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Volume 6396

ERB of the Silver Screen
A Resource Guide to the Movies of Edgar Rice Burroughs
An ongoing ERBzine and ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. ENCYCLOPEDIA project

From TARZAN ON FILM by Scott Tracy Griffin


Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #141
When Cyril Hume assumed re-write chores on “The Capture of Tarzan” (retitled “Tarzan Escapes”), he created an iconic part of Tarzan film mythology: the treehouse.

In the first two Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films, the apeman and his mate Jane lived in an arboreal nest, a platform of branches adorned with a leaf wikiup. Hume provided them with an elaborate upgrade.

The elaborate treehouse and attached storage building was created for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's third apeman film, "Tarzan Escapes" (1939). The treehouse was enhanced with visual effects, with interiors filmed at MGM studios.

According to the “Tarzan Escapes” presskit, the treehouse was a six-room bungalow high in a cottonwood tree, with wraparound porch, elephant elevator, turtle shell sink (and a turtle shell to be lowered into the river below for water), dried mud oven, earthenware kitchen utensils, dishes made of gourds, bamboo forks, and flint knives. The set was built entirely without nails, wire or other fastenings. All-natural materials included logs, tree branches, bamboo, wicker, rattan, and thatch. The log foundation was lashed with heavy thongs and rattan ropes, with two-inch sticks for the flooring, a thatched roof, walls of hand-woven rattan and reeds, and and split bamboo window blinds. Weissmuller helped lay the flooring and O’Sullivan wove mats to give them firsthand experience in the construction.

The treehouse was constructed at Brent’s Mountain Crags (Crater Camp) in the Santa Monica Mountains, near Malibu, on the 20th Century Fox Ranch (now Malibu Creek State Park, though the treehouse is long gone). A matching replica was built on an MGM soundstage, with interiors on another stage.

Commemorating the Tarzan Film Centennial #142

Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), flanked by Rawlins (Herbert Mundin) confronts Captain Fry (John Buckler), 
while Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and her cousins Rita and Eric Parker (Benita Hume and William Henry) watch.
As production on the “cursed” movie “Tarzan Escapes” continued, more difficulties followed. On September 14, 1936, ten days after filming wrapped, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s head of production, Irving Thalberg—who had been instrumental in securing the Tarzan franchise for the studio—died at his Santa Monica home from pneumonia, at age 37. Hollywood mourned the untimely loss of the creative genius.

The following month, one week before the film’s release, John Buckler, who had played the villainous Captain Fry, died with his father in a tragic accident. The pair were driving to a Halloween party at their Malibu Lake house during a downpour when Buckler lost control of his car and skidded and flipped into the lake where both drowned. Their submerged car wasn’t discovered until the following day.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Buckler, 30, launched his U.S. career on Broadway before entering the motion picture industry. He had appeared in only six films when his promising screen career was cut short. His father, Hugh Buckler, 55, a British actor and manager of stock companies, had followed his son to Hollywood to appear onscreen. John was survived by his fiancé, actress Ulla Kazanova; Hugh by his wife, actress Violet Paget, a former touring partner.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #143

Mundin as “Rawlins,” the comic relief sidekick of the villainous Captain Fry (John Buckler)
in “Tarzan Escapes” (1936), the third MGM Tarzan picture.
Like his “Tarzan Escapes” co-star John Buckler (“Captain Fry”), Herbert Mundin (“Rawlins”) died an untimely death in an automobile accident. Mundin, 40, was was thrown from a friend’s car during a collision in Van Nuys, California, and died on March 4, 1939, less than three years after the film’s release. Survived by his second wife, actress Ann Shaw, and a daughter, he is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery.

A short (5'6") and rotund character actor, Mundin was born August 21, 1898 in St. Helens, Lancashire, England, and educated at St. Albans School. He served in the Royal Navy during World War I, and began appearing onstage in England afterward. He travelled to America to appear on Broadway in the 1920s, and relocated to Hollywood in 1931 to work in films. Among his most memorable roles are “Barkis” in “David Copperfield” (1935), “Smith” in “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and “Much” opposite Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938).

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #144
“Tarzan Escapes” (1936) marked a turning point in the Tarzan film franchise. Though the film retained the violence and menace of the previous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer entries, Tarzan and Jane were now a settled, domestic couple with a multi-room treehouse, and would welcome a child into their home in the following MGM film, “Tarzan Finds a Son!” (1939).

The first version of “Escapes,” “The Capture of Tarzan,” with its notorious scene of attacking devil bats, is believed to be lost. Though MGM executives were unhappy with this cut, its fate was sealed when an advance screening proved too terrifying to children in the audience. Hope remains among Tarzan fans that a copy of this film will be found.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #145
Following the tepid public response to the 1935 Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises picture “The New Adventures of Tarzan” (which was also hindered by the return of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to the ape-man business), the plucky little poverty row studio founded by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs and producer Ashton Dearholt floundered.

In December 1935, the studio was renamed Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures. It released three films in 1936:

“The Drag-Net,” a crime drama starring silent film idol Rod La Rocque, whose role as Martin Arlington in MGM's “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934) had been recast with Paul Cavanagh was released by Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures in 1936.

BTP had purchased an option on the story from former silent film mogul William Selig, who had been reduced to selling off his story options (and hocking his wife’s jewelry) to survive. It was an inauspicious professional end for one of the most powerful and prolific producers of the silent era, responsible for bringing the first Burroughs movie, “The Lad and the Lion,” to screens in 1917.

“The Phantom of Santa Fe,” a Zorro-type story starring Norman Kerry, was shot in part at Tarzan ranch. The film was a re-cut release of a film Dearholt had produced for Romantic Pictures in 1931, originally titled “The Hawk.”

The final, and most successful BTP film was “Tundra,” a wilderness picture set in Alaska and utilizing stock location footage, staring Alfred Delcambre (billed as Del Cambre) as a stranded doctor trekking overland through the wilderness. The film was re-released by RKO with new footage added, re-titled “Arctic Fury,” in 1949.

Deeply in debt, the company was salvaged with another personal loan drawn by author Burroughs, who had one final strategy to pay off the loan and shutter the company.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #146
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ foray into filmmaking came to an in 1937 when Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures was shuttered, but the canny Tarzan author had one final gambit to eliminate the debt he had incurred by buoying the company up with personal bank loans.

A new, 72-minute feature film was cut from the final ten chapters of the 1935 serial “The New Adventures of Tarzan,” and was released under the title “Tarzan and the Green Goddess” in 1938. Sales agent Jesse Goldburg was charged with distributing the film to theaters, working for a 50% commission.

By June 28, 1940, Burroughs’ note with Citizen’s National Bank was cleared. The author was so grateful that he granted Goldburg (who had formed his own company, Unites Screen Associates) sole rights to the two BTP Tarzan films on a 50-50 basis. Goldburg continued to schedule the films in limited releases until his September 1959 death.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #147
The plot to the 1938 feature “Tarzan and the Green Goddess” resumed where the feature version of “The New Adventures of Tarzan” (1935) concluded.

Tarzan (Herman Brix) and the Martling party have secured the idol the Green Goddess and its secret (a hidden formula for a powerful explosive), and prepare to return to civilization. The villainous Raglan (Don Castello, aka director and producer Ashton Dearholt) steals the idol and flees. The ape man, Major Martling (Frank Baker), George (Lew Sargent), and Ula Vale (Ula Holt) pursue Raglan through the jungle, where they are captured by the angry Mayans, who seek vengeance for the theft of their Goddess. The party must battle their way out of captivity and back to England.

Commemorating the Tarzan Film Centennial #148
With Burroughs-Tarzan Pictures floundering, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hesitant to renew their three-picture option after the on-set travails of “Tarzan Escapes,” independent producer Sol Lesser sensed opportunity. In 1936, he purchased rights to all of author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories, intending to release one Burroughs film per year through 20th Century Fox. Tarzan lead Johnny Weissmuller remained under contract to MGM.

Lesser announced a casting search for Tarzan, and had decided to cast 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris, when he was surprised by an eleventh-hour candidate—New York Yankees’ Iron Horse Lou Gehrig, whose manager Christy Walsh contacted Lesser shortly after the Yanks won the World Series. Intrigued, the producer requested photos.
Gehrig complied with a series of photos in a leopardskin and loincloth, but Lesser was non-plussed, declaring that the slugger’s legs were “functional, rather than decorative.” As a consolation prize, Gehrig appeared in Lesser’s 1938 Western “Rawhide.”

After returning to the diamond that summer, Gehrig began experiencing the debilitating symptoms of ALS (initially dubbed Lou Gehrig’s disease). Gehrig, the team captain, removed himself from the lineup the following season and announced his retirement from the game on July 4, 1939. Gehrig died at age 37 at his home in the Bronx on June 2, 1941, survived by his wife of eight years, Eleanor.

Commemorating the Tarzan Film Centennial #149
Born June 18, 1912, Glenn Morris was a Simla, Colorado farmboy, a high-school standout in football, basketball, and track who enrolled in Colorado State College (now Colorado State University) to play all three sports, eventually serving as the student body president.

A hurdler, he targeted the Olympic decathlon after his 1934 graduation, setting a national record at the Kansas relays, a world record at the U.S. Olympic trials, and another world record at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Returning home, Morris was feted with a tickertape parade, and married his college sweetheart Charlotte Edwards (who monitored the stopwatch and his diet during his years of training).

Riding the wave of fame, he moved to Hollywood to appear in small roles in the films “She Married an Artist” (1937) and “Hold That Co-Ed” (1938). Sol Lesser cast him as the fourth Olympic medalist Tarzan in “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938) opposite the first Olympic female Tarzan lead, swimmer Eleanor Holm—who was named Eleanor in the film, because Lesser claimed her fame superseded the role.

Unfortunately, “Revenge” was panned by critics and audiences alike, and was unable to meet the high expectations generated by the big-budget films of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that starred Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. Morris was drafted by the Detroit Lions football team in 1940, but broke his leg in the first game and retired from the gridiron.

In 1942, Morris enlisted in the U.S. navy for World War II and was commissioned as a lieutenant. He served aboard the “U.S.S. Banner” as an amphibious assault craft beach landing master, retaking Pacific Islands from the Japanese under heavy fire.

Morris earned numerous medals and ribbons, but suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and struggled through life afterward, working a variety of professions including steelwork, construction, security guard, and parking lot attendant.

Morris died of heart failure on January 31, 1974, in the Palo Alto, California Veterans Administration hospital. His athletic memorabilia was donated to Simla High School, which instituted an annual Glenn Morris Award, given to a student who excels athletically and academically.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #150
Eleanor Holm won fame as a swimming gold medalist in the 1932 Olympics, and greater fame as the bad girl of the 1936 Berlin Olympics after she was kicked off the team for breaking curfew, drinking champagne, and gambling with the sportswriters on the ocean liner voyage to Europe.

Holm was born December 6, 1913, in Brooklyn New York, and developed a love of swimming as a child, winning the U.S. national title for the 100-meter backstroke at age 14 in 1928 and placing fifth in the Amsterdam Olympics in that event.

After a brief teenage stint in the Ziegfeld Follies, she returned to training, easily winning the 100-meter backstroke gold in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics in a world-record performance. She signed a contract with Jack Warner and was named a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1932 while taking drama lessons from coach Josephine Dillon (the former Mrs. Clark Gable). Deciding that she preferred sport, she resigned from her contract and resumed training.

In 1933, she married bandleader Arthur Jarrett, Jr. and toured the country with his nightclub act, sleeping during the day, performing onstage as a singer at night, and swimming in hotel pools in the early morning hours. In 1936, she became the first woman to make her third Olympic team, boasting that she trained on champagne and cigarettes.

After her dismissal from the team, she watched the Olympics for the sidelines, filing ghost-written newspaper articles and hob-nobbing with international celebrities. Upon her return to the U.S., she signed with Broadway impresario Billy Rose to appear in his Aquacade with Johnny Weissmuller at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition in 1937. That fall, she flew to Hollywood to film “Tarzan’s Revenge” opposite 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris, an unpleasant experience that soured her on Hollywood.

She soon divorced Jarrett and married Rose—following his divorce from “Funny Girl” Fanny Brice. Holm and Rose split up in 1954 when she caught him cheating, and she received a large divorce settlement. She spent her later years in Miami, working as an interior decorator and dabbling in the stock market. She died of kidney failure on January 31, 2004, at age 90.

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