First and Only Weekly Webzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Issue 0618

Tarzan Escapes
Starring Johnny Weissmuller ~ No. 3
MGM 1936
View the Trailer HERE

See the Summary Adaptation of
the Original Script in ERBzine 0648

MGM and RKO Tarzan Yells



The original version of this film, titled The Capture of Tarzan, was shown to preview audiences in 1935 and was heavily criticized for scenes of gruesome violence.  The most notorious scene was one involving a giant bat attack in a swamp. Hollywood legend has it that, at the preview showing, the sight of these giant creatures carrying off panic-stricken porters sent kids screaming from the theatre.  So strong was the negative reaction from parents, critics and media, that the studio ordered much of the film re-shot. MGM replaced the original director, James McKay, with a series of directors with the final credit given to Richard Thorpe.

The alternate version had various working titles including: Tarzan Returns, Tarzan and the Vampires, and Tarzan The original scenes were replaced, however, by equally gruesome scenes, such as the Gabonis shooting arrows into the heads of fleeing porters,  victims tied spread-eagle on bent trees being split in half when the trees were freed, Ganeloni torture rites, and the lowering of captives into a pit to be slaughtered by a man-killing giant ape. A copy of the first version has never turned up but the story line was used in the Big Little Book version (ERBzine 0648).

Directed by  Richard Thorpe ~ John Farrow (uncredited)~ 
James C. McKay (uncredited) ~ George B. Seitz (uncredited) ~ 
William A. Wellman (uncredited)
Associate Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Writing credits: Edgar Rice Burroughs (characters) ~ Cyril Hume
Runtime: 90 min

Johnny Weissmuller: Tarzan
Maureen O'Sullivan: Jane
John Buckler: Captain Fry
Benita Hume: Rita Parker
William Henry: Eric Parker
Herbert Mundin:  Jiggs Rawlins, Fry's accomplice
E.E. Clive:  Masters
Darby Jones: Bomba
Johnny Eck: Gooney-Bird (uncredited)

Maureen O'Sullivan Elephants rescue Tarzan from cage. Maureen O'Sullivan

  • Filming Locations: Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden - 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, California, USA  and Malibu Creek State Park, Los Angeles County, California, USA  ~ 20th Century Fox Ranch ~ MGM Backlot
  • Tagline: "It's New! It's amazing! 2 years to produce!"
  • MGM constructed an extravagant  tree-house including a baking oven of dried mud, a fan operated by Cheetah, a bed of bamboo, leaves and fur, and an elevator run on elephant power.
  • The original version, titled The Capture of Tarzan, was shown to preview audiences in 1935 and was heavily criticized for scenes of gruesome violence. MGM fired the director and ordered the film re-shot. This resulted in a watered down version meant to appeal to children but seemed to please no one.
  • Scriptwriter Cyril Hume had scripted Tarzan, the Apeman and was also Benita Hume's father.
  • One of the directors called in to work on the re-filming was John Farrow (uncredited) but he to was canned by MGM. Farrow on set relationship with Maureen O'Sullivan blossomed, however. They fell in love and were married in 1937. One of their seven children, Mia Farrow (Mrs. Frank Sinatra, Mrs. Woody Allen), pursued an acting career.
  • The Hollywood Reporter called Tarzan Escapes a jinxed film because of events surrounding its production and crew, in fact, producer Irving Thalberg died a week after its completion.
  • English actress Benita Hume (she later married Ronald Coleman), a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art,. was cast as Jane's cousin, Rita.
  • Herbert Mundin was added to the second version of Tarzan Escapes as comedy relief to tone down the violence in the film.
  • For the second version, the controverial bat sequence, which MGM personnel thought was excellent, was excised
  • The plot line closely resembles the first version of Tarzan Escapes, except that Rita's character is less vicious and makes a play for Tarzan.
  • A comedy relief scene is inserted during the safari sequence in which a "gooney bird" is spotted. The actor in the weird bird suit was Johnny Eck, well-known for his role in the film Freaks and in countless circus side-show appearances. One of his memorable circus appearances involved Johnny and his twin brother, Rob. Rob appeared in the audience as a volunteer for a magician's sawing-in-half trick, and climbed in the box, but it was legless Johnny who emerged from it. The effect shocked the audience so much that the act was eventually shut down.
  • The musical selection, "My Tender One," written by Dr. William Axt for the 1935 film, Eskimo was used in all the early Weissmuller films... It is particularly effective at the end of Tarzan Escapes when Tarzan sees the smoke rising from the tree-house stove and realizes, with tears in his eyes, that his beloved Jane has not abandoned him.
  • This was the final film of John Buckler who played Captain Fry. He died in a road accident along with his father Hugh Buckler (also an actor) on October 30, 1936, just one week before the film was released.
  • Herbert Mundin who played comic-relief character Rawlins also died in a road accident in 1939 three years after Buckler.
  • The vampire bats scene was cut from the final film after test audiences found the scenes too intense. The first director James C. McKay shot many of the “gruesome” scenes, but he was replaced by John Farrow in 1936 who re-shot much of the film. Richard Thorpe would finally get credit for directing the film.
  • Maureen O'Sullivan and John Farrow married shortly after the filming was completed.
  • Footage of the Murchison Falls in Africa, originally shot for Trader Horn (1931), was used in the film. 
  • Tarzan fights with the same giant crocodile that he fought with in "Tarzan And His Mate'. It is the same footage used. 
  • Actor John Buckler who played Captain John Fry died in an automobile accident one week prior to the release of this film and never got the chance to see it. The original director was James C. McKay, who filmed many gruesome scenes. In July 1936, he was replaced by John Farrow who practically re-shot the entire film. There were also cast and crew changes: Granville Bates was dropped from the cast, while Herbert Mundin was added, playing a new character. Darby Jones replaced Everett Brown as "Bomba"; Elmer Sheeley replaced Cedric Gibbons as art director; A. Arnold Gillespie replaced James Basevi for special effects; Tom Tutwiler replaced 'Max Fabian' for photographic effects; and Charles Salerno Jr. replaced cameramen Virgil W. Vogel and Walter Strenge. 
  • The titular character of "Tarzan" does not appear until 23 minutes into the feature, coincidentally the same duration of time from the previous installment "Tarzan and his Mate
  • Three films into the series, Tarzan and Jane's nest-like home in the trees has expanded into a Swiss Family Robinson-like home with running water and an elephant-manipulated elevator to bring people up to the home. 
  • In addition to the larger "African" prosthetic ears worn by the elephants to cover their smaller South Asian ears, the elephants' tusks are clearly rubber, and are loosely mounted to allow them to give way. 
  • With Tarzan trapped in the steel cage a second elephant arrives to Tarzan's aid to bend the bars to where the Ape Man can squeeze out. Notice the elephant tusks. Notice how mobile, how easily deflected the tusks of both elephants are. Notice especially where the tusk of the elephant screen left oscillates briefly. 
  • In the casting credits at the beginning of the film Cheetah is credited as "By Herself" but numerous shots throughout the film show Cheeta with male genitalia. 
  • A great number of scenes were lifted from the two previous Tarzan films. A few examples include the scene with the acacias on the plane with the mountains in the distance, the escarpment, the wildebeest scene, shooting the lion, distance shots of men falling, Cheetah fleeing from the lion, and the crocodile fight. 
  • The words "kuja hapa" ("come here") are the Swahili words that appear in the Weissmuller Tarzan films more than many others. There is also a lot of fake Swahili and sometimes Swahili words are used strangely, such as the statement, "kuja kwenda", which means "come (here) go (away)." Most of this is spoken by one of the "African" lead actors, who is obviously an American. 
  • In greeting the "Haimonde" chief, Captain Fry responds to the chief's statement "Jambo" (hello) by saying "Jambo sama," The correct words are "Jambo sana" (hello very much). The more common response would be "Hujambo." (Hello - in the responsive sense). 
  • The actors playing the Haimonde tribesmen in the closeup shots are actually Maasai.
  • A number of cockatoos are seen in the film. These birds are native to Australasia, not Africa. 
  • Both actors, who play Rawlins and Captain Frye, died because of car accidents, found dead behind the wheel. One was crashed and the other drowned.
  • Jane's two-piece costume (featuring a bare midriff and a top made big enough only to cover her breasts) was retired after the previous film for being 'too revealing'. The more familiar one piece costume makes it debut in this film, though she still has bare feet in this picture. Though Jane is meant to have bare feet at all times, she has shoes in occasional shots, which disappear in subsequent shots (for example, she climbs a ladder with shoes and arrives at the top with bare feet).


Original Story

Eric and Rita Parker, Jane’s cousins, Eric and Rita Parker, are rafting down an African river. they are hoping to contact Jane and convince her to return to England to collect an inheritance. The loud music from Rita's portable phonograph attracts hostile natives and they take cover on a small island. The attacking natives retreat when Major Fry arrives. Their dying boat captain tries unsuccessfully to warn them of Fry's reputation. Fry is transporting the caged animals he has captured, including Tarzan's chimp, Cheeta. He also has plans to capture Tarzan to put him on display as an African wildman. The party pushes on toward the Mutia Escarpment.  That night Tarzan arrives and releases Fry's animals form their cages. He returns home with a photo of Jane that he has found on the ground. The photo arouses Jane's curiosity so Tarzan reluctantly  takes her to meet the newcomers. When they arrive, Nimba the ape is shot by Fry as he tries reaches out to touch Rita. Tarzan is furious and Fry's life is spared only through Jane's intervention. She is overjoyed at seeing her cousins, although Rita is a rather unpleasant character. The Gabonis attack again but Tarzan and Jane try to lead the attackers away while the safari takes shelter in among rocks. The great apes help drive off the attackers and Tarzan kills their witch doctor. Rita has been wounded by a poison arrow and Tarzan agrees to guide the party to the Escarpment. They are saved from a lion attack by Tarzan's elephants. The party camps in a cave near Tarzan's tree house while Tarzan prepares an antidote to save Rita. Tarzan saves Cheeta from a crocodile attack by wounding the beast with his spear. Rita now is conspiring with Fry to lure Tarzan back to civilization with hopes of trapping him. 

Resuming their trek come under attack from giant vampire bats in a mysterious swamp but are saved by a tribe of pygmies whose torches drive off the bats. The pygmies guide them to a rope bridge that will take them out of Gaboni territory. Jane and Eric fall into a whirlpool when the bridge breaks and Fry takes advantage of the situation to capture Tarzan. 

Eric and Jane survive the whirlpool, build a raft and float to safety. Fry reaches a steamboat with the captured Tarzan but Erich and Jane arrive to release Tarzan. The apes answer Jane's call for help and send the boat crew into a panic which results in the boat running aground and gives Tarzan a chance to release all the animals. A great ape kills the traitorous Rita, despite Jane's attempt to save her. Fry is killed by a crocodile while attempting to escape. Tarzan and Jane send Eric safely off to civilization after which they return to their tree-house with Cheeta and Timbee, the great ape.

[The cast in the original version had Granville Bates as the boat captain and Everett Brown as Bomba.]

The text  from the Big Little Book version is featured in ERBzine 0648

Tarzan and Jane meet Herbert Mundin:  Jiggs Rawlins
The Final Version
Upon their arrival in Africa, Rita (Benita Hume) and Eric Parker (William Henry), Jane's cousins, are met by Jiggs Rawlins (Herbert Mundin). He introduces them to white hunter, Captain Fry (John Buckler), whom the hire to guide their safari to the Mutia Escarpment. They hope to find Jane and persuade her to return with them to England to claim an inheritance.  Fry, however, plans to capture Tarzan and exhibit him for profit.  Near the Escarpment, fearing juju (black magic), the natives refuse to go on, and they camp. Rita plays with a lion cub, and Fry shoots the attacking mother lion. The safari is attacked by the savage Gabonis but Tarzan’s (Johnny Weissmuller) cry stops them in their tracks. 

The party then goes on to climb to the top of the Escarpment. Tarzan appears to free chimps from cages and takes Rita to see Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) who wants to meet the party. Tarzan breaks Fry's rifle and kills a wildebeest which Jane prepares for dinner for the party. Jane eventually agrees to return to England with her cousins and tells Tarzan that she must go away for three months. Jane and Tarzan spend their last day in love play. 

Fry sends Bomba (Darby Jones) to the Hymandis chief  with a message that he will take Tarzan away. Meanwhile, Tarzan saves a fawn by killing a crocodile with his knife (a scene reprised from Tarzan and His Mate), after which Jane says good-bye to Cheetah and leaves with Fry's safari. Fry tells Tarzan that Jane is not coming back and traps the apeman by tricking him into entering a specially built cage. The Hymandis chief goes back on his word and confiscates the cage and seizes the party for ritualistic sacrifice. 

The cage rolls down a hill and is taken away by an elephant. A lion chases Cheetah, but the chimp manages to get another elephant to break open the cage to free Tarzan. Tarzan returns to the village to rescue Jane and the safari who are tied to trees. He calls to the elephants for help in chasing away the tribesmen. Rita, who has injured her leg, is carried on a litter as the tribesmen pursue them. The Hymandis follow them to a forbidden juju area that the natives are afraid to enter. Tarzan forces Fry to move on ahead where he is killed. 

Rita and Eric realize that Jane would be happier here than back in civilization and they tell her she need not return with them if she signs a document. Tarzan and Jane resume their idyllic life in their jungle paradise.

Alternate Synopsis from Adventure Movies

Jane’s two cousins Eric and Rita arrive in Africa to tell Jane about a fortune left to her back in their world and to try and convince her to return with them. They are led to Tarzan’s escarpment home by Captain Fry (John Buckler), a hunter with an agenda of his own. Jane convinces Tarzan to let her go back with Eric and Rita, promising that their separation will only be temporary, but Captain Fry (unknown to the others) attempts to capture Tarzan to take him back civilization so he can be put on public display and actually succeeds in caging Tarzan. Fry’s treachery includes making a deal with an unfriendly native tribe to give him food, canoes and protection for the journey back in exchange for his handing over Jane, Eric and Rita for “ju-ju” and taking away the greatest “ju-ju” – Tarzan. Fry’s plan goes wrong when the natives capture Tarzan in his cage and all four white people are taken prisoner. Tarzan manages to escape with the help of elephants and Cheeta and guides what’s left of Fry’s party through a cave passage filled with treacherous quicksands. Just before they exit the caves to safety, Tarzan forces Fry to go back the way they came as punishment for his betrayal. Fry starts to go back, then seizes a heavy branch to attack Tarzan, but before he can exit the cave he falls into a quicksand bog and is swallowed up. Rita and Eric tell Jane that it is not necessary for her to return with them and that she belongs with Tarzan. The film ends with Tarzan and Jane reunited at their treehouse.

Tarzan is captured: Weissmuller, Buckler, Hume and natives


The Motion Picture Herald
Momentum given public interest, especially by the youngsters, by previous Tarzan films, plus the continued popularity of the ape man's amazing experiences as a colored supplement newspaper feature, stand in good stead for this attraction. From the standpoint of production value, story quality, caliber of action and exciting action, this production is several strides ahead of its forerunners in both potential entertainment and commercial quality. As all that is expected of a Tarzan show is intelligently delivered, "Tarzan Escapes" is almost a certainty to interest the red-blooded youngsters greatly. At the same time, it is of such a character that adults who see it are not likely to consider the time wasted.
[Previewed in the Uptown theatre, Los Angeles. The audience, made up mostly of adults, got quite a thrill out of the film. The few youngsters in attendance gave vent to an enthusiasm that augurs well for Tarzan's reception when it plays before a predominantly juvenile gathering.]

The New York Times

The interesting question is no longer whether Tarzan is going to escape from his enemies that much we may take for granted but whether his enemies will ever be able to escape from Tarzan. It seems unlikely, too, so long as the handsome pithecanthrope continues to be surrounded by rich and leisurely productions as Metro has draped about his handsome shoulders in "Tarzan Escapes," at the Capitol. From the adult viewpoint, if there is such a thing, where Tarzan is concerned, it is Africa that really saves the picture.

The flavor and the monstrous spell, the strange and horrifying beauty of the Dark Continent are all there, carefully processed and sound-tracked, to offset the comical ululations of the ape-man (and Mr. Weissmuller, by the way, is in excellent voice) or such delightful spectacles as the elephant-operated lift by which Maureen O'Sullivan, showing surprisingly few signs of exposure after all these years in the bush, elegantly ascends to her arboreal love nest. Then too, there is Cheta, the Martha Raye of chimpanzees, a comedienne who would tear herself into little bits to give you a laugh, and whose wild and Corybantic cachinnation at opportune moments is an affront and a joy to hear.

In its wealth of animal sequences, Metro has slyly propitiated the sentimentalists and zoolaters with shots of cunning lion cubs, cute fawns, etc., while withholding nothing from the lovers of savage scenes of tiger-shooting, native-spearing, war dances, sacrificial ceremonies. There is a running sound accompaniment, meanwhile, of tropical bird cries, hyenic laughter, hippopotamic grunts, leonine coughs, tom-toms Africa.

In its incidents, the film is almost pure circus, with Tarzan doing trapeze antics in the trees, fighting a crocodile, bulldogging a hartebeest, and a one point making a beautiful catch of Maureen, who does a coy adagio leap from a treetop into his uxorious arms. The action, effectively slow-paced, begins with the perilous journey of a safari outfitted by William Henry and Benita Hume into the apeman country to bring Maureen back to Mayfair. John Buckler, a villain, is engaged to head the expedition and Herbert Mundin is taken along for comic uses. Ensuing misunderstandings and native intrigues involving ju-ju and other dark matters threaten to disrupt Tarzan's happy home which has running water and a kitchenette besides elevator service but you know the way things turn out and what Maureen decides to do. Now let's see what Mr. Sol Lesser, who has bought Tarzan from Metro, will decide to do. It's going to be pretty tough.


Two years of ribbing between the last "Tarzan" feature and this one, has left its mark on the subject. With the constant kidding having accentuated the absurdity of the highly imaginative jungle doings, the tree-to-tree stuff has worn pretty thin for adult consumption. Appeal of "Tarzan Escapes" will be mostly for the kids, and that's not likely to mean more than mediocre returns.

While at first the sight of Tarzan doing everything but playing pinochle with his beast pals was a novelty, it's all rather silly now. Derisive laughter greeted the picture too often at the Capitol and it will probably run into similar difficulties most everywhere.

It must be pretty difficult to think up new jams for Tarz within the confines of the African game country; and the scripters apparently had quite a tussle with this one. They appear to have been n the verge of getting him out of the jungle and into a Hyde Park penthouse several times, but the lure of the jungle finally prevails and Tarz is permitted to escape from the wicked hunter's grasp.

This latest plot permits Tarzie's idyllic romance with his mate, Maureen O'Sullivan, to be rudely interrupted by a couple of the missus' relatives from London. Mrs. Tarzan has unknowingly become the heir to a late uncle's large fortune, and the relatives try to bring her back to civilization so that she may grab the coin and help them grab some of it also. It so happens, however, that their jungle guide is a dastardly rat who sees in Tarzan a cinch freak show attraction for up north, and it takes not only Tarz himself but also a big zoo full of animal friends to clear up the mess., save the lives of the white folks, give the villain his just dues, and restore Tarzan's mate to Tarzan. A big battle with a tribe of savages serves as the usual blowoff.

Among other things, Tarzan has learned a few additional English words since last seen, although his vocabulary still couldn't get him into the kindergarten class of a school for mental deficients. But he manages to get by. He has also softened up considerably in a husbandry manner. In this one he does such things as diving into the water to grapple with a 20-foot man-eating alligator in order to save the life of a young deer, and then after killing the 'gator in a terrific struggle, swim back to shore where his mate awaits him. He finds time to pick her a lily on the way in and isn't even puffing when he lands.

Another advancement for the Tarzan couple is the addition of some modern conveniences in their tree home: an elevator with motive power furnished by a pet elephant, a revolving fan operated by an ape, etc.

Johnny Weissmuller once again looks good as the jungle boy, but it's about time they found him a new set of lyrics. And Miss O'Sullivan is also okay once more as the loving wife, but considerably more covered up in clothing this time. Benita Hume and William Henry are required to look scared mostly as the visiting relatives from London. Herbert Mundin does the comedy and the late John Buckler is the heavy. Incidentally, Warren William, who has been accused of imitating John Barrymore, now gets his turn on the receiving end of some flattery; Buckler can be charged with imitating Warren William.

A female ape called Cheta is the Tarzans' pet and houseworker, and some expert handling of the monk provides the picture with its most legitimately comical and best moments.

Jungle backgrounds for the action are beautifully done. A steamy swamp scene is a standout for photography and art work. But along with the good looking views are some stock animal shots on old celluloid that don't blend.

Devil Bat sequence cut from the film
Safari meets the pygmies in the swamp

Benita Hume: Born October 14, 1906 in London, England ~ Died: November 1, 1967 in Egerton, England. She started in the theatre but quickly gravitated to films. She married writer/journalist Eric Siepman at age 19. She won a role in Ivor Novello’s play Symphony in Two Flats and she accompanied Novello when he took the play to New York. From here she graduated to a number of contracdts with RKO and MGM. In 1935 she was cast by MGM in Tarzan Escapes for $1250 per week, for a minimum of three weeks, but by the time the film was completed her wages from the film totalled $75 000. She married Ronald Colman in 1938 and they had their only child, Juliet, in 1943. The Colmans did several radio shows with neighbour Jack Benny and starred in their own series, Halls of Ivy in 1950, which evolved into a TV series in 1954. She returned to England after Ronald died in 1958 and married George Sanders a year later. She died of bone cancer in 1967.

William Albert Henry:  Born: November 10, 1918 in Los Angeles, California  Died: August 10, 1982 in Los Angeles, California.  Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian swimming sensation and Weissmuller rival in the 1924 Olympics, became Henry’s adopted brother, when the legendary swimmer and surfer needed a sponsor for his first professional outing on the mainland. And it was through Kahanamoku that Henry got his first film role, in the 1925 film, Lord Jim. In 1934 he played Maureen O’Sullivan’s brother, Gilbert in The Thin Man. He married actress Grace Durkin in 1936 and they had a son, Michael. Grace’s sister would later marry actor James Ellison who played many movie roles including Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick. Henry worked in films and TV into the mid-'60s, often playing villains. He worked again with Weissmuller in two more films: Fury of the Congo and  Jungle Moon Men.

John Henry Clanfergael Buckler was born April 1, 1906 in Capetown, South Africa. He began making films in America in 1934 and was killed in 1936 in a car accident, shortly after completing his sixth film, Tarzan Escapes.

Herbert Mundin: Born: August 21,1898 in St. Helens, Lancashire, England ~ Died:  March 5, 1939 in Van Nuys, California, His comic character was added to the second version of Tarzan Escapes to tone down the violence in the film. “Miss Jane, `e’s the finest gentleman I've ever `ad the privilege of knowin'... trousers or no trousers!”  Mundin began his theatrical career following the First World War on the British Music Hall circuit and he, later moved to Broadway. He entered films via the Fox studios in 1931 where he usually provided comic relief in films such as Charlie Chan’s Secret in 1936. Memorable roles included David Copperfield (1934) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). His last film was Society Lawyer for MGM. He was killed in a car accident at the age of 40.

Darby Jones
Darby Jones: Born: February 21, 1910 in Los Angeles, California ~ Died: November 30, 1986 in Los Angeles, California. He appeared as Fry’s native boy, Bomba and he played similar parts in a number of films right up into the early fifties: Tarzan, the Fearless (1933) with Buster Crabbe, Stanley and Livingstone (1939), Congo Maisie (1940), White Cargo (1942), the Columbia serial Congo Bill (1948), Zamba (1949), Tarzan’s Savage Fury (1952) with Lex Barker, and White Goddess (53) with Jon Hall as Ramar of the Jungle.

Johnny Eck: Born John Echkardt, on August 27, 1911 in Baltimore, Maryland and died  January 5, 1991 in Baltimore, Maryland. Johnny Eck was born without lower extremities twenty minutes after the birth of his normal identical twin brother Robert. The two-pound newborn had almost nothing below his rib cage. The boys entered the sideshow circuit at the age of 12, where John was billed as "Johnny Eck, The Half-boy." He performed in Ripley's first Believe it or Not Odditorium at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair; billed as "The Most Remarkable Man Alive!" He and brother Robert travelled the country with magician Raja Raboid's "Miracles of 1937" show, in which they were part of the sawing-in-half illusion. The act involved Rob being called out of the audience as a volunteer for a magician's trick, and climbing into the box, but it was legless Johnny who emerged from it. A midget acting as Johnny's legs would then run off stage chased by Johnny. The effect shocked the audience so much that the act was eventually shut down. Johnny went on to play a role in Tod Browning's "Freaks" and provided comedy relief in three Weissmuller Tarzan movies. For the Tarzan movie roles he wore a weird bird suit and played a "gooney-bird" creature running through the jungle. He was also a talented screen painter, writer and pianist who  conducted his own orchestra. Johnny was said to have a genius IQ. The little golden green outfit he wore in his circus act was prominently on display on display at Forry Ackerman's Ackermansion in Los Angeles. Johnny Eck retired from public life in the 1980s after his home was robbed, and he died in the house where he was born on January 5, 1991 at the age of 79. A film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as both v brothers is in the planning stages.
"If I want to see freaks, I can just look out the window." -Johnny Eck
Filmography: 1.Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941) (uncredited Bird) ~ 2.Tarzan Escapes! (1936) (uncredited Gooney-Bird) ~ 3. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) (uncredited Bird creature) ~ 4.Freaks (1932) - Half Boy.
Johnny Eck in Tarzan Escapes
Refs: drnorth | flickr | Eck Museum | YouTube |

Johnny Eck's Gooney Bird in the Tarzan Films
In almost every one of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, there's a trek up the treacherous cliffs that leads to the escarpment where Tarzan and Jane are developing a mini suburban home in the jungle, complete with homemade domestic gadgets and a fully equipped kitchen. Quite often, they use library footage, or second-unit sequences to show the local wildlife. There's a lot of recycling in these films, with action scenes and shots of Tarzan swinging through the trees (performed by a trapeze artist in some cases) appearing repeatedly. So, it's always a pleasant surprise when they throw in something novel.

En route to the escarpment this time around, the group that is ostensibly seeking Jane's signature on a family fortune is actually going to try and entice her back to England, while Captain Fry (John Buckler, who died in a road accident a week before the film's release) aims to capture Tarzan, presumably to stick him in a sideshow. Thus is efficiently established Tarzan and Jane's ongoing see-saw dialectic between civilisation and … er, whatever the jungle is supposed to represent by the time they've built all the household appliances out of bamboo. On the trek, Fry's cowardly and ineffectual assistant Rawlins (a career playing butler clearly beckoned for Herbert Mundin) checks out the local animals, growing increasingly uneasy at the sight of big cats and crocodiles. The final straw, though, the one that makes him question his sanity, is the appearance of a large, thick-legged bird. Click on the slideshow to view

Notice anything odd about it? Like Rawlins, I did a double-take. I’m no naturalist (that's animals, not clotheslessness), but I think I recognise a wide variety of species from this crazy planet of ours. But yes, the bird is actually a bloke in a costume. Not just any bloke -- that's Johnny Eck, "half-man" sensational star of Freaks (1932).

Having looked up this moment, I was surprised to find that it was itself used in the first Weissmuller Tarzan film, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). Had I not noticed it? Why did they choose to slip in this surreal moment, dressing up a human actor for one of the animals? They occasionally use actors in ape suits for complex bits of monkey business, but the "scenic" shots of wildlife are mostly shot on location using real animals. Only when they need something to attack or be ridden by a human do they cut to trained animal actors.

I suspect the answer is that they did it because they could. The footage was shot during the making of Freaks, another MGM production, that would eventually be released a month before Tarzan the Ape Man, and might even be making sly reference to the bird creature into which Olga Baclanova is transformed at the end of  Browning's Freaks film. It's tempting to read into it a subtext about capture and escape, the threat of Tarzan being turned into a sideshow exhibit, but it was probably just an opportunist in-joke.

Eck sounds like a pretty amazing guy, exploiting the prominence offered by his extraordinary physique to pursue his eclectic interests in arts and entertainment; he was a painter, pianist, diarist, magician, actor and, best of all, a Punch and Judy man.  Tom Waits namechecks him on the Black Rider album, and loosely based the song Table-top Joe on his life. Find out more about him at the great Johnny Eck Museum.

~ Dan North

After Freaks, Eck was featured as a bird creature or "Gooney Bird" in three Tarzan movies: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan Escapes (1936) and Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941). In order to create the bird costume used by Eck for the Tarzan films, footage which was filmed during the production of Freaks in 1931, a full body cast was taken of him.

See ERBzine Silver Screen for more on Johnny Eck
Tarzan the Ape Man
Tarzan's Secret Treasure



October 27, 1936 ~ NOTE: This is not Elmo as indicated on the back of the publicity still
Benita Hume ~ Cyril Hume (screenwriter) and Johnny Weissmuller 
On the set of Tarzan Escapes

Lobby 1: Lobby Cards ~ Posters ~ Stills
Lobby 2: Featuring Benita Hume

Click for full-size Promo Splash Bars

I Saw the Giant Vampire Bats! by Ron Hall
Green Briar Picture Shows
ERBzine Silver Screen Movie Illustrated Reference Guide
Internet Movie Data Base
Tarzan of the Movies
The German-Hollywood Connection
Filmsite Moments and Scenes from Great Movies
shill pages
Matt's Tarzan Movie Guide
The German-Hollywood Connection
ERB of the Silver Screen - Volume I - The Silent Years by Jerry Schneider
Jerry Schneider's Movie Making Locations
Geoff St. Andrews' Johnny Weissmuller Site
Johnny Eck Reference in Forrest J.Ackerman Interview
Music in the Tarzan Films
Music Cues in Tarzan Films
RKO Films
My Mother's Tarzan
Weissmuller Bio
Tarzan Locations
Tarzan in Acapulco

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



Vampire Bats: Missing Footage

Summary Adaptation of Original Script

Lobby Cards, Posters, Stills

Lobby Display II

Lobby Display III

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Volume 0618

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