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Volume 6720

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 #191
The role of Mongo, the Leopard Men lieutenant in RKO’s “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” (1946) was portrayed by prolific character actor Anthony Caruso. Caruso returned to the Tarzan series twice, opposite Lex Barker in “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950) and Ron Ely in the NBC-TV “Tarzan” episode “The Figurehead.”

The son of an Italian immigrant fruit vendor, he was born April 7, 1916, in Frankfort, Indiana, and moved to Long Beach, California with his family as a child. After graduating from high school, he joined a stock company, then trained at the Pasadena Playhouse. Caruso met his wife of 63 years, Tonia Valente, when the two were appearing onstage in San Francisco in 1939. He began appearing onscreen in 1940, often playing underworld figures, tough guys, or American Indians in Westerns in film and television.

Despite his tough-guy persona, Caruso was active in household and community affairs. He and Tonia reared a son and daughter in the Brentwood home that he renovated and expanded, and Caruso served as honorary mayor of Brentwood and was active in the governance of the Screen Actors Guild.

Caruso died at home in Brentwood, California on April 4, 2003, after a long illness. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #192
The array of villains facing Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller), Jane (Brenda Joyce), and Boy (Johnny Sheffield) in RKO’s “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” (1946) included the pint-sized psychopath Kimba (Tommy Cook), Lea the Leopard Queen’s young sibling who hopes to earn his spots by delivering Jane’s heart to the killer cult.

Born July 5, 1930, in Duluth, Minnesota, Cook and his family moved to Southern California so that his father could recuperate from an illness. There Tommy's mother enrolled him in acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he appeared onstage in several productions.

Cook was nine years old when radio producer and writer Arch Oboler discovered the boy he dubbed a “genius.” Cook accrued more than 2,500 radio credits, including regular roles as Little Beaver in “Red Ryder” (a part he also played onscreen), Alexander in “Blondie” and Junior in “The Life of Riley.” He often played exotic or ethnic roles, such as Kimba in Republic’s Frances Gifford serial “Jungle Girl” (1941). He also conceived the stories for the films “Rollercoaster” (1977) and “Players” (1979), and worked as a voiceover actor for children’s cartoons.

Cook graduated from Hollywood High School, earned a degree from UCLA, and served in the Marine Corps. A youth tennis champion, he served as a pro and celebrity coach in adulthood. He continues to appear on the celebrity autograph circuit, one of the last living links to the Weissmuller era of Tarzan films.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #193
Olga Celeste, “The Enchantress of Leopards,” trained the felines that appeared in “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” (1946). She used brute strength and steely nerve to control her charges, reputed to be the most treacherous and difficult of the big cats.

Short, stocky, broad-shouldered, and covered in scars, Celeste was born April 9, 1888 in Lund, Sweden. As a teenager she ran away to join the circus twice, retrieved by her family both times. After her parents sent her to live with her sister in Chicago, Celeste joined a traveling show as a bareback rider. There, she befriended trainer Essie Fay, who taught her to work with tigers; Celeste later managed a lion act for Ringling Brothers Circus.

By 1910, she was working with “Big Otto” Breitkreutz at producer William Selig’s Los Angeles zoo; one of her early Hollywood assignments was putting Jimmie the lion through his paces on the first Edgar Rice Burroughs film, “The Lad and the Lion” (1917). She also supervised Nissa the leopard in “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

“It is really easy to raise leopards,” Celeste explained in the “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” pressbook. You treat them just like children. It takes patience, lots of time—and a little sprinkling of courage.”

When Luna Park (the Selig Zoo’s successor) closed, Celeste joined lion-wrestler Melvin Koontz and trainer Louis Roth at Lois Goebel’s Wild Animal Farm in Thousand Oaks. She retired in 1951, following the death of her last leopard, and suffered a fatal heart attack on August 31, 1969 at a Burbank, California hospital where she was being treated for pneumonia.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #194

The dance of the Leopard Men, from RKO's "Tarzan and the Leopard Woman" (1946), choreographed by Lester Horton.
As part of their sacrificial ceremonies, the killer cult in RKO’s “Tarzan and the Leopard Men” (1946) engaged in a frenzied dance, choreographed by Lester Horton, a specialist in tribal dance who created his own technique, which is still taught today.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 23, 1906, Horton studied ballet and other forms of dance locally. At age 19 he was hired to choreograph the tour for “The Song of Hiawatha,” landing in Los Angeles in 1929. He remained on the West Coast, forming his own troupe and choreographing Hollywood musicals. He performed at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and later taught dance at USC and at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Horton died an untimely death from a heart attack at age 47, in his Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles on November 2, 1953, survived by his parents and sister. Cited at the time of his death as the most creative figure in modern dance, Horton’s protégés included Alvin Ailey, Bella Lewitzky, and fashion designer Rudi Gernreich.

“Lester Horton was the greatest influence of my career. He is the reason I do all this. He was a genius at the theatre. Besides being a major choreographer, he was a master costume designer, master painter, master sculptor. An incredible man . . . When you came into the world of Lester Horton you came into a completely creative environment—people of all colors, music of all nations . . .” recalled former student Alvin Ailey in a 1976 interview.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #195

1. John Roth autographed photo to ERB from the Danton Burroughs Tarzana Collection
2. Charlotte Austin, Lance Fuller, and Johnny Roth, the former Lily Tulip Cup Company Tarzan, in “The Bride and the Beast” (1958
Johnny Roth was a sickly Philadelphia youth of 19 when he saw “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) and was so impressed with Johnny Weissmuller’s performance that he dedicated himself to physical culture.

Three years later, Roth entered a contest sponsored by the Lily Tulip Cup Company, and won the role of Tarzan in their nationwide ice cream promotion. Roth, now a six-footer with a toned 160-pound physique, toured the country stumping for ice cream and the ape man.

Unfortunately, Roth was unable to translate his success into a film career, and only appeared in a few bit parts in the movies. His closest brush with playing the jungle lord onscreen came when he suited up as a member of the cat cult in “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman” (1946). Roth’s fellow leopard men included several renowned athletes: Miola Kalili, a middle-distance swimming champion; Stubby Kruger, Johnny Weissmuller’s friend and an Olympic backstroker; Paul Stader, a paddleboard champion-turned-stuntman; and Peter Weissmuller, Johnny’s younger brother, who occasionally worked as Johnny’s stand-in. Diving title holder Bill Lewin and football players Charlie McBride (all-American halfback) and Don Malmberg, a tackle on the 1945 UCLA team, also donned the spotted cape.

Roth also appeared as Taro, the son of a Pacific Island native chief, in the low-budget Monogram war picture, “Wings Over the Pacific” (1943), and played another character named Taro in Allied Artists’ “The Bride and the Beast” (1958), the tale of a gorilla queen reincarnated as a blushing bride, written by Ed Wood, Jr.

Roth continued his fitness pursuits throughout life, and maintained his physique through his 60s. He wrote and published two motivational books, “Adventure of Taro,” geared to children, and “Fit-Trim-Young at Any Age,” which he sold by mail order from his Los Angeles home. By 1969, he was working for Johnny Weissmuller’s American Natural Food Stores as a sales agent, after which he faded from public view.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #196
After four films featuring lost lands and civilizations, producer Sol Lesser returned to a more conventional jungle movie formula for his fifth Johnny Weissmuller film, “Tarzan and the Huntress” (1947). Patricia Morison played the titular huntress, a big game trapper who ignores the local quotas, running afoul of the ape man.

Eileen Patricia Augusta Fraser Morison was born in New York City on March 19, 1915. She studied art and dance in her youth, and worked as a dress designer, before enrolling at the Neighborhood Playhouse to pursue drama. She made her Broadway debut in “Growing Pains” and understudied lead Helen Hayes in “Victoria Regina” (1935-36). She failed several screentests, and was rejected as “unphotogenic” after shooting a few layouts for “Vogue” magazine.

Her role in the operetta “The Two Bouquets” earned a Paramount contract and she played the lead, crime boss Dorothy Benson, in her feature film debut, the gangster picture “Persons in Hiding” (1938). Morison and her parents relocated to Santa Monica, California, to pursue her film career, but after four unsatisfying years, she left Paramount, hoping for better roles. She remained typecast as a villainess or film fatale, appearing opposite Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the Sherlock Holmes film “Dressed to Kill” (1946) and William Powell and Myrna Loy in “Song of the Thin Man” (1947).

Finally, her big break came when she auditioned for Cole Porter in his Brentwood home and returned to Broadway as the lead in the hit musical “Kiss Me Kate” (1948-1950). In 1954, she briefly took over the lead in “The King and I” on the Great White Way. She continued to appear onstage in tours and summer stock, and on television in guest starring roles, while also singing in nightclubs like the Cocoanut Grove.

Morison lived to the age of 103, dying at home in Los Angeles on May 20, 2018. She attributed her longevity to daily walks and 30 years of yoga.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #197
Originally titled “Tarzan’s Dangerous Game,” RKO’s 1947 ape-man offering “Tarzan and the Huntress” was directed by Kurt Neumann, his third Tarzan film in a row. B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason, who helmed the chariot race in the silent “Ben Hur” (1925) and the charge in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936) shot the elephant stampede scene. The film shot at the Los Angeles Arboretum and the RKO lot in late 1946 and was released on April 5, 1947.

The plot: With the world’s zoo’s depleted after long years of war, animal trapper Tanya Rawlins (Patricia Morison) arrives in the jungle with her crew to reap Africa’s faunal bounty for a fat profit. When King Farrod (Charles Trowbridge) sets a bag limit, the trappers conspire to depose the regent and replace him with his more amenable nephew, Prince Ozira (Ted Hecht). After Tarzan calls the animals across the river into “his” protected territory, the battle is on—and it’s going to take an elephant stampede to restore order to the jungle!

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #198

After appearing as "Boy" in 8 Tarzan films, Johnny Sheffield played lead in 12 "Bomba" films, 
based on the children's book series by Roy Rockwood (a pseudonym for the Stratemeyer Syndicate).
His leading lady in the first film, "Bomba the Jungle Boy" (1949) was Peggy Ann Garner

“Tarzan and the Huntress” (1947) marked the eighth and final film for Johnny Sheffield in the role of “Boy,” Tarzan and Jane’s adopted son. Having outgrown the role, he was soon offered his own franchise, Bomba the Jungle Boy, in a series of low-budget Allied Artists films based on the popular children’s book series by Roy Rockwood (a house pseudonym of the Stratemeyer Syndicate). Sheffield shot 12 Bomba movies in 7 years, 1949-55.

In 1955, Sheffield left show business and earned a BBA from UCLA, entering the business world. He invested in real estate and worked in a variety of fields, marrying wife Patricia in 1959 and rearing three children with her. Sheffield passed away at his home in Chula Vista on October 15, 2010.

Johnny Sheffield (Boy), Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) and Brenda Joyce (Jane) 
in Sheffield's final ape-man outing, RKO's "Tarzan and the Huntress" (1947)
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #199
For his sixth Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movie, "Tarzan and the Mermaids," producer Sol Lesser hoped to make an “A” picture, shot on location in Mexico on a million-dollar budget.

Directed by Robert Florey, the production filmed interiors at Mexico’s Churubusco Studios, with exteriors shot at the Teotihuacán ruins and Pie de Cuesta, a caverned lagoon north of Acapulco. The famed cliff divers of La Quebrada Cliffs were also featured in the tale of a happy, sea-going people exploited by civilized rogues impersonating their vengeful god.

Four-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Karl Struss (who won the category in 1929 for “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”) lensed the picture; it was writer Carroll Young’s fourth Tarzan script for Lesser. Dmitri Tiomkin, also nominated for four Academy Awards (he eventually won 3 of 17 nominations), composed the score.

Unfortunately, Lesser’s efforts to upgrade the franchise were for naught, as the shoot was plagued with troubles, including a set-destroying hurricane and a heart attack for Lesser, who had to return to the States during the production. It was to be Johnny Weissmuller’s final Tarzan role.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #200
RKO’s “Tarzan and the Mermaids” (1948) offered the familiar Tarzan trope of an idyllic primitive society exploited by interlopers from the outside world.

Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) snags a two-legged mermaid, Mara (Linda Christian) in his fishing net. She has fled her homeland of Aquatania to avoid a forced marriage to their tyrannical god Balu, leaving behind her true love, Tiko (Gustavo Rojo).

When the Aquatanians recapture her and resume the nuptial planning, Tarzan, Jane (Brenda Joyce), the local Commissioner (Edward Ashley), and Benji the calypso-singing mailman (John Laurenz) pursue, determined to set things right. After enjoying traditional Aquatanian hospitality (including a luau, cliff-diving, and lots of beautiful Acapulco scenery), Tarzan gets down to business, exposing the high priest (George Zucco) and animated idol (Fernando Wagner) as a pair of conniving pearl thieves.

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