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Volume 6722

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 #211
RKO’s “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950) featured a traditional jungle milieu, with Tarzan and his allies saving Jane and a host of other beauties from a mysterious lost tribe.

When women start disappearing in the ape man’s jungle, Tarzan (Lex Barker) must solve the mystery. Learning that a lost tribe, the Lionians, are abducting women to replenish their plague-decimated population, Tarzan enlists the aid of Dr. Campbell (Arthur Shields), who has a vaccine for the pestilence.

Meanwhile, Jane (Vanessa Brown) and Campbell’s lusty nurse Lola (Denise Darcel) have also been kidnapped to serve as concubines. Accompanied by Cheeta and Lola’s sometime-boyfriend, tippling safari guide Neil (Robert Alda), Tarzan and the doctor track the kidnappers to their homeland, where the Lionians’ troubles are exacerbated by political intrigue, as the nation’s vizier, Sengo (Tony Caruso), hopes to exploit the crisis to depose the prince (Hurd Hatfield) and assume the throne. It’s up to Tarzan and his crew to defeat Sengo and restore order (and public health) to the kingdom.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #212
Ever-willing to increase the sex appeal of his Tarzan films, producer Sol Lesser announced a casting call for “Jungle Lola” a “panther woman” to co-star in RKO’s “Tarzan and the Slave Girl” (1950). Whatever his initial intentions were, the part evolved into that Dr. Campbell’s (Arthur Shields) sexy blonde nurse, who vamps Tarzan (Lex Barker) and cat-fights Jane (Vanessa Brown) while ignoring her long-suffering boyfriend, Neil (Robert Alda).

The role was filled by French import Denise Darcel; Lesser was so pleased with her casting that he announced that the role might become a recurring one in the film series, but that did not happen.

Born Denise Billecard on September 8, 1925 in Paris, Darcel was working as a nightclub singer when a group of local reporters created a Pygmalion contest and named her the “Most Beautiful Girl in France.” After uncredited but memorable role as a torch singer in “To the Victor” (1948), shot in post-war France, Darcel emigrated to the U.S. with her G.I. husband.

More movie roles followed, including the World War II film “Battleground” (1949), “Westward the Women” (1951), featuring a group of mail-order brides on a wagon train west, and “Flame of Calcutta (1953). Darcel also appeared on Broadway and vaudeville, and continued to tour as a singer after her Hollywood career ended.

Married five times, Darcel had two sons. She died in a Los Angeles hospital on December 23, 2011, of complications from emergency surgery to repair a ruptured aneurysm.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #213
In April, 1950, producer Sol Lesser, determined to add some verisimilitude and production value to his Tarzan film series, journeyed to England to arrange an African safari to shoot location footage for Lex Barker’s third Tarzan film, with a working title of “Tarzan’s Mate in Peril.” Phil Brandon was hired to direct the unit, assisted by Cliff Brandon. Buster Cooke served as the expedition’s White Hunter.

In June, Barker traveled to the Dark Continent, where the party shot swimming and vine-swinging sequences, along with tribal ceremonies. Unfortunately, the wet weather was not conducive to filming animals, since they were dispersed through the bush and not congregating at water holes, as they did in the dry season.

Locations included Thika Falls, the jungles of Meru, the Great Rift Valley, Lake Naivasha, Fourteen Falls, and the plains of Embu. Jungle scenes were filmed on the slopes of Mount Kenya at 6,500 feet above sea level, in cloudy, rainy weather; the natives, wrapped in lionskins, chuckled at Barker, shivering, near naked, standing next to a bonfire to stay warm between takes.

Barker won their respect by besting them in spear-throwing and archery contests, though the martial Masai tribe beat in him caber-tossing, a sport introduced by the local district commissioner, a Scottish highlander. Principal photography in Hollywood began October 1, following Barker’s return Stateside, and ran through early December, with locations including the RKO 40 Acres lot, Iverson’s Movie Ranch, and the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #214
“Tarzan’s Peril” (1951) eschewed the fantastic scenarios and lost races of previous Tarzan films, offering the familiar jungle trope of civilized men fomenting discord among the native tribes.

The film opens with District Commissioners Peters and Connors (Alan Napier and Edward Ashley) observing native ceremonies (stock footage filmed on location in Africa) while providing the exposition: newly coronated Queen Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge) has rebuffed the marriage proposal of Chief Bulam (Frederick Douglas O’Neal), the leader of a warlike rival tribe. Tensions are boiling and war is looming.

Meanwhile Radijeck (George Macready), the agent for a hostile foreign power, and his confederates Trask (Douglas Fowley) and Andrews (Glenn Anders) have escaped prison, and resume their criminal ways by running guns to Bulam’s Yorango tribe, who attack Melmendi’s peaceful Ashubas and takes her prisoner.

Radijeck’s ruthlessness proves his downfall, as his murderous excesses bring down the wrath of Tarzan (Lex Barker), who restores order to the jungle.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #215
Virginia Huston was cast as Lex Barker’s third Jane in as many films in “Tarzan’s Peril” (1951), while convalescing from a broken back received in a near-fatal automobile accident. Huston recovered enough to swim and swing from vines in the film after a rigorous physical therapy routine.

Born in Wisner, Nebraska on April 24, 1925, Huston began acting at age 12 when she appeared on the radio in the drama “Calling All Cars.” She attended the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, from kindergarten through high school, studying music and drama while competing on the school’s tennis and swim teams.

She began appearing onstage at the Omaha Community Theater, whose alumni included Dorothy McGuire and Henry Fonda. In 1945, her family moved to Hollywood; according to her studio biography, she was discovered by an RKO Radio talent scout while dining with her parents at the trendy restaurant Romanoff’s.

Huston debuted as the second female lead opposite George Raft in “Nocturne” (1946). After playing Robert Mitchum’s girlfriend in “Out of the Past” (1947), she left RKO to freelance, appearing in “Flamingo Road” (1949) for Warner Brothers and opposite Randolph Scott in “The Doolins of Oklahoma” (1949). She won the lead in her fifth film, “Women from Headquarters” (1950), a fact-based story of a policewoman’s campaign to clean up a crime ring.

Huston retired from film in 1954 after she and her husband, real estate developer Manus Paul Clinton II, welcomed Pamela, their new daughter. She died of cancer on February 28, 1981, in Santa Monica, California, survived by Manus and Pamela.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #216

Though producer Sol Lesser declined to sign Marilyn Monroe as Jane, he did cast Dorothy Dandridge, known as “the black Marilyn Monroe” as Melmendi, Queen of the Ashuba tribe, in “Tarzan’s Peril” (1951), starring Lex Barker as the ape man.

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 9, 1922, to minister and cabinet-maker Cyril Dandridge and wife Ruby, who left Cyril before Dorothy’s birth, eventually moving to Hollywood with daughters Dorothy and Vivian. Billing the girls as the Wonder Sisters, Ruby garnered singing roles and bit parts in films for her daughters. They also teamed with schoolmate Etta Jones (not the well-known jazz singer) to become the Dandridge Sisters; among their credits was the Marx Brothers’ “A Day at the Races” (1937).

Seeking stardom, Dorothy went solo to become a popular, talented nightclub singer. In 1942, she married dancer Harold Nicholas of the famed Nicholas Brothers, but their only child, daughter Harolyn, was born severely brain-damaged, a crushing blow to Dorothy. Following a divorce, Dandridge returned to the screen as Queen Melmendi in "Tarzan’s Peril," her first major role. As the kidnapped African queen, Dandridge overshadowed Virginia Huston, who played Tarzan’s mate Jane in the film.

The role (and her sexy wardrobe) caught Hollywood’s attention, and in 1953 she won her first lead in MGM’s “Bright Road,” based on the story “See How They Run,” about an elementary school teacher determined to transform a problem student. The picture marked Harry Belafonte’s film debut; he and Dandridge re-teamed the following year in “Carmen Jones,” a remake of the Bizet opera with an all-black cast.

The highlight of Dandridge’s career came when she the first black actress nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, for “Carmen Jones”; the subsequent acclaim led to a “Life” magazine cover, also a first for a black actress.

Dandridge’s life took another bad turn following her 1959 marriage to restauranteur Jack Dennison; despite the fact that she earned one quarter of a million dollars annually at her peak, bad investments and swindlers bankrupted her, and she was no longer able to support Harolyn, who was institutionalized.

Dandridge divorced Dennison and was striving for a film comeback when she died on September 8, 1965. Her untimely death has been attributed to a prescription drug overdose or an embolism from a broken bone in her foot. She is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #217
In “Tarzan’s Peril” (1951), the peaceful Ashuba tribe, lead by Queen Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge) is defeated by the warlike Yorango tribe, led by King Bulam (Frederick O’Neal), who is determined to force Melmendi’s hand in marriage. O’Neal later returned to the Tarzan series opposite Ron Ely in the NBC-TV “Tarzan” episode, “Voice of the Elephant.”

One of the most honored and feted black entertainers of the twentieth century, Frederick O’Neal rose from humble roots in smalltown Mississippi to a post-performance life serving on numerous boards for corporate and charitable groups. The activist actor was born Frederick Douglas O’Neal (named after the late statesman) in Brooksville, Mississippi on August 27, 1905. The son of a well-to-do teacher and merchant, O’Neal developed a love for the stage while appearing in community theatre productions as a child.

After his father died in 1919, the family sold their substantial holdings and moved to St. Louis, where O’Neal made his professional debut onstage in 1927. He also organized the Aldridge Players, a black theater troupe named for Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello professionally.

In 1936 O’Neal moved to New York, where he worked days as a lab assistant while studying at night and performing with the Civic Repertory Theater. O’Neal founded Harlem’s American Negro Theater (ANT) in 1940 and appeared in many of its productions. After receiving a $22,500 grant from the Rockefellers, the group was instrumental in launching the careers of Earle Hyman, Harry Belafonte, Alice Childress, and Sidney Portier.

Following O’Neal’s World War II military service, the group produced “Anna Lucasta” in 1944, moving to Broadway after three months. In his Broadway debut as the comic bully Frank, O’Neal won the Clarence Derwent Award for most promising newcomer of the season; the New York Drama Critics’ Award for the best supporting performer of 1944; and the Donaldson Award for the 1944-45 season.

O’Neal recreated the role for 1945 Chicago and 1947 London runs of the play, as well as the film version. While in England, he helped found the British Negro Theatre in 1948. He served as the first black president of Actors’ Equity Association (the stage players’ guild) from 1964 until his retirement in 1973, when he was named President Emeritus. He continued to win awards and accolades throughout his life including the NAACP’s 1979 Man of the Year.

O’Neal died in in his Manhattan home on August 25, 1992, after a long illness, survived by his wife of 50 years, Charlotte Talbot Hainey.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #218
“Tarzan’s Peril” (1951), starring Lex Barker and Virginia Huston as Tarzan and Jane, was directed by Byron Haskin from a script by Samuel Newman and Francis Swann, with cinematography by Karl Struss (who also shot the final two Barker Tarzan films, “Tarzan’s Savage Fury” and “Tarzan and the She-Devil”). Although Haskin later recalled that this was his best-paid directorial job, earning “$50 or $60,000,” “It was not a fond memory, though, or experience. More a test of endurance.”

Born April 22, 1899 in Portland Oregon, Byron Conrad Haskin moved to San Francisco with his parents as a child. He attended the University of California, Berkeley for three years before joining the Naval Aviation cadets for World War I. He cartooned for the “San Francisco Daily News” before learning camera skills with International Newsreel and Pathe News. He came to Hollywood in 1917 and soon began working as an apprentice cameraman.

In 1937 Haskin was named head of Warner Brothers’ effects department, which would earn five Oscar nominations and two wins during his tenure. Leaving the post in 1945, he turned to directing, helming low budget pictures until producer George Pal hired him to direct the 1953 cult favorite “War of the Worlds,” which marked his association with Atomic Age science fiction films (for which he is best-remembered), including “Conquest of Space,” “From the Earth to the Moon,” and “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” On television, he served as an uncredited technical advisor on the Star Trek pilot and directed the award-winning Outer Limits episode, “Demon With a Glass Hand,” written by Harlan Ellison.

Haskin retired in 1968, moving to Montecito, California in 1975. He died of lung cancer on April 16, 1984, survived by his second wife, actress and novelist Terry Gates Haskin and his daughter Shirley Haskin Grant.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #219
“Tarzan” Lex Barker’s fourth Jane, in RKO's “Tarzan’s Savage Fury” (1952), was played by auburn-haired, green-eyed former model and cover girl Dorothy Hart.

Hart was born April 3, 1922, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where she studied English and drama and won several beauty titles, including Homecoming Queen, Fiftieth Anniversary Queen, and Queen of the Air for the 1941 National Air Races. During college, she began appearing on local radio shows and at the Cleveland Play House.

Hart received a contract offer from Columbia Pictures after winning their National Cinderella Cover Girl contest in 1944, but declined it, moving to New York City to study drama and appear on radio, while working as a cover model for “Cosmopolitan,” “McCall’s,” “Esquire” and other top magazines.

She accepted a second offer from Columbia in 1946 and relocated to Hollywood, where she appeared opposite Randolph Scott in “The Gunfighters” (1947). Moving to Universal, she won the female lead in “Undertow” (1949). “Photoplay” magazine named her one of Hollywood’s 10 Most Promising Actresses in 1952, but left Hollywood to pursue her dream of contributing world peace, becoming a U.N. observer and speaker.

In 1966, Hart retired and moved to North Carolina. She died on July 11, 2004, in Arden, North Carolina, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Married twice, she was survived by her son.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #220
RKO’s “Tarzan’s Savage Fury” (1952), the fourth Lex Barker Tarzan picture, offered a familiar plotline, with a pair of scoundrels from civilization scheming to plunder jungle jewels. One interesting note in this film is that Tarzan’s Greystoke lineage is acknowledged, a rarity for the ape man films of this era.

Foreign spies Rokov (Charles Korvin) and Edwards (Patric Knowles) scheme to trick Tarzan (Lex Barker) into leading them to diamonds held by the remote Wazuri tribe. With Edwards impersonating Tarzan’s cousin Oliver Greystoke, they convince the ape man that the jewels are needed for England’s Cold War effort.

Tarzan, Jane (Dorothy Hart) and their young ward Joey (Tommy Carlton) guide the pair across mountains and desert to the Wazuri. When the men steal the jewels and flee, Jane is sentenced to death by the tribe, and Tarzan must capture the rogues to win his mate’s freedom.

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