Wily Tarzan Lives On, Dollarwise
Times ~ August 29, 1975
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 28—Four men, all large and a little paunchy,
met here today and let out a jungle scream. Each of them could have said
to the other, “Me Tarzan. You Tarzan.”
Amid a reported resurgence of interest in the “King of
the Jungle,” the Tarzan Club held its first reunion here today. Four of
the 15 men who have portrayed Tarzan of the Apes in 40 films, six movie's
serials, 52 televisign episodes and hundreds of radio broadcasts gathered
with others to commemorate the 100th anniversary, on Sept. 1, of the birth
of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man who cireated Tarzan in a pulp magazine
story 63 years ago. He died in 1950. There were plaudits for the author
and a lot of nostalgic talk. There was also some lifting of glasses.
The four actors — Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Jock
Mahoney and James Pierce—did a juggle scream in unison for the press at
a preluncheon cocktail party. But for all the nostalgia, most of the enthusiasm
today was rooted not in literature or folklore, but in dollars.
A Hot Property
Everybody seemed to be rejoicing that Tarzan, whose popularity
has risen and fallen cyclically for decades, Appeared to be a hot property
again, and, mostly by design.
“The world-wide gross of Tarzan products sold under license
to us is at least $50 million a year, and that's conservative,” asserted
Robert M. Hodes, a 44-year-old Brooklyn-born lawyer who heads the Tarzan
empire. Mr. Hodes is president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., a company
that is owned by the heirs of the author and that held today's promotional
festivities. Mr. Hodes was hired by the family in 1967 to run the company,
and he said in an interview that he discovered the family was doing nothing
to exploit the commercial value of Tarzan.
Since then, especially since 1970, when the company had
Tarzan stories translated into French and touched off a cult-like interest
in Mr. Burroughs abroad, the family's revenues from Tarzan products has
jumped 10 times, he said. “We've created this [Tarzan boom] ourselves,”
said Danton Burroughs, a 31-year old grandson of the author. “About 70
per cent of all of our income comes from overseas,” Mr. Hodes said. “Tarzan
is much, much more succesful overseas; next to Coca-Cola, Tarzan is the
best known name in the world.”
“Mr. Hodes would not say how much money the family takes
in from the Tarzan legacy, but he said that it was more than $1 million
annually. Besides the income from some Tarzan movies and TV programs, he
said, there are royalties from two million Burroughs books published annually,
three million comic books published monthly in more than a dozen languages,
and comic strips in 250 newspapers. Also, advertisers pay for use of the
Tarzan image, and manufacturers pay royalties on Tarzan products.
In the cheering audience today were more than 35 businesmen
who are licensed to sell Tarzan products. “I've made millionaires out of
some of these people,” Mr. Hodes said. There are Tarzan frisbees, Tarzan
T-shirts, Tarzan picture puzzles, Tarzan games, Tarzan gymnasium sets and
Tarzan pajamas. There is new his-and-hers bikini underwear on which is
printed, respectively, "Me Tarzan" and "Me Jane."
The Tarzan enterprise is based on a Southern California
town called Tarzana—a community of 25,000 people in the San Fernando Valley.
Mr. Burroughs owned, a ranch called Tarzana there, and the people of the
region adopted its name for a new town in 1930.
In London, a Tarzan rock musical is being mounted, and
an American publishing company is introducing remedial film strips about
Tarzan. Robert Towne the screenwriter is writing a script for the 41st
Tarzan movie, based on the original concept of Mr. Burroughs that Tarzan
was an erudite British lord lost in the jungle.
Mr. Hodes said that he was negotiating with the McDonnell-Douglas
Corporation to buy a DC-8 jet for Tarzan Airlines for charter flights to
exotic places. Planning is also going forward on a Tarzan bikini bathing
suit that will be introduced first in Europe by distributing hundreds of
free samples—but only the bottom part.
Mr. Weissmuller, the Olympic swimming star who portrayed
Tarzan in 12 movies between 1937 and 1948, said of the reunion, “I love
The Tarzan Yell
Mr. Weissmuller, who is 71 years old and is probably
the best-known Tarzan, lives in Las Vegas and is involved in a swimming
pool company and a vitamin business. His wife, Maria, told a reporter,
“My husband, you know, invented the Tarzan yell.” However, Mr. Burroughs;
the author's grandson, said that the yell had been originated by compounding
recordings of a camel's bleat, a soprano singing high C, violin chords,
a yodel and other ingredients.
Five of the living actors who portrayed Tarzan: Bruce
Bennett, Ron Ely, Denny Miller, Gordon Scott and Michael Henry — did not
attend the reunion, although Mr. Miller did get together with some of the
other Tarzans here last night. The six actors who played the role and who
— according to the Burroughs family — are now deceased, were Elmo Lincoln,
the first Tarzan in 1918; Gene Pollar, P. Dempsey Tabler, Frank Merrill,
Glenn Morris and Lex Barker.
Three actresses who have portrayed Tarzan's mate, "Jane,"
were also present today—Eve Brent, Louise Lorraine and Joyce Mackenzie.
The Burroughs centennial luncheon was held in conjunction
with a convention of the North American Science Fiction convention, whose
members, including the author Ray Bradbury, praised Mr. Burroughs' creations
as important milestones in the development of science fiction.
Tarzan's popularity, Mr. Hodes hopes, will be enhanced
even more by the publication, coinciding with the centennial of Mr. Burroughs'
birth, of a biography titled, “Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created
Tarzan.” Published by the Brigham Young University Press, the book was
written by Irwin Porges.
“All of this is going to snowball,” Mr. Hodes said. “I'm