1931, Variety news item, it stated that “Studio, buying only the right to use the title ‘Tarzan’ is writing a story entirely different from any of the Burroughs’ yarns for the new edition. M-G is also restrained from using any of the character names in the books."

The Trader Horn footage was used to good effect through rear projection and inserts and Van Dyke used an adept mix of scenery, animal shots, humour, action and cinema tricks to make a film that would please critics and audiences of all ages. The picture was filmed in five months.

The film's storyline took many departures from ERB's Tarzan of the Apes. There was little reference to the apeman's origins and he was changed from an intelligent well-spoken English lord into an oafish, inarticulate apeman. One reason the MGM Weissmuller Tarzans were different from the book versions was because of the contract MGM had with ERB which stated in part: ERB "grants rights to Metro to write an original story using character of Tarzan . . . Author to point out any material which conflicts or infringes upon any story heretofore written by author..."  In other words, M-G-M purchased the name "Tarzan" and created their own storyline.

In exchange for substantial royalty cheques, Burroughs now seemed quite willing to give up his long, ongoing feud with Hollywood over the liberties taken with his original view of Tarzan that he often had found objectionable in earlier years. In fact, he made a public statement to MGM: "Now that I have seen the picture I wish to express my appreciation of the splendid job you have done. This is a real Tarzan picture. . . .  Mr. Weissmuller makes a great Tarzan. He has youth, marvelous physique and magnetic personality." Nor did he quibble over how MGM had changed the pronunciation of "Tarzan" from TAR-zn to Tar-ZAN.

Daughter Joan Burroughs revealed: "Dad found it hard to reconcile himself to the movie versions of the Tarzan stories, and never did understand the movie Tarzan. He wanted Tarzan to speak like an educated Englishman instead of grunting. One time we saw a movie together and after it was all over, although the audience seemed enthusiastic, my father remained in his seat and kept shaking his head, sadly."

When released in March of 1932 the film was an immediate popular and critical sensation becoming one of the top ten box office hits of the year. Johnny Weissmuller, despite, or maybe because of, his naked physique, was hailed as the biggest new star of the early '30s. Tarzan fever had hit and the ERB media blitz had begun: more films and novels, Sunday and daily comic strips, comic strip reprints in various book compilations, new magazine appearances - pulp and slick, radio shows, Tarzan clubs, advertising promotions, trading cards, toys, articles, and imitators galore.

The day after ERB, Inc. general manager, Ralph Rothmund, firmed the MGM/Tarzan deal, ERB celebrated by buying five cars -- one for each member of his family.

Weissmuller wives:
It is rumoured that Weissmuller's first wife was Camille Louier (no record)
Bobbe Arnst (1931-32) - Nightclub singer
Lupe Velez (1933-1938) - Fiery actress who committed suicide in 1944.
Beryel Scott (1939-1948) - San Francisco socialite.
Allene Gates (Married in Reno on day of divorce from Scott) 1948-1962) - Young golfer
Maria Bauman (1963 until Weissmuller's death in 1984) - German by birth. From the famous Wittelsbach royal family.

Weissmuller's wife, Bobbe Arnst, was paid $10,000 by MGM to divorce Johnny in 1932. The  studio preferred Johnny single for publicity purposes.

The word Umgawa was the invention of MGM screenwriter Cyril Hume. The all-purpose command "Ungawa," which could mean "good," "up," "down," "stop" or "go." See ERB's Ape-English Dictionary for ERB's version of the ape language.

The phrase "Me Tarzan, you Jane," was never spoken in any Tarzan film.

Although director Van Dyke used many shots of actual animals and locations, he also used a dummy hippo, actors in ape suits, and Indian elephants with large artificial ears, and a professional acrobat to perform most of Weissmuller's vine swinging stunts. Pygmies in the film were played by dwarfs in black makeup.

The North Hollywood Toluca Lake location was transformed into a tropical jungle by bringing in truckloads of tropical plants and fruit trees which were planted among the natural vegetation of the area.

Cheetah the chimp took a jealous dislike for Maureen O'Sullivan. The animal bit and scratched the actress at every opportunity.

To add mystique to the famous Weissmuller Tarzan yodel/yell, MGM concocted a story that the sound was actually the invention of engineers who blended Weissmuller's voice with a hyena's howl played backward, a camel's bleat, the pluck of a violin, and a soprano's high C. 

Tarzan’s distinctive call was first heard in this film; it was reportedly created by sound recordist Douglas Shearer using special audio effects, including an Austrian yodel played backwards at quickened speed. Weissmuller himself always claimed he had created the trademark Tarzan yell in a yodeling contest he won while he was a boy. He later learned to mimic the famous call so well people assumed that he was the one doing the yell in the films.

The Tarzan movies of the '30s, largely because of their heroic action and limited dialogue, consistently out-grossed every other motion picture in the foreign market. In fact, up to 75 per cent of the film grosses came from foreign countries.

Original film Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, was bitterly critical of Tarzan the Ape Man. He commented to Burroughs: ". . . the house seemd to think it was a comedy. Why do they portray Tarzan without dignity? . . . with the right treatment and portrayal, Tarzan could be a romantic, thrilling character, and still have the sympathy of his audiences . . . . I don't like to see him treated as a clown. I still think Weissmuller is a good swimmer."

Commenting on the success of the film in Los Angeles, ERB noted on May 9, 1932: "The rush was so great Saturday and Sunday that they advertised in this morning's paper that they are forced to put on seven shows a day, starting about nine in the morning."

Production Credits Courtesy Internet Movie Data Base
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke
Writing credits: Edgar Rice Burroughs  (novel) ~ Cyril Hume (adaptation) ~ Ivor Novello (dialogue)
Produced by Bernard H. Hyman and Irving Thalberg
Cinematography by Clyde De Vinna and Harold Rosson
Film Editing by Tom Held and Ben Lewis
Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons
Sound Department: Douglas Shearer (recording director)
Filming Location: Toluca Lake ~ North Hollywood, California
USA (English) ~ Black and White ~ 99 minutes
Genre: Action / Adventure
Taglines: Mothered by an ape--He knew only the law of the jungle--to seize what he wanted! An original M.G.M. Hit - Greatest of All!
Premiere: 5 March 1932 Capitol Theatre, New York, New York, USA
Plot Summary: James Parker and Harry Holt are on an expedition in Africa in search of the elephant burial grounds that will provide enough ivory to make them rich. Parker's beautiful young daughter Jane arrives unexpectedly to join them. Harry is obviously attracted to Jane and he does his best to help protect her from all the dangers that they experience in the jungle. Jane is terrified when Tarzan and his ape friends first abduct her, but when she returns to her father's expedition she has second thoughts about leaving Tarzan. After the expedition is captured by a tribe of violent dwarfs, Jane sends Cheetah to bring Tarzan to rescue them...  ~ Summary written by Gary Jackson
Complete credited cast:
Johnny Weissmuller: Tarzan
Neil Hamilton: Harry Holt
Maureen O'Sullivan: Jane Parker
C. Aubrey Smith: James Parker
Doris Lloyd: Mrs. Cutten
Forrester Harvey: Beamish
Ivory Williams: Riano

Jiggs – Cheetah uncredited
Ray Corrigan – Ape uncredited
Johnny Eck- Bird Creature uncredited

IMDB User Comments:
David Atfield ~ Canberra, Australia
Summary: Bizarre and sexy - should have been a silent film. It has to be said - this is a very strange film. A proper young English lass is kidnapped by a white man who, for reasons never explained in this version, lives with the apes. She instantly falls in love with him and gives up everything to swing through the trees with him. Hardly the kind of thing America in the early thirties would have thought proper. Which makes this film quite subversive - and Johnny Weissmuller is practically naked! His beauty, particularly in body shape and skin tone, is special - but so too is the performance of Maureen O'Sullivan. With Weissmuller monosyllabic at best, it is left to O'Sullivan to convey most of the story - and she does it with great grace and charm - and  quite a bit of sex!

All that aside, there is some remarkable animal footage - sometimes with the actors and at other times with obvious doubles. There is a band of marauding pygmies (basically dwarves in black make-up) that has to be seen to be believed! The hardest things to take in this film though are its racism (the whites whip their black servants, and, when O'Sullivan's dad says that Tarzan has no real human feelings, O'Sullivan explodes "But he's white"!), and the rather fake animals used in certain scenes - particularly the men in ape suits. There is also some really bad rear projection. But, if you can ignore all that, there is much to enjoy and Cheeta the chimp is very cute.

But it is in the silent action sequences that the film really flies. Too often it gets bogged down in static sound sequences - and there is the usual problem with early talkies of too little music. It makes me think what a great silent film this would have been. W.S. Van Dyke was a first-rate visual director with many impressive silent films like "The Pagan" and if we could now just sit back and watch this sexy action film without talking and sound effects, just a great music score, this film could well be  considered a masterpiece. But then I guess we would never have heard Tarzan's famous cry.
IMDB User Rating:  6.7/10 (142 votes)

Doug Pratt's Laserdisk  Review
Greatest US Films
At-A-Glance Film Reviews
Movie Mirror
Stomp Tokyo Review
Filmsite Review by Tim Dirks

This Film is Referenced in:
Design for Living (1933) ~ Night at the Opera, A (1935) ~ Speaking of the Weather (1937) ~ You Can't Shoe a Horsefly (1940) ~ Hollywood Steps Out (1941) ~ Wackiki Wabbit (1943) ~ Hsing hsing wang (1977) ~ Octopussy (1983) ~ Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) ~ Explorers (1985) ~ Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997) ~ American Beauty (1999)
This Film is Spoofed in:
Hollywood Party (1934) ~ CooCoo Nut Grove (1936) ~ Star Is Hatched (1938) ~ Porky the Fireman (1938) ~ Hollywood Daffy (1946) ~ Gorilla My Dreams (1948) ~ Past Perfumance (1955) ~ Ensign Pulver (1964) ~ Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) ~ Short Circuit 2 (1988) ~ Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) ~ Malèna (2000)

This Film is Featured in:
It's Showtime (1976) ~ Sixten (1994) ~ Tarzan: The Legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs (1996) (TV) ~
This Film is Edited into:
Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959)

Tarzan the Ape Man was remade in 1959 starring Denny Miller and Joanna Barnes:
This movie has little connection with the 1932 original. It does, however, have lifted footage (tinted to more-or-less match the color), including obvious footage of Weissmuller's vine-swinging. Miller is not once called Tarzan in the movie, and his yell is also lifted Weissmuller. The elephants who wreck the pygmy village are lifted/tinted from the original, but the "pygmies" (real in the original) were kids from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. Costumes are left over from "King Solomon's Mines" so that more stock footage could be lifted. And the crocodile fight is taken from "Tarzan and his Mate"

Tarzan the Ape Man was made again in a 1981 production which featured  Bo Derek sizzling with off-beat sensuality as she cavorted with her appealingly shy and muscular ape man lover. Also starring were Miles O'Keeffe as Tarzan, Richard Harris, John Phillip Law, and Steven Strong. [As in the original] this Tarzan story is from Jane's point of view. Jane Parker visits her father in Africa where she joins him on an expedition. A  couple of brief encounters with Tarzan establish a (sexual) bond  between her and Tarzan. When the expedition is captured by savages, Tarzan comes to the rescue.

Cinema: New Pictures: Tarzan, the Ape Man
TIME ~ April 04, 1932 
Tarzan, the Ape Man (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) begins in matter-of-fact fashion when a young English girl named Jane Parker (Maureen O'Sullivan) arrives at the cozy hut of her father, an African trader. She is a pleasant character and one not easily startled. Her most definite characteristic is a warm enthusiasm for maternity which makes her approve of 1) an African baby in a bag, 2) a hippopotababy waddling after its mother, 3) a small shaggy ape which seems to be an orphan. When she goes with her father's expedition to find the valley where the long-tusked elephants die, she accepts all hardships calmly and only squeals once, when she topples over a precipice and is barely saved by a ragged rope. The final test of her imperturbability comes when she is kidnapped by a yodeling athlete in a loin cloth who swings her up to his nest at the top of a tree and turns out to be Tarzan of the Apes.

Jane Parker still seems to be more pleased than frightened. Her abductor does not disillusion her. Although he can only converse with monkeys and is, aside from his ability as a gymnast, convincingly subhuman, Tarzan shows a surprising grasp of the niceties of romantic love. He is only rough once, when he seizes Jane Parker's handkerchief, tears it in half and gives a disagreeable grunt. 

When Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) has Jane Parker in his den, the picture really gets into its stride. The ground below the trees becomes alive with tigers, lions, zebras, waterbucks, crocodiles and savage dwarfs. Tarzan is a match for all of them. When a member of the Parker expedition shoots him in the head, he is too tough to mind it and shows his stamina by immediately strangling not one lion but two. When the savage dwarfs capture the members of the Parker expedition and are gleefully preparing to feed them to a large gorilla, Tarzan effects a rescue. He gives his yodel in a loud voice and advances on the dwarf village followed by a herd of friendly elephants. The elephants trample the village to bits and Tarzan disposes of the gorilla. Cinemaddicts will be aided in their understanding of this turn of events by recalling the recent cycle of gangster pictures. The elephants and apes are Tarzan's gang; at the end of the picture Jane Parker has become the moll of the organization. 

Tarzan, the Ape Man is frankly and gorgeously spurious. It was not made in Africa with benefit of publicity and palaver, but on the home grounds of Hollywood, where the apes, crocodiles, lions, tigers, dwarfs, elephants and gorillas are better acquainted with their histrionic duties and can discharge them more effectively. Almost as effective as the animals is Tarzan Weissmuller. His ability as a swimmer has never led him into jungles. The wildest animal he ever knew hitherto was the comparatively tame and toothless alligator which used sometimes to be allowed to splash comically in the Roney-Plaza Hotel's luxurious swimming pool in Miami, where Weissmuller was swimming instructor. Nevertheless he acquits himself creditably. His spare frame is not too skinny for the role; he swims faster than Miss O'Sullivan can run and his thick-featured face is what one would expect in a foster brother of wild beasts. He wrestles bravely with animals, stuffed or otherwise, and rides a hippopotamus as though it were a Shetland pony. Best of all is his first appearance—swooping through the trees in huge quick parabolas on a succession of trapezes made of ropy vines and branches. 

W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, made Tarzan an even bigger household name as director of the first jungle-lord talkie, MGM’s “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932), starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke II was born March 21, 1889, in San Diego, California, to an attorney father (who died shortly after he was born) and a concert pianist and actress mother, Laura Winston. After being widowed, she resumed touring under her maiden name, and young Woody began appearing on stage with her. At 14, he moved to Seattle to live with his grandmother and attend high school; after graduating, he worked a variety of odd jobs, including lumberjack, gold prospector, and railroader. He married actress Zelda Ashford and the couple began touring in 1909.

They landed in Hollywood, where Van Dyke was hired as an assistant director on D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance”. He made his solo directing debut on Essanay’s “The Land of Long Shadows” (1917) and soon became known for his ability to helm difficult location shoots, among them Westerns in Wyoming, “White Shadows in the South Seas” in Tahiti, “Eskimo” in the Arctic Circle, and “Trader Horn” in East Africa. His expertise on the latter earned him the director’s chair on “Ape Man,” the first of six Tarzan pictures released by MGM. Though he did not supervise any more jungle-lord pictures, he delivered four “Thin Man” films and six operettas starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, earning the moniker “One-Take Woody” for his fast, efficient work.

Van Dyke earned two Best Director Academy Award nominations, for “The Thin Man” and the disaster flick “San Francisco.” His adventurous lifestyle took its toll, as he developed heart problems and later terminal cancer. He died February 5, 1953, at his home in Brentwood, California, survived by his second wife, Ruth Mannix, and their three children. His Hollywood Walk of Fame star for motion picture work is located at 6141 Hollywood Boulevard.

~ Scott Tracy Griffin
Click for full sizes

More Photos at: Gallery I | Gallery II | Gallery III

Weissmuller BVD ad

Crash Corrigan's first film role

Tarzan the Ape Man is continued in BELOW
More Reviews ~ Photos ~ Summaries
See our Weissmuller sites at:

ERBzine 0393 and  ERBzine 0394

Militants Oust 'Tarzan' At Yale Film Festival
Jiggs The Chimp's Scrapbook

Enter our Lobby Displays of
Posters ~ Stills ~ Lobby Cards
See Below:

Reference Links
ERBzine Silver Screen Series
Internet Movie Data Base
Van Dyke's Horning Into Africa
Filmsite Moments and Scenes from Great Movies
shill pages
Stomp Tokyo Pictures from Tarzan the Ape Man
Matt's Tarzan Movie Guide
My Father, Elmo Lincoln by Marci'a Lincoln Rudolph
ERB of the Silver Screen - Volume I - The Silent Years by Jerry Schneider
Jerry Schneider's Movie Making Locations


Click for larger images

Colour Adaptations of the
MGM Tarzan Films
1373: Tarzan
The Ape Man
1374: Tarzan 
And His Mate
1375: Tarzan 
1376: Tarzan 
Finds A Son!
1377: Tarzan's 
Secret Treasure
1378: Tarzan's 
New York Adventure
1379: Tarzan
1380: Tarzan's
Desert Mystery
1381: Tarzan
and the Amazons
1382: Tarzan and the
Leopard Woman

I: Intro Tarzan the Ape Man Memories II by W. Armstrong
1a: Tarzan Memories I
II: Tarzan the Ape Man: Notes ~ Credits ~ Photos
III: Big Little Book Illustrated Summary I
IV: Big Little Book Illustrated Summary II
V. Tarzan, The Ape Man: Film Log Notes & Study Guide
VI. Tarzan the Ape Man Lobby Gallery I
VII. Lobby Gallery II: Tarzan Make Love
VIII. Lobby Gallery III: Tarzan and Jungle Friends
IX: Lobby Gallery IV
X: Lobby Gallery V
XI: Lobby Gallery: Neil Hamilton
XII: Rare Set Photos

Hundreds of Photos


Volume 0611

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