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Volume 6303

ERB of the Silver Screen
A Resource Guide to the Movies of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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From TARZAN ON FILM by Scott Tracy Griffin



Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #11
Pioneering black actress Madame Sul-te-wan played Esmeralda in “Tarzan of the Apes,” pictured here with leads Enid Markey and Elmo Lincoln.

Like Elmo Lincoln, Sul-te-wan was a member of D.W. Griffith’s stock players. Born Nellie Wan on March 7, 1873 in Louisville, Kentucky, she began performing on stage as a child. She later toured with theatrical stock companies before organizing her own to tour the East Coast, adopting the exotic stage name “Madame Sul-te-wan” as a nod to her multi-racial heritage.

In 1910, she married and moved to Arcadia, California, but a few years later her husband left her with three small sons to support. Refusing to accept charity, she marched up to fellow Kentuckian Griffith in 1915 with a letter of introduction and a request for employment, which he granted, on “Birth of a Nation.” The Kentucky expatriates developed a warm relationship; when Griffith lay dying in 1948, Sul-te-wan maintained a bedside vigil, one of the few members of his former company to do so.

After a career spanning four decades and scores of roles, Sul-te-wan’s final screen appearance was as a witch doctress in “Tarzan and the Trappers” in 1958. She died February 1, 1959, at age 85.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #12
On August 25, 1917, the Hollywood trade paper “Motion Picture News” reported, “Some very interesting work is being done at the National studios by E.M. Jahraus, chief property man, and for a number of years head of the property department at Universal City. Mr. Jahraus and a corps of assistants are engaged in making costumes which will exactly simulate the ape, including not only a hairy covering for the entire body, but a head and face as well. By the use of a peculiar spongy material and an ingenious arrangement of wires, opening the mouth pulls back the lips from the teeth of the mask, and wrinkles the skin of the cheeks. Thirty of these outfits are being made of brown goat skins, which are prepared at a little tannery which has been established at the studio. Gigantic leaves and other tropical vegetation is also being manufactured in large quantities, and a portable log cabin is being constructed for transportation to various locations.”

The ape costumes for 1918’s “Tarzan of the Apes” were very similar in construction and design to those crafted by Rick Back for 1984’s “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.” As with “Greystoke,” added verisimilitude was achieved by including baby chimps among the stuntmen and acrobats dressed as apes.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #13
Billed “The Wonder Story of the Age,” the plotline of the 1918 film “Tarzan of the Apes” followed the original storyline in general respects, and is considered one of the more faithful screen adaptations of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (after the silent film era, the Tarzan films of the MGM, Sol Lesser, and Sy Weintraub era were not based on the novels, but on original continuities). “Tarzan of the Apes” was divided into three chapters, each running approximately 40 minutes and detailing different times in Tarzan’s life—infancy, childhood (portrayed by Gordon Griffith), and adulthood (portrayed by Elmo Lincoln).

In 1897, Tarzan’s parents, Lord and Lady Greystoke (True Boardman and Kathleen Kirkham), sail for South Africa on the ship “Fuwalda,” on a diplomatic mission to investigate the slave trade. When the ship’s crew mutinies, they are marooned on the west coast of Africa, along with the sailor Binns (George B. French), who has interceded on their behalf. Binns is promptly captured by slavers, while the Greystokes try to carve out a living in the jungle with their newborn babe. Lady Greystoke dies, Lord Greystoke is killed by apes, and the kindly she-ape Kala adopts the baby Tarzan to replace her own dead babe.

Meanwhile, back in England, Lord Greystoke’s dissipated younger brother William (Colin Kenny) marries a barmaid (Bessie Toner), produces an equally dissipated heir, Cecil (also played by Colin Kenny), and commences squandering the Greystoke fortune.

Ten years later, Binns escapes his captors and seeks the Greystokes, instead finding young Tarzan living with the apes. Binns, serving the same role as the Frenchman Paul D’Arnot in the novel, teaches Tarzan (who has discovered the books in his parents’ cabin) to speak English and wear clothes, and hies away to England to mount a rescue party. There, Cecil Greystoke’s mother, mindful of preserving her fortune, has Binns clapped into an insane asylum.

Eventually Binns is freed, and Cecil Greystoke heads to Africa to find his long-lost cousin, with his American fiancé Jane (Enid Markey) and her father, Professor Porter (Thomas Jefferson) in tow. They find the ape-man, and Jane finds love—along with hairbreadth escapes and rescues.

The film ran 130 minutes on 10 reels for the premiere, and was trimmed to nine reels for subsequent nationwide release. Today, only about half of the footage remains on the copies available on DVD. Fortunately, most of the jungle scenes were preserved, with the slower English sequences receiving the cut.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #14

Douglas Fairbanks as Tarzan?
In 1939, “Tarzan of the Apes” author Edgar Rice Burroughs produced a recorded sample for the proposed radio program, “Quiet, Please!” The program did not find a syndicator; however, the sample did contain one interesting tidbit: Burroughs noted upon Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s death (December 12, 1939): “Fairbanks came very near playing the name part in the first Tarzan picture, ‘Tarzan of the Apes,’ which was made in 1918. He wished to play the part; but [producer] ‘Billy’ Parsons, stupidly, wouldn’t pay the price Fairbanks asked. What a box office Tarzan he would have made!”

Born May 23, 1883, in Denver Colorado, by 1918, Fairbanks was Hollywood’s most popular actor and the third-highest paid, after his friend, Charlie Chaplin, and his lover (and later wife), Mary Pickford. Fairbanks had been acting in comedies, but longed to showcase his athletic ability in swashbuckler roles, which he did in 1920’s “The Mark of Zorro” and succeeding films like “The Three Musketeers” and “Robin Hood”—soon being anointed “The King of Hollywood.”

Though he never played the apeman, Fairbanks later befriended Olympic shot putter Herman Brix (Fairbanks, a physical culturist, was a supporter and benefactor of the Olympic athletes), and referred Brix for the lead in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s first Tarzan talkie, “Tarzan the Ape Man.” Brix fell out of the running when he injured his shoulder on the football picture “Touchdown,” leading to Johnny Weissmuller's casting. Brix later played Tarzan for Burroughs’ production company in the serial and films “The New Adventures of Tarzan” and “Tarzan and the Green Goddess.”

The above publicity still of Fairbanks from “The Thief of Bagdad,” taken in 1924 when Fairbanks was 41, gives an idea of the sort of Tarzan Fairbanks would have made.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #15

Did he or didn’t he?
In a scene taken from the novel “Tarzan of the Apes,” Elmo Lincoln, as Tarzan, was to pull a lion from the window of the cabin sheltering Jane (Enid Markey) and Esmeralda (Madame Sul-te-Wan). Lincoln later told incredulous fan journalist Vernell Coriell of “The Burroughs Bulletin” that Old Charlie, the lion, turned on him, and Lincoln had to kill the feline with a knife (actually, a bayonet). When Coriell expressed disbelief, Lincoln produced the rusty, blood-stained bayonet as proof. Coriell later questioned Lincoln’s co-star Enid Markey, who eventually confirmed the claim, though her memory was fuzzy about the details.

Hollywood trade papers of the time gave conflicting accounts; the December 1, 1917 “Motography” stated, “In ‘Tarzan of the Apes,’ Enid Markey, the feminine star of the production, faces a full-grown lion through a window and it is a question as to whose eyes were the biggest at the supreme moment, Enid’s or Mr. Lion’s. Spectators say that the latter was so surprised he just stood and looked. The poor chap was shot soon afterwards and the whole incident is one of the many thrills in an extraordinary feature directed by Scott Sidney. Miss Markey is doing some fine work in this production.”

“Enid Markey in New Company” in the November 24, 1917 issue of “Moving Picture World,” commented, “Director Scott Sidney last week produced some remarkable wild animal scenes in Griffith Park, where a log cabin had been erected in a wooded portion of the grounds. Elmo Lincoln performed his hilarious stunt of pulling a lion from the cabin window by its tail and killing it with a knife. This furnished a thrill for the spectators which has seldom been equalled (sic).”

The November 24, 1917 issue of “Motion Picture News” included the article “Parsons Starts Zoo for ‘Tarzan’,” with the following copy: “Manager William Parsons of the National Film Corporation of America, has purchased from the city park commissioner, two large specimens of African wild animals, a lion and leopard, which will be killed for scenes in the picturization of ‘Tarzan of the Apes.’ Some sensational work which endangers the life of the leading player, Elmo Lincoln, who takes the role of Tarzan in the principal section of the story, will be filmed by use of the animals, it falling to Lincoln to leap on the back of the lion and kill it by choking it to death, or breaking its neck. Lincoln will be remembered as the Mighty Man of Valor of Griffith’s ‘Intolerance,’ and is the giant of the West coast film colony.

“When it became known the city had sold the animals to Parsons, a number of the members of the local humane society sought by court injunction to prevent the staging of the scenes, but decision was given Parsons, and the pictures will be made in Griffith Park. All scenes for the National photoplay will be completed within the next ten days, and the officers of the company anticipate the subject will be ready for the market about December 1.”

However Old Charlie came to his end, his carcass was stuffed and he was displayed in the lobby of the Broadway Theatre for the “Tarzan of the Apes” premiere. Thankfully, animal cruelty is now rare on film sets--the animals in 2016’s “The Legend of Tarzan” were computer-generated digital effects.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #16
On January 16, 1918, publicity agent Harry Reichenbach sent Edgar Rice Burroughs an invitation to the premiere of “Tarzan of the Apes” at the Broadway Theatre in New York City on Sunday, January 27, promising to hold a box for him. “Rex Beach, Irving Cobb, Woodhaven and all of the other boys in the Dutch Treat Club will be there and I will look forward to your being there . . . I am quite sure your presence will add to the dignity of the occasion,” he wrote.

Reichenbach further noted “the fact that Mr. Parsons has given me ‘cart blank’ in the matter of publicity, can make you rest assured that the story will suffer none at the hands of this company.” Burroughs, still incensed at his poor treatment by producer William Parsons, declined the invitation, though he eventually saw the picture on June 7 and “liked it immensely.” Meanwhile, Reichenbach plotted a publicity stunt that would put “Tarzan of the Apes” on the front page of the newspapers.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #17
“Tarzan of the Apes” director Scott Sidney got his start as a vaudeville actor, appearing onstage with his wife, Josephine Foy, in shows produced by the Mittenthal Brothers. Studio head Thomas Ince discovered Sidney and hired him to perform in Inceville productions, which Sidney was soon directing.

Sidney brought “Tarzan of the Apes” in on schedule, but producer William Parsons refused to pay the promised bonus. The director sued and received his money, with author Edgar Rice Burroughs and star Elmo Lincoln testifying in Superior Court.

Born Harry Wilbur Siggins, Sidney eventually directed 117 silent films. He was in England to make a feature comedy with two Danish comedians, Pat and Patachon, for British International, when he collapsed at Elstree Studio and died of heart disease on Friday, July 20, 1928, at age 58. His wife, Josephine, who was with him in London, returned his body to Hollywood for the burial.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #18

One for the Professor Porter fans
In the novel “Tarzan of the Apes,” Jane’s father, the bumbling Professor Archimedes Q. Porter, provides comic relief, along with only-slightly-more-competent colleague, Samuel T. Philander. Professor Porter has appeared onscreen in several films, portrayed by Charles Inslee (“The Adventures of Tarzan”) and Tony Curtis (“Tarzan in Manhattan”), and voiced by Nigel Hawthorne (Disney’s “Tarzan”) and Jeff Bennett (Disney’s “The Legend of Tarzan”). In the films of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Jane’s father James Parker was a trader, portrayed by C. Aubrey Smith, Robert Douglas, and Richard Harris. Craig Ferguson voiced Mr. Philander in his only screen appearance, in Disney’s animated series, “The Legend of Tarzan” (with the character’s appearance and mannerisms distinctly channeling British character actor Terry Thomas).

In the 1918 film adaptation, actor Thomas Jefferson portrayed Professor Porter. Jefferson came from a long and distinguished line of performers. His ancestor Thomas Jefferson began acting onstage with David Garrick in London in 1717; all succeeding Jefferson males were thespians. Jefferson’s father was stage actor Joseph Jefferson Sr.; brothers William and Joseph, Jr. were also actors.

Among the Jefferson family’s notable accomplishments was a nine-decade stint playing the role of Rip Van Winkle. Jefferson’s grandfather debuted the stage role, essaying it for 17 years, followed by Joseph Sr., who played the part for 45 years, and Thomas, who appeared in productions as Winkle for over 25 years.

Born in New York on September 10, 1856, Jefferson began acting in film with D.W. Griffith’s Biograph Company, also appearing in shorts for Big U and Majestic. Jefferson reprised the role of Professor Porter in the 1918 Apes sequel, The Romance of Tarzan. Jefferson died at home in Hollywood on April 2, 1932 following a short illness. He was survived by his widow, Daisy, and three daughters.

In the photo above, Tarzan (Elmo Lincoln), flanked by Jane (Enid Markey) and Esmeralda (Madame Sul-te-wan) faces off against Professor Porter (Jefferson), while cousin Cecil Greystoke (Colin Kenny) peers out from behind Eugene Pallette (role uncredited).

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #19
In “Tarzan of the Apes” (1918), actor Eugene Pallette portrayed a member of the search party mounted by Cecil Greystoke to determine the fate of his kin in the wilds of Africa. Pallette was a husky young leading man and second lead who began appearing on-camera as an extra in 1911 after relocating to Southern California with a touring stock company. Like Elmo Lincoln and Madame Sul-te-wan, he was one of director D.W. Griffith’s stock players, appearing in “Birth of a Nation,” and “Intolerance,” and in the films of Cecil B. DeMille.

As Palette aged and his girth expanded, he began playing character roles, often as family patriarchs and police detectives, distinguished by his distinctive, gravelly voice. Among his best-known roles were Friar Tuck opposite Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) and Fray Felipe opposite Tyrone Power in “The Mark of Zorro.”

Following World War II, Pallette was convinced the world faced nuclear annihilation, so he bought and stocked a compound in rural Oregon, prepped to survive global catastrophe. When doomsday didn’t materialize, he sold his 3,000-acre ranch and returned to Los Angeles, where he died of throat cancer at home on September 3, 1954, survived by his wife and sister

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #20

"Is courage only for men, then?"

In the first Tarzan novel, “Tarzan of the Apes,” an orphaned baby is raised by Kala the she-ape to become Tarzan, King of the Apes.

Tarzan’s human parents, the British Lord and Lady Greystoke, were bound for Africa on a diplomatic mission to investigate colonial crimes against the native populace when the sailors on their vessel, the “Fuwalda,” mutinied and left the couple marooned on the shore of West Africa (in some later film versions, they are stranded by shipwreck). The pair try to carve out a living in the wild, but fall victim to its perils, leaving their heir to be raised by the anthropoid apes.

In the 1918 film, “Tarzan of the Apes,” Lord and Lady Greystoke were portrayed by True Boardman, Sr. and Kathleen Kirkham. The film is notable for casting Lady Greystoke as a strong, determined woman who demands to accompany her husband on his voyage; this film was screening two years before the 19th Amendment recognized women’s right to vote in the United States.

Boardman, a theatrical matinee idol, was part of an entertainment dynasty spanning five generations from nineteenth century stagework to modern sitcoms. Born in Oakland, California on April 21, 1880 to actress and playwright Caro True Boardman, the younger Boardman became a stage player, marrying ingénue Virginia Eames in 1909. Son True, Jr., made his theatrical debut in 1910 at eight weeks of age in the Seattle stock company in which his parents performed. In 1911, the family began acting in films for Selig Polyscope in Chicago, soon relocating to California to appear in Essanay’s Broncho Billy series, where True played the sheriff. In 1914, he portrayed Stingaree (a sort of Australian Robin Hood) for Kalem, later appearing in the serial “The Hazards of Helen.” Boardman succumbed to the influenza epidemic and died on in Los Angeles on September 28, 1918, at age 38. Virginia and True, Jr. went on to have long film careers. True Sr.’s great-granddaughter, Lisa Gerritsen, continued the family profession by appearing onscreen in the 1960s and ‘70s.

A statuesque, 5'8", blue-eyed brunette, Kirkham was born April 15, 1895 in Menominee, Michigan, and was educated locally at the Cummock School. Kirkham joined a stock theater company in Lakeside, Wisconsin and eventually ended up in Hollywood. She played a number of supporting roles onscreen, usually winning assignments free-lance, through the 1920s, when she married H.N. Woodruff and retired from acting. She died in Santa Barbara on November 7, 1961.


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