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Volume 6721

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 #201
Linda Christian portrayed Mara, the ingénue in “Tarzan and the Mermaids” (1948) who flees a forced marriage with her peoples’ god, enlisting Tarzan’s aid in deposing the false deity. It was Christian’s first major film role. She is also remembered as the first Bond girl, appearing opposite Barry Nelson in the “Climax!” television adaptation of “Casino Royale” in 1954.

Christian was born Blanca Rosa Welter on November 13, 1923 in Tampico Tamaulipas, Mexico to a Dutch petroleum company executive and his Mexican wife. Her family traveled the world during her childhood, with Christian mastering six languages during their time abroad. She was planning to study medicine in Palestine when her family uprooted and returned to Mexico, where she met Errol Flynn, who brought her to Hollywood. There, she began modelling, signed a brief contract with RKO, and eventually moved to MGM, where she was loaned out for “Tarzan” after producer Sol Lesser saw some of her swimsuit modelling shots.

Though an A-list acting career never materialized, she had a knack for garnering press as an early celebutante dubbed “The Anatomic Bomb.” She declined an offer from Lesser to appear in the subsequent ape-man picture, “Tarzan’s Magic Fountain,” marrying Tyrone Power in Italy on January 27, 1949. The couple had two daughters, Romina and Taryn, before their marriage ended. Christian then married Edmund Purdom, and continued to live a very public life. She died of colon cancer at age 87 on July 22, 2011, in Palm Desert, California.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #202

Johnny Weissmuller at the ruins of Teotihuacán in Mexico 
for his final ape man film, "Tarzan and the Mermaids" (1948)

RKO’s “Tarzan and the Mermaids” (1948) was the twelfth and final ape man film for Johnny Weissmuller, who remains the most famous and popular screen Tarzan 70 years later.

Weissmuller quickly transitioned into comic book hero Jungle Jim (based on the newspaper comic strip by Alex Raymond, creator of Flash Gordon) in a series of 16 low-budget Columbia films, beginning with the eponymous “Jungle Jim” in 1948, and a 1955-56 Screen Gems television show.

After retiring from acting, Weissmuller spent his later years traveling and endorsing a variety of fitness products from swimming pools to nutrition supplements. Following his work in “Mermaids,” he purchased the Los Flamingos Hotel in Acapulco with an investor group comprised of Hollywood actors and friends.

Johnny and his fifth wife, Maria, later returned to Acapulco, where he died on January 20, 1984. He is buried outside Acapulco at the Cementerio Valle de la Luz (Valley of Light Cemetery), formerly known as Jardines del Tiempo (Gardens of Time).

Following his 12-film stint as Tarzan the Ape Man, 
Johnny Weissmuller played comic-strip hero Jungle Jim
in a series of 16 movies for Columbia 1948-55,
followed by a 26-episode television series for Screen Gems in 1955-56.
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #203

Lion tamer and adventurer Clyde Beatty

On April 23, 1948, as “Tarzan and the Mermaids” played in theaters, producer Sol Lesser announced he would send a camera crew to East Africa in October to shoot location footage, negotiating with adventurer and animal trainer Clyde Beatty to head the expedition, and play a role in the resulting film, “Tarzan and the Fountain of Youth,” expected to star Johnny Weissmuller, who had one film left on his contract.

As with previous hyperbolic announcements by Lesser, the ambitious plans did not come to fruition. Lesser decided to release Weissmuller from his contract, and began the search for a new Tarzan. Johnny’s 16-year reign as the ape man in 12 films had come to an end.

Among the contestants for the role Weissmuller vacated were Sterling Hayden (a favorite of Lesser), newly minted high school graduate and 1948 Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias, Willard Parker, and Jock Mahoney. “Jungle Joe” Verdeur, 1948 Olympic gold medalist in the 200-meter breaststroke, also campaigned for the role.

The imposing 6'3" Willard Parker, seen here with Done Ameche and Dorothy Lamour
in a scene from "Slightly French" (1949), was considered for the role of Tarzan 
when Johnny Weissmuller vacated it in 1948

Actor Sterling Hayden, seen here on the right 
opposite John Payne in a still from "El Paso" (1949)
was producer Sol Lesser's favored candidate to replace 
Johnny Weissmuller in the popular RKO Tarzan series

Bob Mathias, who won the 1948 Olympic decathlon 
as a 17-year-old high-school graduate, 
was also wooed by producer Sol Lesser to replace
Johnny Weissmuller on RKO's popular Tarzan film series

Stuntman and actor John Mahoney, seen here in a still
from his Western "Range Rider" series, 
declined his first offer to play the ape man when
Johnny Weissmuller retired from the role in 1948

"Jungle Joe" Verdeur, 200-meter breaststroke champion 
at the 1948 London Olympics, 
also campaigned for the Tarzan role when
Johnny Weissmuller left to play Jungle Jim
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #204
Producer Sol Lesser interviewed more than 200 candidates to play the lead in “Tarzan’s Magic Fountain” (1949) before he found his leading man in actor Lex Barker, who was referred by scripter Curt Siodmak after the two met at the Polo Club.

Barker was born May 8, 1919, in Rye, New York, to Alexander C. Barker, a wealthy contractor and later stockbroker, and his wife Marion Thornton Beals Barker. Educated at Fessenden and Philips-Exeter Academy (where he appeared in school theatrical productions), Lex enrolled in Princeton, but dropped out to join a theater stock company, a decision his family did not support.

He appeared briefly on Broadway in bit roles in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (1938), and “Window Shopping” (1938-39), and was cast in “The Five Kings” (1940) by Orson Wells. Barker did manual labor and worked in a steel mill to support himself as he pursued his craft.

As the storm clouds of World War II gathered, Barker joined the army in February 1941 as a buck private, serving as General Mark Clark’s aide. Barker was wounded twice in combat, earning two Purple Hearts and was taken prisoner, eventually mustering out as a major. Following his recuperation from his wounds, he moved to Hollywood in 1945. He worked briefly under contract for 20th Century Fox, making his film debut in an uncredited bit role in “Doll Face” (1945), later signing a long-term contract at RKO.

Upon winning the Tarzan role, the 6’4” Barker joined Terry Hunt’s gymnasium and slimmed down to 197 pounds. Lesser protected his investment with a $100,000 insurance policy, which forbid Barker from drinking, nightclubbing, skiing, or riding in airplanes.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #205
“Tarzan’s Magic Fountain” (1949) offered a fantastic premise for Lex Barker’s debut as the ape man, a lost race tale that hearkened to James Hilton’s 1933 novel “Lost Horizon” and the 1937 disappearance of flyer Amelia Earhart.

Tarzan (Lex Barker) returns the diary of a missing aviatrix Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) to the authorities, where he learns that her testimony could free Douglas Jessup (Alan Napier), who is falsely imprisoned in England. Tarzan reenters the jungle and later emerges with James, who has not aged in the 20 years since her disappearance.

After James exonerates Jessup, the newly married couple return to Africa, asking Tarzan to guide them back to her home in the Blue Valley, with its fountain of youth. Tarzan refuses, having given his promise to the residents that he will keep the location a secret.

Jane (Brenda Joyce) agrees to guide the pair back—accompanied by a pair of duplicitous traders, Dodd (Charles Drake) and Trask (Albert Dekker). Tarzan, certain that this won’t end well, trails the party to the inevitable confrontation with the eternally youthful tribe of the Blue Valley.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #206
“Tarzan’s Magic Fountain” (1949) marked the directorial debut of Lee “Roll ‘Em” Sholem, who earned his sobriquet with his fast, efficient shoots, never going over schedule. He directed more than 1300 films and television episodes in his 40-year career, including 14 episodes of “The Adventures of Superman,” starring George Reeves. Producer Sol Lesser was so pleased with Sholem’s work that he hired him to helm the subsequent ape man film, “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950). Sholem also directed Johnny Weissmuller in the Jungle Jim films “Jungle Man-Eaters” (1954) and “Cannibal Attack” (1956). His final film was the science fiction “The Doomsday Effect” (1972).

Lee Tabor Sholem was born May 25, 1913 in Paris Illinois, and died August 19, 2000 in Los Angeles, California.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #207
When Brenda Joyce departed the Tarzan film series after her fifth picture, “Tarzan’s Magic Fountain” (1949), producer Sol Lesser released a list of candidates for the Jane role in the subsequent installment, “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950). Among the names were Sally Forrest, Peggy Knudsen, Lorraine Miller, Trudy Marshall, Lita Baron and Dona Drake. Lesser’s director, Lee “Roll ‘Em” Sholem had another ingénue in mind, however—a woman whose casting might have altered the trajectory of the Tarzan film series . . .

SALLY FORREST, who began her career as a dancer 
under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, 
was considered by producer Sol Lesser for the 
“Jane” role in “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950) 
when Brenda Joyce bowed out of the series.

Another of producer Sol Lesser’s “Jane” candidates 
for “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950) 
was starlet PEGGY KNUDSEN,
who got her start on radio and Broadway 
before winning a 1945 contract with Warner Brothers, 
who billed her as “the lure.”

LORRAINE MILLER was touted for the role of “Jane”
in producer Sol Lesser’s “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950), 
perhaps based on her previous jungle picture experience
she played opposite Ray “Crash” Corrigan in 
“The White Gorilla” (1945)
a movie made by intercutting scenes of 
Corrigan in his white gorilla suit
with stock footage from Frank Merrill’s 
1927 Weiss Brothers silent serial “Perils of the Jungle.” 
Corrigan had previously suited up as a (non-albino) gorilla
to battle Johnny Weissmuller in “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932).

Another of producer Sol Lesser’s contenders 
to replace Brenda Joyce in the “Jane” role for 
“Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950), 
nightclub singer and dancer LITA BARON 
often played Latin American roles or exotic jungle women, 
appearing as the latter with 
Johnny Weissmuller in “Jungle Jim” (1948), 
Johnny Sheffield in “Bomba on Panther Island” (1949), 
and Sabu in “Savage Drums” (1951). 
She was married to Western star Rory Calhoun, 
with whom she had three daughters.

TRUDY MARSHALL starred with 
Johnny Weissmuller in the 1950 
Jungle Jim picture, “Mark of the Gorilla,” 
perhaps putting her on producer 
Sol Lesser’s short list 
of prospective “Janes” for 
“Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950). 

Actress, singer, and dancer DONA DRAKE, like Acquanetta, 
was a light-skinned black woman who crafted a Latina identity
to work in Hollywood, touring with her band, 
Rita Rio and Her All Girl Orchestra, while appearing in films.
Producer Sol Lesser named her as a potential replacement for 
Brenda Joyce in the “Jane” role for the film 
“Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950)
Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #208
After Brenda Joyce left the Tarzan series to focus on her family, director Lee “Roll ‘Em” Sholem screen-tested 350 women to replace Joyce as Jane in “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950). Sholem narrowed the field down to 10 for producer Sol Lesser, singling out one whom he thought had the most star potential. Even after bringing her in to read for the part eight times, Lesser was unmoved, and refused to approve her casting.

The woman whom Lesser declined as Tarzan’s next Jane? Marilyn Monroe

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #209
Producer Sol Lesser declined to cast Marilyn Monroe as Jane in “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950), choosing instead a friend of Marilyn’s from their days in the 20th Century Fox talent development program. Impressed with her intellect, Lesser selected Vanessa Brown, a former child prodigy and actress completing her education at UCLA.

Born Smylla Brind in Vienna, Austria on March 24, 1928, Brown’s parents were academics, a linguist and psychologist, who fled Vienna as war loomed in 1937 to relocate in New York City. There Brown, who was multi-lingual, was cast as Ann Blyth’s understudy in “Watch on the Rhine,” later touring in the role. Her 165 IQ earned a spot in the “Rapid Advance” (gifted) school curriculum and recurring appearances on the radio program “Quiz Kids.”

David O. Selznick saw her on Broadway and tendered a film contract; after retaining Hollywood agent Paul Kohner, Brown moved to 20th Century Fox, where she appeared in several films for Darryl F. Zanuck, while attending Hollywood High School. Brown enrolled at UCLA undercover, using her birthname and serving on the staff of the “Daily Bruin” newspaper.

She enjoyed her time as Jane (especially riding the elephant), but was not enamored of the role, and was replaced by Lesser after one film. She recalled that she got along well with her Tarzan, Lex Barker, but there was no romantic attraction.

Brown married Hollywood plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Alan Franklyn and returned to Broadway as the ingénue in “The Seven Year Itch” (a role assumed by Monroe in the film version). After divorcing Franklyn, she married director Mark Sandrich, Jr., with whom she had two children. She worked as a journalist, and became politically active, but became disillusioned with activism following the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Brown overcame cancer three times before the fourth occurrence claimed her life on May 21, 1999, while she was residing at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #210
With Vanessa Brown now cast as Jane, and Lex Barker returning for his second ape-man film, production on “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” began on August 1, 1949, with direction by Lee “Roll ‘Em” Sholem and cinematography by Russell Harlan, who got his start on Hopalong Cassidy films, and was nominated for Academy Awards six times, including twice in 1963 for “Hatari!” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The film, which shot at RKO 40 Acres backlot, Iverson’s Movie Ranch, and the Los Angeles County Arboretum, wrapped on September 3. Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs visited the set with grandson Michael Pierce (the son of silent film Tarzan Jim Pierce and his wife Joan Burroughs Pierce) and Tarzan superfan Vernell Coriell (who founded the first Edgar Rice Burroughs fanzine, “The Burroughs Bulletin,” in 1947) in one of the author’s last public outings.

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