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I have often wondered how others than myself visualize Tarzan. It is reasonable to assume that no two readers of the Tarzan books picture him similarly, and it is quite certain from the accompanying photographs that half a dozen motion picture producers did not. Yet, each has had a considerable following.
The first of a long line was Elmo Lincoln, the grand old man of the jungle. He brought Tarzan to the screen about seventeen years ago in Tarzan of the Apes and later appeared in the Romance of Tarzan and The Adventures of Tarzan. He had a tremendous following all over the world, and was nearly mobbed by small boys during his personal appearances and when he was recognized on the street. Because of his popularity, Elmo will always be the personification of Tarzan to many of that generation which knew him so well.
The first of a long line of Tarzans was Elmo Lincoln, who appeared seventeen years ago in
Tarzan of the Apes, Romance of Tarzan and The Adventures of TarzanElmo had some thrilling experiences in the filming of Tarzan, and one surprise that he probably will never forget. In one of the scenes, a lion was supposed to be crawling through the window of a hut to devour the beautiful leading lady. Elmo grasped the lion by the tail, pulled it from the window and leaped upon its back. The lion was then killed, and in the next shot Elmo was supposed to place his foot upon its carcass and give the victory cry of the bull ape.
He did it all except the victory cry, for as he placed his foot upon the supposedly dead body, the lion voiced terrific roar.
In telling what happened immediately thereafter, Elmo says that he is positive that he holds the unofficial standing broad jump record.
Following Elmo, was Gene Polar, a mighty nice chap who was induced to give up a lieutenancy in the New York fire department to play the part. As an actor, Gene was a great fireman. His selection is an outstanding example of the acumen of a certain type of motion picture producer. He appeared in The Return of Tarzan.
The screen's second Tarzan -- Gene Polar,
erstwhile lieutenant in the New York fire department and a fine fireman.
He made The Return of Tarzan
Following the Polar picture came The Son of Tarzan with Kamuela Searles in the title role and P. Dempsey Tabler as Tarzan.
The making of this picture was a hectic experience for all concerned.
In one sequence the son of Tarzan was tied to a stake by natives and a fire lighted around him. Tantor, the elephant, rushes in and effects a rescue by picking up a stake and man with his trunk and rushing off through the forest. Searles was securely bound to the stake, which was really a fair-sized tree trunk, and why he was not killed as the elephant bolted among the trees is just one of those things.
Third of the Tarzan line was P. Dempsey Tabler,
who made The Son of Tarzan with Kamuela Searles.
Searles was nearly killed during production.
He was, however, badly injured a few moments later. The elephant was supposed to lay him down upon the ground gently, but Tantor must have gotten his cures mixed for he whammed him down so hard that the tree trunk was broken and Searles hospitalized.
During the filming of another scene that was being taken on location, a lion escaped from a small temporary arena in which the shots were being made and was at liberty in a wood for four or five hours. While the company was searching for him, Tabler discovered him stalking something, and in an instant later saw a little boy in a red sweater, who was crying excitedly, "Here he is, Skinny, I've found him!" totally unconscious of the fact that the lion was about to spring upon him.
Tabler gave a war whoop that would have put Tarzan himself to shame and charged the lion.
It was a ticklish moment. Lions are nervous and and temperamental. Previous experience with lions cannot assure you what the next lion is going to do under any given circumstances.
Fortunately for Tabler and the little boy in the red sweater. Numa turned tail and fled. So did the little boy.
I myself, had a rather harrowing experience during the making of this picture. I was on the lot with my daughter, Joan, who was then a very little girl. They were working with a young and very nervous lion, a combination that is loaded with T.N.T.
We were inside the arena but separated from the lion by a low partition, maybe three or four feet high. The lion was running around nervously on the other side of this partition. Suddenly he jumped over on our side. I knew enough about lions to stand still, but I had also learned from experience that they seem to be particularly fond of small children, for on several occasions I have seen them charge my own children when we were watching on the outside of arenas in which they were being worked.
As the lion came toward us I edged Joan behind me and aged ten years; but he passed us and jumped back again onto his own side of the fence where he tried to run under a camera tripod. The cameraman, fearful of having his machine damaged, stuck to his post, but he had to lift up one leg in order to let the lion pass beneath him. It's a great life if you don't weaken.
The next Tarzan was James H. Pierce, for two years All-American center at the University of Indiana. He played the role in Tarzan and the Golden Lion and is at present playing the same part in the Tarzan radio program.
Tarzan No. 4 was James H. Pierce, the Tarzan with the Hollywood hair-cut.
His picture was Tarzan and the Golden Lion. His is the air voice of Tarzan.
In one scene of Tarzan and the Golden Lion Tarzan is standing on the veranda of his African bungalow directing the golden lion to start on some mission for him.
It was the end of a long and tiresome day. The lion was tired, nervous and irritable. Furthermore his cage was inside the bungalow and he wanted to go to his cage far more than he wanted to go on any mission. Ten or twelve times in succession he turned and ran into the bungalow instead of obeying his trainer's command.
Pierce was tired, too, and wanted to get the thing over, so the last time, instead of stepping out of the lion's way as he had previously, he stood directly in the doorway, and when the lion tried to go between his legs he brought his knees together and stopped him.
The lion was Numa, a very famous animal belonging to Charlie Gay, and though an old-timer in the picture business, he was a lion no one could touch.
When Pierce stopped him, he backed off in surprise, bared his fangs and commenced to growl
Gay rushed in, shouting to Pierce to stand still, and with prod and chair held the lion off while Pierce edged his way slowly to the gate and safety.
Photos from the McWhorter Louisville Collection
Following Pierce came Frank Merrill, who did Tarzan the Mighty and another serial for Universal. I have never seen either of them, so I am in no position to judge as to Merrill's achievements as a Tarzan.
He is, I believe, a professional strong man and rope climber and, as the accompanying picture indicates, tremendously muscled. The picture also suggests that being a Tarzan of the screen is not all beer and skittles.
Following Pierce in the Tarzan role was Frank Merrill,
a professional strong man and rope climber,
who portrayed the ape man in two Tarzan the Mighty serials.
In 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer brought Tarzan to the screen in a production that was one of the outstanding box-office successes of that year.
With the exception of Irving Thalberg, I think no one was more surprised with the success of this picture than the Metro executives, themselves. Thalberg and I were about the only people who were not surprised. My confidence in the success of a well produced Tarzan picture was based largely on my recollection that the original Tarzan of the Apes was one of the first pictures to gross over a million dollars, and that since then Tarzan had had tremendously wide publicity through the medium of books, magazines and newspapers.
Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan meet Edgar Rice Burroughs,
Tarzan's creator and the author of this article,
on the set where Johnny and Maureen made Tarzan and His Mate, the latest Tarzan picture.
The selection of Johnny Weissmuller for the part of the Tarzan seems to have been a peculiarly happy one, as he has been very successful in the role and has added tremendously to his already great former popularity.
The new Tarzan picture, Tarzan and His Mate, that Metro is making with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan bids fair to eclipse their Tarzan, the Ape Man. They have already spent over a million dollars in the making of it, and having seen several of the sets, and knowing the ability of Bernie Hyman, who is producing it, I am confident that none of the million has been wasted and that Tarzan fans have a treat in store for them that they will long remember.
Following Johnny Weissmuller came another champion swimmer to the role of Tarzan in Sol Lesser's Tarzan, the Fearless.
Buster Crabbe is the latest of a long line of Tarzans, and I am confident that his intelligence, his physique and his personality have done much to still further endear the character to the hearts of Tarzan's countless friends throughout the civilized world.
Buster Crabbe, the seventh Tarzan,
followed Johnny Weissmuller,
another champion swimmer,
in the jungle hero's loincloth.
He was Tarzan, the Fearless
Seven Tarzans! Count 'em. Seven Tarzans and one son. In these seven have any of the producers visualized Tarzan as you visualize him? Perhaps not, but each of them has brought Tarzan to life and given us new thrills and a world of entertainment on the silver screen.
ERBzine MOVIE LINKS
ERBzine Silver Screen Series: Reference Guide
ERBzine 0013: ERB On The Silver Screen Pt. I
ERBzine 0013a: ERB On The Silver Screen Pt. II
ERBzine 0099: Tarak's Farside Chats: Disney Tarzan Preview
ERBzine 0115: OB Scrapbook ~ ERB On The Film Set
ERBzine 0257: Wayne James' Presents: Q & A Session on Disney Lot
ERBzine 0283: My Father, Elmo Lincoln
ERBzine 0287: ERB: Film Producer
ERBzine 0393: Nkima Chat: Weissmuller
ERBzine 0394: Johnny Weissmuller Career Scrapbook
ERBzine 0412: Tour of the McWhorter Collection: Movies
ERBzine 0450: ERB's First Film: The Lad and the Lion
ERBzine 0463: Chocolate Card Colour Scenes from Weissmuller Movies
ERBzine 0496: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Encyclopedia Presentation - Tarzan and the Golden Lion
ERBzine 0553: Tarzan's Bad Movie Mystery
Tarzan, the Apeman I: Tarzan Memories II ~ Intro
Tarzan, Ape Man II: Notes ~ Credits ~ Photos
Tarzan, Ape Man III: BLB Illus. Summary 1
Tarzan, Ape Man IV: BLB Illus. Summary 2
Silver Screen Series
TARZAN AND HIS MATE COMPENDIUM
on the eve of the release of Tarzan and His Mate
Credits ~ Posters ~ Trivia ~ Reviews
BLB Synopsis and Stills I
The Story of Johnny Weissmuller
Stills, Posters, Lobby Cards
Colour Trading Cards
Tarzan and His Mate Gallery
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