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Volume 7191

A Top 10 Countdown
by Alan Hanson

The “Babes” of Tarzan
A Top 10 Countdown
by Alan Hanson
Edgar Rice Burroughs didn’t handle women very well, as an author anyway. Oh, a few of his female characters showed flashes of substance, but for the most part, Burroughs’ heroines suffered from “heaving bosom syndrome.” When the going got tough, they fainted. But then, Burroughs knew his audience. He was writing for the typical working Joe, who paid a dime for his popular magazine and wanted his money’s worth in action and romance. He wanted to escape into a world where he could pursue, protect, and possess the most beautiful woman in the world, if only for a few hours. Burroughs had the formula for satisfying that need, and he used it over and over again.

Burroughs may have been deficient in fully developing his female characters but he certainly had the ability to conjure up beautiful women. I don’t know what they called them when Burroughs was writing, but when I was a young man, we called them “Foxes.” In the ’90s they were labeled “Babes.” We’re talking superficiality here; lust at first sight. Forget character or personality; that’s a turnoff. Many of Burroughs’ women could be characterized as “Babes.” They lacked substance but were beautiful beyond compare, had perfect bodies, and oozed sex appeal that drove men to great lengths to possess them.

To illustrate, ponder the following countdown of the top 10 “Babes” found in the Tarzan stories. Of course, this list is subjective, based on my own libido (which I consider typical for a man my age). For starters, I looked for a beautiful face and a perfect body — those were the basics. Then other sensual qualities, like voice, body language and movement, were factored in. Add passion and seductive talent, and you’ve got a “Babe Quotient” that allowed Burroughs’ heroines to be rated against each other. Here’s my top 10.

#10 — Meriem

The youthful innocence Meriem exuded in The Son of Tarzan qualifies her as a “Babe.” During her early years in the jungle with Korak, Burroughs was careful to describe her as a growing, curious child, but when she entered what would have been her baby-sitting years, Burroughs gave bloom to her appearance. “She was sixteen now,” the author noted, “though she easily might have passed for nineteen, and she was very good to look upon, with her black hair and her tanned skin and all the freshness and purity of health and innocence.”

On another occasion, Burroughs placed Meriem in a scene that likened her to a blossom ready to be picked. As she walked through “My Dear’s” garden, she was, “that other infinitely more beautiful flower who wandered often among the blooms beneath the great moon — the black-haired, sun-tanned Meriem.” Her figure certainly caught the lascivious eye of the Hon. Morrison Baynes, who looked askance at the girl’s profile and found it “most alluring.

However, Meriem is at the bottom of the “Babe Countdown” because of a certain quality that turned even the lustful intensions of Morrison Baynes to honorable ones. Burroughs described it as, “that quality of innate goodness and cleanness which is a good girl’s stoutest bulwark and protection — an impregnable barrier that only degeneracy has the effrontery to assail.” Now, even “Babes” can have some degree of innate goodness, but if you want to stay a “Babe,” you can’t let it show. Meriem did.

#9 — Naomi Madison

Okay, so Naomi was a bimbo, but when she wasn’t whimpering and fainting in Tarzan and the Lion Man, she knew how to act the “Babe.” Let’s face it — she was physically perfect. Burroughs described her as glamorous with a beautiful face, a perfect body, and even “beautiful ears.” When the Arabs kidnapped her, they expected to get big bucks for her in the harem markets to the north.

Of course, Naomi’s greatest claim to “Babe” status came from her ability to use her body to manipulate men. When she wanted something from director Tom Orman, “She moved closer and leaned her lithe body against him.” In the end, though, there is a quality about Naomi Madison that keeps her far down on this “Babe List” — obvious shallowness. Even Stanley Obroski (pretty shallow himself) noticed it. “He decided that it was the glamour of the Madison’s name and fame that had attracted him — stripped of these there was little about her to inspire anything greater than an infatuation.” Shallowness could be sold as sexuality in Hollywood, but the dangers of Africa revealed and reduced Naomi’s “Babeness.”

#8 — Gonfala

There is no doubt that Gonfala was beautiful. In fact, the American Stanley Wood described her on a couple of occasions as the most beautiful woman in the world. She was young, just 20 years old, and queen of her people when Burroughs provided the following exotic description of her in Tarzan the Magnificent.

“She wore breastplates of virgin gold and a stomacher covered with gold sequins. Her skirt was of the skins of unborn leopards, soft and clinging. Dainty sandals shod her, and upon her upper arms and her wrists and her ankles were many bands of copper and gold. A light crown rested upon her blond head.”

Exotic does not make erotic, however, and more than her appearance it is her entrancing dual personality that landed her a spot on the “Babe Countdown.” Wood was attracted by what he referred to as Gonfala’s “radical contradictions,” which found her one moment a soft woman full of compassion and the next a she-devil. Tarzan got a chance to observe her mood swings. When he first saw her in the throne room, she was every bit the queen with piercing eyes and a sullen expression. Later in her quarters, she had changed. Tarzan noted that, “She was no longer the queen, but a girl, soft and sweet, appealing.” Within moments and without reason, “Her expression changed; her body stiffened. Her eyes became hard and cold — cruel.

Great beauty paired with an unpredictable personality swaying between dominance and subservience made Gonfala a “Babe” to be sure, but one that only a very strong man could handle. I wonder if Stanley Wood was up to the job when he took her back to the states with him.

#7 — Jezebel

For those who find innocence a turn-on, Jezebel’s “Babe Quotient” is sky high. In Tarzan Triumphant, Jezebel, at an age when a young woman finds herself suddenly attracted to men, still didn’t have the slightest idea what sex was. That’s understandable, considering her upbringing in the stringent religious cult of the Midians. 

Of course, like all the “Babes of Tarzan,” Jezebel was strikingly beautiful. When Danny “Gunner” Patrick first gazed upon the girl, he noticed, “the graceful contours of the lithe young body, the wealth of golden hair, and the exquisite face.” That communist cad, Leon Stabutch, said that he had never seen so beautiful a woman in his life. Lady Barbara Collis (who was much too well-bred and self-reliant to make this survey) knew that Jezebel’s combination of great beauty and total naiveté could bring her much grief. Wise to the ways of men, Lady Barbara told Jezebel, “You are too beautiful ever to have perfect safety or perfect happiness.”

A “Babe” she surely was, but a fragile one. I’ll bet Danny never let her pump gas for male customers at the filling station that he and Jez opened in California after they left Africa.

#6 — Jane Clayton

At first consideration, it seems sacrilegious to call Jane Clayton, loyal wife and mother, a “Babe.” Burroughs described her as a “gently bred woman” and in The Son of Tarzan, “sweetness and goodness were stamped indelibly upon her countenance.” That’s certainly a turn-off, as is the self-reliance she demonstrated in Tarzan’s Quest.

Still, despite all that, there is no doubt that Jane was physically beautiful. When he first saw her through the cabin window, Tarzan noted her “sweet face and graceful figure,” her “delicate snowy skin,” her “lithe, young form,” and the “half-smiling, half-quizzical expression that made her face wholly entrancing.” And this delicate beauty was enduring, as Burroughs pointed out in Tarzan the Terrible. “Both time and hardship had failed to leave their impress upon her physical beauty — the contours of her perfect form, the glory of her radiant loveliness had defied them.”

Yet Jane came to understand that her great beauty was also a curse, for, like no other woman in the Tarzan series, she inspired uncontrollable lust in men of all races. Among the men who physically attacked Jane through the years were Nickolas Rokoff, Mohammed Beyd, Lu-don, Mo-sar, Lt. Obergatz, Luvini, and Kavandavanda. Those who lusted for Jane, however, risked much to possess her. Prior to Lu-don’s attempted rape, Jane told him, “One of us shall die before ever your purpose is accomplished.” That was true for all seven of her attackers. None ever succeeded and all eventually paid with their lives for their impudence.

#5 — Olga de Coude

During his travels, Tarzan resisted the charms of many beautiful women. Marriage fidelity is one thing, but in not even allowing himself to be tempted, Tarzan came across as a cold fish most of the time. It took a real “Babe” to get a rise out of him, and the Countess de Coude was one of the few who did.

Granted, at the time of their encounter, Jane was out of the picture. Still, other than Jane’s, Olga’s lips were the only ones that Tarzan ever smothered with kisses. And it wasn’t just one moment of passion; Olga’s charms slowly sucked him in. Aboard the steamer returning him to France in The Return of Tarzan, the ape-man first noticed the countess’ “slender, well-modeled figure” and her “winsome smile that displayed a row of perfect teeth.” After he met her, “she smiled so sweetly upon him that Tarzan felt that a man might easily attempt much greater things than he had accomplished, solely for the pleasure of receiving the benediction of that smile.” Later, when Tarzan visited her home in Paris, it was obvious that she had the naïve ape-man hooked. Burroughs wrote, “The memory of her half-veiled eyes and perfect lips as she had stood smiling up into his face as he bade her good-by remained with him for the balance of the day. Olga de Coude was a very beautiful woman.”

This all reached a climax sometime later in Olga’s boudoir when Tarzan “took the panting figure into his mighty arms, and covered the hot lips with kisses.” Okay, so Rokoff maneuvered them into that tableau. Still, none of it could have happened had Olga de Coude not been such a “Babe.”

#4 — Patricia Canby (aka Bertha Kircher)

Like all true “Babes,” Patricia Canby was young and well shaped. She was nineteen, and Tarzan conceded that she was very beautiful. Burroughs also referred to the “rounded beauty of the girlish form” and to the fact that she was “very young and very feminine.” Unlike Olga de Coude, she could not elicit a romantic response from Tarzan, although she did try and was wearing him down by the end of Tarzan the Untamed. (Perhaps she would have been successful had Tarzan not been so filled with hate for Germans, which he supposed her to be.)

In the end, though, what earns Patricia such a high spot on the “Babe” list is that in the course of one novel her breasts were twice exposed to the reader, something quite rare and provocative for Burroughs. In Patricia’s defense, both double exposures were forced upon her, but both nevertheless caused the reader to sit up and take notice.

The first exposure came after a lion cornered Patricia. “His growls increased to roars as he drew back, ripping the front of the girl’s waist (shirt) almost from her body with his long talons, exposing her white bosom.” Of course, a topless woman is like a tree falling in the forest, unless there is some man around to see it, and Tarzan was rewarded for saving the girl from the lion with a glimpse of Patricia’s charms. “He saw her naked breasts where Numa had torn her clothing from her,” Burroughs noted, and the ape-man’s hand immediately reached in their direction. (Unfortunately, for the reader’s prurient interest, he was not reaching for Patricia’s breasts but for the locket that dangled between them.)

Later in the story, after the Xujans captured her, Burroughs sent Patricia on stage topless again. In preparation for being brought before King Herog XVI, Patricia was fitted with a clinging, revealing garment. Gazing down in horror at her naked breasts, she gasped, “They are going to lead me into the presence of men in this half-nude condition!” The handmaiden’s answer was provocative. “By comparison with what you may be called upon to undergo, this is but a trifle.” Fortunately for Patricia (and unfortunately for some readers), she escaped the city before being forced to “undergo” further indignities.

#3 — Jessie Jerome (aka Kali Bwana)

I have to admit that I am biased when it comes to Jessie. Among all the women of western culture in the Tarzan stories, I rank her as the finest “Babe,” and I doubt if many other readers would agree. I just admire the way, through no overt action on her part, she did a number on the head of Old Timer in Tarzan and the Leopard Men. I mean, this is the way a real “Babe” operates, bringing a man’s passion to the boiling point with her looks alone.

Check out what happened to Old Timer.

Step #1: He checks her out.
Having seen her face he knew she was beautiful. How beautiful she must be when properly garbed and groomed he dared not even imagine. He had noticed her blue-grey eyes. Now he was appraising her hair, confined in a loose knot at the nape of her neck; it had that peculiar quality of blondness that is described today, as platinum.

Step #2: He begins to fantasize about her.
In the smoke of his pipe he saw her, unquestionably beautiful beyond comparison. He saw the long lashes shading the depths of her blue-grey eyes; her lips, curved deliciously; the alluring sheen of her wavy blond hair; the perfection of her girlish figure.

Step #3: He becomes infatuated.
His mind was filled with visions of the girl. He saw her as he had first seen her in her camp: the radiance of her fair face, the haunting allure of her blond hair, disheveled and falling wavy ringlets across her forehead and about her ears. He saw her as he had seen her in the temple of the Leopard God, garbed in savage, barbaric splendor, more beautiful than ever. It thrilled him to live again the moments during which he had talked to her, touched her.

Step #4: He’s a basket case.
“He could see her only dimly in the darkness; but in his mind’s eye he visualized the contours of that perfect form, the firm bosom, the slender waist, the rounded thigh; and passion swept through him like a racing torrent of molten gold.”

Only a true “Babe” can turn a man to jelly like that.

#2 — Nemone

The very complex character of Nemone defies labels, and certainly to refer to her primarily as a “Babe” is the shallowest of interpretations. That said, let’s ignore for now the more substantive side of her nature and survey her considerable “Babe” qualities.

Sensually, there was no female character that Burroughs ever described in so much detail. Nemone was not just a beautiful face and a perfect body, though certainly she did have those “Babe” basics. Tarzan noted that Nemone was “marvelously beautiful by the standards of any land or any time.” Although she was clothed in barbaric splendor when he first saw her, Tarzan observed that her figure “ required no embellishments other than those with which nature had endowed it.” A band of gold mesh supported her breasts. (Burroughs didn’t specify whether or not there was a garment under the mesh, but I know how I have always chosen to visualize that.)

Physically, though, Tarzan was entranced most by her eyes. “What strange eyes were hers — so beautiful,” the ape-man mused, “with fires burning far beneath the surface, so mysterious.”

Neither her eyes nor any other part of her appearance could have been captured on canvas, for, in addition to her beauty, her movement and speech were essential parts of her sensual package. Tarzan described her movement as, “a combination of the seductive languor of the sensualist and the sinuous grace and savage alertness of the tigress.” Tarzan was thrilled by the “vibrant qualities of her rich, deep voice,” which in moments of romantic passion turned smooth, caressing, eager and a little husky.

Nemone went aggressively about seducing Tarzan, and all but had the job done twice but for frustrating interruptions. “He could feel the warmth of her body close to his,” Burroughs noted, “the aura of some exotic scent was in his nostrils; her fingers closed upon his arm with a fierceness that hurt.” And later, “She pressed against him caressing his shoulder with a smooth, warm palm. ‘Love me, Tarzan,’ she whispered.” The usually self-possessed ape-man came away staggering, his vision clouded by a hypnotic mist, and declaring, “She was even more gorgeous than he had believed it possible for any woman to be.”

Tragic figure that she was, there is no denying that when she laid her crown aside for an evening, Nemone was the most erotic “Babe” that ever flowed from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

#1 — La

No one compared to the Queen of Opar when it came to pure physical beauty, and Burroughs repeatedly emphasized that in the four novels in which La appeared. He noted La’s “gorgeous beauty was her first and most striking characteristic,” and that “she was beautiful, not by the standards of prehistoric Atlantis alone, but by those of modern times was La physically a creature of perfection.” A mass of wavy hair half surrounded her oval face, and her figure featured “firm breasts” and “shapely legs.”

In addition to repeatedly dwelling on her loveliness in narration, Burroughs also had other characters react with amazement to La’s beauty. Tarzan was struck by her “deathless beauty that neither time, nor care, nor danger seemed capable of dimming.” Zora Drinov thought that La was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, and Wayne Colt took note of the “staggering beauty” of La’s face and figure. And of all the women who had been sold into Arab harems in the north, Sheik Abu Batn predicted, “The new one (La) will bring a price such as has never been paid before.”

Such beauty alone qualifies La for “Babe” status, but the passion she exuded helped to elevate her far above the other passive beauties in the Tarzan stories. The ape-man’s entry into her world “liberated all the pent passions of a thousand generations, transforming La into a pulsing throbbing volcano of desire.” In Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, La unleashed that passion on the ape-man in what is the most sensual scene in all of Burroughs’ works. “She ran her hands in mute caress over his naked flesh. She covered his forehead, his eyes, his lips with hot kisses; she covered him with her body as though to protect him from the hideous fate she had ordained for him, and in trembling, piteous tones she begged him for his love. For hours the frenzy of her passion possessed the burning handmaiden of the Flaming God.

Despite its pulsing power, there was also a softness to La’s passion that was in stark contrast to the rough, demanding passion of Nemone. Tarzan once told Nemone, “Were you a little more human, you would be irresistible.” La possessed that human touch, and that combined with her great beauty and fiery passion, makes her the “Ultimate Babe” in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan epic.

Babe Basics

There you have my countdown of the top 10 “Babes” in the Tarzan stories. Another reader’s list would undoubtedly be different. It all depends on how the mind’s eye fleshes out the descriptions Burroughs provided of his female characters. Some others who could quality as “Babes” but did not make the top 10 are Victoria Custer, Guinalda, Favonia, Rhonda Terry, Balza, Atka, Helen Gregory, and Corrie van der Meer.

A final glance at the list above reveals some common characteristics that Burroughs gave his “Babes.” For starters, they are all white. (As mentioned earlier, Burroughs knew the audience for which he was writing.) As for nationality, four them (La, Nemone, Jezebel, Gonfala) were from lost civilizations in Africa. Burroughs could make these women much more appealing than he could American or European women, since with civilized women he was restricted by the subdued moral values of his time. Also on the list are three Americans (Jane, Jessie, Naomi), one English (Patricia), one French (Meriem), and one Russian (Olga).

They all had good figures; “perfect” and “shapely” being Burroughs’ two favorite adjectives in describing their bodies. Hair color was restricted to two contrasting shades — black (Olga, Meriem, Nemone) and blonde (Jane, Jezebel, Jessie, Gonfala). Eye color, when specified, was always dark. La was said first to have grey eyes, and then later black ones. (Maybe she had one of each!) Jessie Jerome’s eyes were blue-grey and Nemone’s were just described as “dark.” As for the more subjective aspects of sex appeal, such as voice, carriage, clothing, and facial features, there is much difference between the 10, giving each girl a degree of individuality, in spite of what they all have in common.

In closing this admittedly shallow assessment of female characters in the Tarzan stories, it nevertheless has to be conceded that feminine beauty was not just some fluff that Burroughs added to his stories. It may seem a superficial quality in real life, but above all else, physical beauty was the critical quality of a Burroughs heroine. In his stories an unattractive woman did not inspire great feats among men. The reward for pursuing and protecting a Burroughs heroine was always the same — a “Babe” to hang on your arm.

— the end —


From Our ERB Online Bibliography
A Collector's Hypertexted and Annotated Storehouse of Encyclopedic Resources
The Son of Tarzan
Tarzan and the Lion Man
Tarzan the Magnificent
Tarzan Triumphant
Tarzan’s Quest
The Return of Tarzan
Tarzan the Terrible
Tarzan the Untamed
Tarzan and the Leopard Men
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

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