The Tarzan Centennial

Tarzan Centennial: 100 Years of TarzanOK, (vine) swingers: How are you planning to celebrate the Tarzan Centennial?

A phenomenon ever since Tarzan of the Apes was first published in All-Story Magazine, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Lord of the Jungle marks a century of dominion over popular culture this year. Fans of Lord Greystoke will no doubt be enjoying the occasion with the conspicuous consumption of all things Tarzan. I have my own plans—which will not include making public the photo of me at age seven (or eight? The memory fails, thank God) striking a classic apeman pose while wearing the spotted loincloth my mother made for me.

That said, I’m eager to share the things I have lined up for my lengthy Tarzanathon, and see what my fellow followers of the legendary jungle hero can take from (or add to) my commemorative  undertakings.

Now, yato-eta, van-do-ze yo! (“Read, good friend,” in Burroughs’ Mangani language of the great apes):

Tarzan of the Text

Tarzan Centennial: 100 Years of Tarzan books and moviesThe November 20th release of the book Tarzan the Centennial Celebration: The Stories, The Movies, The Art is surely going to be a must for fans. Endorsed by the Burroughs estate, it will hopefully turn out to be as worthy an addition to the Tarzan library as Gabe Essoe’s previously indispensable Tarzan of the Movies (one of my Favorite Movie Books). The Essoe tome has been rightly criticized today for providing some faulty information (including the assertion that actor Kamuela C. Searle perished from the frightening injuries he suffered playing Korak in the 1920 serial Son of Tarzan), so it will be very interesting to see how well this major publication covers the narrative of Tarzan in cinema.

Before perusing that volume, however, I’ve plucked one of my many vintage Tarzan hardbacks off the shelf to steam through. It’ll be 1919’s Tarzan the Untamed, the much-praised ripsnorter that finds Tarzan dipping his toes into the bloodshed of World War I, vowing to avenge Jane’s murder (!) by launching his own savage assault against the Germans.

Speaking of Jane, I’ll also take the measure of Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell. Indulging in today’s in-vogue conceit of retelling a classic tale from the perspective of a different character (see: Wicked), this well-reviewed novel (also endorsed by the Burroughs estate) is actually, according to the pre-release publicity, the first version of the classic Tarzan tale to be penned by a woman.

No survey of Tarzan literature can be complete without breezing through at least one Tarzan comic book. I’ll be flipping through my giant-size The Return of Tarzan, which offers fans a massive canvas emblazoned with some terrific jungle action.

There are a lot of great Tarzan artists (Burne Hogarth was Burroughs’ favorite); I’ve always been partial to Joe Kubert’s work. Kubert brings a rough boldness to the apeman’s world that emphasizes grit and savagery. Kubert’s jungle tales are not pretty, but they are thrilling.

As a musical backdrop for my reading, at some point I will no doubt cue up John Scott’s marvelous score to Hugh Hudson’s ambitious (and underrated except to us Tarzan elitists) epic film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Scott’s music is a gorgeous mix of lyrical beauty and throbbing grandeur.

Have a listen to the film’s Overture (just hit the arrow at center!):

YouTube Preview Image

That brings us none too soon to…

Tarzan of the Movies

Tarzan Centennial: Korak James Pierce, Johnny Weismuller, Gordon ScottFirst, I’m planning to catch up on some of the Tarzan silents that I’ve yet to enjoy. In addition to the aforementioned Son of Tarzan serial, I’m going to take a swing through Tarzan and the Golden Lion, which not only has the distinction of starring a Tarzan “in the family” (James Pierce was married to Burroughs’ daughter…Jane), it also features none other than Boris Karloff, darkening his skin to play the villainous role of native Owaza.

A Johnny Weissmuller outing, of course, is mandatory, despite the fact that his interpretation bore precious little resemblance to Tarzan of the Books. I’ve seen his first few classics plenty of times, however; for my Centennial celebrations, I’ll instead elect to re-watch an entry from a bit later in his run, when you could really appreciate what a trouper Weissmuller was–soldiering on despite his slowly emerging paunch.

I recognize leaving Maureen O’Sullivan out of the equation here might be regarded as sacrilege, but I’m going to go with Tarzan and the Amazons, in which Brenda Joyce made her debut as Mrs. Greystoke. The cast is buoyed by the presence of none other than Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva of The Wolf Man fame) as the Amazon Queen. Hm. Yes, even now I second-guess myself leaving out the spectacular Ms. O’Sullivan, who is, after all, the definitive screen Jane. So let’s make sure to pay tribute to her here by including one yodel-worthy photograph of the scantily-clad beauty!

Maureen OSullivan played Jane in Tarzan

I’ll revisit my own favorite jungle king of the screen, Gordon Scott, in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (which has the happy circumstance of co-starring Sean Connery in an early bad guy role; I can simultaneously celebrate Tarzan’s centenary and the 50th anniversary of James Bond at the same time!).

Tarzan of the Tube

Tarzan: Ron Ely, Manuel Padilla Jr, Jane ClaytonI don’t (yet) own any of the fun Filmation cartoons chronicling the Lord of the Jungle’s colorful exploits, which used the process of rotoscoping (tracing over live action) some sequences from the Weissmuller films to enhance the animation action; however, I will most assuredly be plunging into the waters of the Ron Ely Tarzan program, the fabulous 1966-68 series which Warner Archives has at last made available. Not only does Ely’s characterization hew closely to that of the Burroughs character (in terms of his verbal eloquence)—the authentic outdoors locations add realism to the stories, the music is fabulous (those theme songs are infinitely hum-worthy), and Jai is awesome!

OK, that last part wasn’t serious. Jai stretched even a young viewer’s tolerance for cutesy comic relief, but producers wanted to give Tarzan some kind of human companion as it was decided to keep him a bachelor—in order to have a succession of beautiful female supporting characters in a better position to fawn over Ely’s impressive, lean physique. (One can’t blame young Manuel Padilla Jr. There was nothing wrong with his performances. Just the idea of a wisecracking kid, yeesh. He was carried over to the television show from his appearance as a similar character in the Mike Henry Tarzan picture Tarzan and the Great River.) I have lingering memories of the excellent two-part episode that guest-starred Julie Harris—“The Perils of Charity Jones”—so I’ll start with that one.

All this Tarzan talk has given me a Tantor-sized appetite; there are no bananas nearby, so I guess I’ll mix myself up a Tarzan cocktail. Yes, there is such a thing! Edgar Rice Burroughs concocted it himself. You can find an educated guess of the ingredients here. I’ll be pouring mine into my vintage Tarzan Slurpee cup.

Share your plans for the Tarzan Centennial below. Yodo!

 

  • Ken R

    Thank you George for a fun article with some new news on an old subject.
    I guess your right, nothing has treated this subject with such style (to date) as the sumptuous, Hudson production
    “Greystoke the Legend of……Also agree this is possibly John Scott’s best score.

    I thought Bruce Bennett came close to the persona of the Jungle Lord, but for those that grew up in the 60′s
    it was hard to beat the last two Scott features. These sure swung Tarzan back into the adult realm, top performers, cut above the average scripts with “Greatest” benefiting from the strong Directorial talents of
    the underrated John Guillermin (see 1965′s “Rapture” for more underrated class)
    Mr Scott may have been a tad too much of a matinee idol, but he was serious enough for the mature approach, that graced the title character in these upgraded productions.

    For me, nothing much else that followed demonstrated that certain ‘style’ but it was all getting a little tied. We and the World had moved in a different direction, not always for the better mind you……

  • Robin Maxwell

    Hi George, So glad you’ll be dipping into my novel, JANE: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan. Wondering if you saw the latest news from Variety about director David Yates’s first choice to play our beloved ape man in the new Warner Brothers movie (starting principal photography next summer. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118062211

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Hi Robin! I’ve just barely started “Jane” but already it looks terrific. I recently saw the video you made of your remarks at the Tarzan convention (which readers can have a look at if they go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hf4YwN01z64

      Not really sure what to make of the Yates Tarzan project. I have to confess I’ve missed pretty much the entirety of the “True Blood” phenomenon (for kind of silly reasons I should probably leave unexplained here), so I can’t much evaluate the Skarsgard casting. And I’m not really crazy about the idea of the “buddy” setup with Jackson (bringing back that weird 1980s trend of black characters invariably named “Washington” — ?! — and, I suppose, the perhaps rather queasy PC gesture of making sure the story has a major black character driving the action that’s not a “native”…) — but it’s way too early to judge, of course. I’m not usually one for doing tons of second-guessing before seeing the final product.
      I’d love to see another excellent Tarzan picture, but even in the first few pages, I’ve already warmed a lot more to your concept than the synopsis of this movie-to-be. (And I suspect having the Burroughs stamp-of-approval won’t hurt the chances of your book making its way to the screen, either!)

      • Robin Maxwell

        I know what you mean about the WB movie synopsis. Like the last WB feature starring Casper Van Diem, they’ve chosen to avoid the “origins” storyline and bring Tarzan back to the jungle from civilization to save it (they’ve also set it in an earlier period when Queen Victoria was still alive). You’ll see that JANE is very much an origins story, even going a bit farther back and deeper in than ERB’s TARZAN OF THE APES.

        It’s been fantastic having the estate behind this book from the get-go. Any part of the Tarzan canon that I wanted to change, I needed get approval from the ERB, Inc. Board of Directors. But they were wonderful. The only thing they did not allow was Tarzan drinking palm wine (in the “Tarzan Universe” the ape man does not use drugs or drink alcohol!).

        Thanks for mentioning JANE. Hope you enjoy the read. I’ll be interested to see what you think when you’re done.

        • Loyd Auerbach

          Hi Robin,

          I’ve also just started JANE and also enjoying it!

          By way of reminder, there are a number of TARZAN movies where the plot brings him “back to the jungle from civilization” (though admittedly not to “save it”), including the serial with Herman Brix, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN. But I’ve always missed having Jane some part of the films.

    • Raymond

      The last actor who played TARZAN was Casper Van Diem in 1998′s “Tarzan and the Lost City of Gold” that was released by Warner Brothers. This new version will be the first live-action “Tarzan” in 20 years…The last “Tarzan” movie that hit theatres was a Disney cartoon in 1999.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mindy-Newell/670113930 Mindy Newell

      Hello, Ms. Maxwell. Reading JANE right now, and loving it!

  • Blair Kramer

    I believe it was TARZAN AND HIS MATE, the second Weissmuller Tarzan film from 1932, that featured an early pre-code nude scene of Jane (or rather, an attractive athletic double of Maureen O’Sullivan). The scene wasn’t nearly as sexy as it was playful, which made it very endearing. Tarzan tears off Jane’s dress as he throws her into a river. He then immediately jumps into the water to join her. Together, they engage in an underwater ballet that is a very definite visual metaphor for love making! Basically, it effectively defines Tarzan and Jane’s obviously loving relationship. It’s just too bad it was missing from the film throughout most of its long history. Fortunately, the fully restored version of TARZAN AND HIS MATE is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

  • larryj

    Far far back in my kidhood I read one of the Tarzan novels from my town library, i think it was Tarzan and the Lion Man, which might make an interesting movie. It has Tarzan meeting a 1920s movie crew in the jungle shooting a Tarzan movie, with a preening silent movie idol (maybe a John Gilbert type) playing Tarzan. And there is a subplot with a mad scientist who has cloned a bunch of apes with marrow from tombs in England to be Henry VIII and his court. And there is a plot with a wild jungle girl who gets discovered by the movie crew and turned into a Pola Negri type 20s movie star vamp. An interesting ERB take on the Tarzan character he created.

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Fabulous suggestion to add to the reading list; I’m pretty sure I have that one at home (and have not read it), so thanks. That “meta” approach to the Tarzan mythos is also present in Robin Maxwell’s book (see her remarks below) as ERB is a character in her story — the “Lion Man” plot also brings to mind the second part of “Don Quixote,” in which the knight & squire discuss the publication of the first part.

  • larryj

    One of my uncles once had a box full of Big Little Books from the 30s (narrative on one page and a picture on the other) and one very interesting one was a Son of Tarzan book, with Son getting lost in the jungle, loosing all his clothes, and being naked through most of the book. Very daring stuff for a prepubescent kid of the mid 20th century to read and gawk at.

  • Loyd Auerbach

    Thanks for this very nice article (and all the links). I’ve been undergoing an ERB re-immersion since JOHN CARTER came out last year, and with a real head nod to the audio books of the out-of-copyright volumes at http://www.burroughsguy.com/ read by actor David Stifel — the more recent of which include TARZAN OF THE APES (complete) and THE RETURN OF TARZAN (which he’s in the middle of, and can be downloaded free (for now) at http://www.marsbooks.libsyn.com

  • Hope

    Gordon Scott, Was the best Tarzan ever!!!, the man had the body, looks and he sure could act. My favorite Tarzan of all time.
    hope

  • John Kerry

    It would be nice if the Warner Archives material was available in Canada but it isn.t. Can’t even order from Warners as they won’t ship to Canada (Claim some sort of copyright issue).

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Interesting, I’d not heard anything about that. Well — we ship to Canada all the time, so I’m pretty sure we’d be able to take care of all your Tarzan (or other Warner Archives) needs. Go here: http://www.moviesunlimited.com/musite/siteSearch.asp