Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #132
An early acting headshot of Ashton Dearholt
As Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer awaited the box office results
of the latest ape-man epic, “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934), producer Ashton
Dearholt saw an opportunity to join the jungle bandwagon by convincing
Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs to make his own Tarzan picture.
Lee Ashton Dearholt, Jr. was born into a prosperous
family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 4, 1894. As a teen, his family
moved to Santa Barbara, California. Dearholt was soon producing, directing,
and playing lead in B-movie Westerns (under the stage name Jack Holt),
marrying and later divorcing actress Helene Rosson.
In 1926, Dearholt married silent film actress Florence
Gilbert, who bore a son, Lee Ashton III, and a daughter, Caryl Lee (later
nicknamed Cindy). On February 14, 1927, Burroughs’ diary noted a visit
from Dearholt, who had proposed to Pathé that he produce five films
from Burroughs’ novels, with Dearholt to star. The novels included “The
Outlaw of Torn,” “The Mad King,” “The Mucker,” “The Bandit of Hell’s Bend,”
and “H.R.H. The Rider.” Since Pathé was only offering $10,000 per
book, and Burroughs wanted Jim Pierce (who played the ape-man in “Tarzan
and the Golden Lion”) to play the leads, the author was unwilling to reach
a deal with the studio. With the advent of sound, Dearholt moved from acting
to production manager jobs.
Dearholt took a position with RKO Studios, which sent
him to Guatemala in September 1933 to organize its local production company.
There, he became romantically involved with actress Ula Holt; upon returning
to Los Angeles, Dearholt founded Romance Productions, Inc. with George
W. Stout and Ben S. Cohen, temporarily headquartered at Mack Sennett Studios
in Hollywood, with the express intent to produce a Tarzan picture. With
Burroughs’ agreement, Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises, headquartered at 8476
Sunset Boulevard was founded to replace Romance Productions, and pre-production
began on a new Tarzan serial.