OK, (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
The 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!):
That brings us none too soon to…
Tarzan of the Movies
First, 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!
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
I 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!