Tarzan has been swinging through Hollywood's trees ever since 1918. He's still going strong!
THE BAMBOO RAFT floated gently downstream, bearing Tarzan, his wife, Jane, and Boy to the fiesta of the great king. The current swept them past a tangle of jungle growth, past thick beds of red and white water lilies.
The chattering of a thousand birds spoke welcome to the Apeman.
He and his wife lay relaxed under the thatch canopy on the small craft. Boy, weary of doing nothing, suddenly started tickling Jane. Squirming, she called to Tarzan to help her. He swept Boy into the water with one stroke of his huge arms, calling after him.
“Boy not big enough yet to fight Tarzan !”
Then he sank on his back again, contented. His dripping son crawled on the raft once more. '
On another raft, connected with Tarzan’s by a four-foot plank, a man in a white shirt yelped, “Print it!” toward the dense growth lining the shore.
“Okay!” came back across the water.
“Sound all right?” the white-shirted one asked. “Okay for sound!” replied a second invisible voice.
The men on the rafts relaxed. Tarzan sat up, caught a disreputable purple bathrobe someone threw him, and became Johnny Weissmuller. Jane reached for a bag of knitting she had hidden out of sight of the camera and began working intently on an Argyle sock. Boy turned toward the camera crew.
“How’s Boston doin’?” he asked.
For the 23rd time a movie was being made about a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And for the 23rd time the wiseacres of Hollywood were paying no attention to it. Yet, to a small group of men the adventures of a gent who had been suckled by an ape were big business—the way to early retirement.
Some facts: Since the first motion picture,
“Tarzan of the Apes,” was produced in 1918, nine different men, all Olympic Games contestants have played the Apeman. Ten girls have played Jane, and seven companies have filmed the jungle tales.
At present a sage individual named Sol Lesser is behind the project, having leased the rights from Mr. Burroughs for a neat 25 years. Weissmuller’s contract has three more years to run, but he has been informed by Continued on page 32
Continued from page 23
Mr. Lesser that until they have to swing him into the water on a hammock he will be the Apeman.
At this writing the films have climbed out of the small budget class and are made for around $800,000. And one reason why Mr. Lesser and his crew laugh heartily at Hollywood’s lack of interest is that they gross between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000 each. They have been doing this well for quite some time.
Since there has only been one with a topical story (an anti-Nazi story called “Tarzan Triumphs”), they play indefinitely, and Lesser’s seven-year tenure on the rights of any single story has often reverted to Mr. Burroughs. And they play anywhere. You don’t have to know English to understand Tarzan when he swings through the trees after an enemy or on a mission of rescue.
So, with the possible exception of the Disney epics, the films top any Hollywood products shown to foreign audiences. One, for instance, recently ran for 18 weeks in Cairo. In some Asiatic countries the arrival of a new Tarzan film is the signal for a white tie and tails premiere, with the local populace fighting to get seats. And in Shanghai, Bombay, and Egypt, Tarzan has broken the record of all the movies released by RKO in its history. RKO, you remember, not only made the famous Astaire-Rogers films but also books the works of Mr. Disney.
It’s Big Business
This is big business, as Mr. Burroughs found out over 30 years ago. Since then, because he is an uncommonly canny man, he has made about $10 millions from Tarzan. Fifty-five books have flowed from his pen since then for a total of 35 million copies in 60 languages and dialects. The 23 movies, 365 radio shows, and a comic strip running in 212 papers in six countries have swelled the stream.
Permission to use the name of Tarzan on 100 million loaves of bread, 60 million ice-cream cups, millions of sweaters, knives, games, toys, schoolbags, notebooks, paintboxes, bows and arrows, gum, candy, masks, jungle costumes, and pencils have brought Burroughs to the point where he can very definitely shake hands with the income tax collector.
Two post offices have been named for the Apeman—Tarzana, Cal., a village founded by Mr. Burroughs, and Tarzan, Texas. The citizens of the latter place have no connection with Mr. Burroughs and were evidently just carried away with admiration for his tree-swinging pal.
Even Mr. Webster has bowed before the wave of glory. The New International Dictionary now carries, “Tarzan, the hero of a series of stories of adventure by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is a white man, of prodigious strength and chivalrous instincts, reared by African apes.”
This whole thing began in 1912, when a well-born adventurer with a wife and three children faced starvation and began to write. Previous to that time, Edgar Rice Burroughs, a native of Chicago, had attended private schools, enlisted in the 7th Cavalry and chased bandits on the Mexican border, spent some time as a cowboy in Idaho, married, and from that moment on couldn’t earn a cent.
He was progressively a railroad policeman, a peddler, a gold-dredge operator in Oregon, and the head of the stenographic department in Sears Roebuck in Chicago. He rapidly retreated
from this job and attempted to sell advertising. This turned his thoughts to writing. His main account was a product which professed to be a cure for alcoholism. As ad writer, he checked the advertisements of other similar compounds in the pulp magazines and even read some of the stories the books printed. Like approximately 1,405,069 readers before him, he decided he could write just as good stuff and started out to do so.
Sold First Story
Burroughs’ first story was a thing titled, The Princess of Mars. He picked Mars as a locale because he reasoned that since no one had ever been there it would be pretty hard for anyone to check up on details. He wrote half of this thriller and sent it to All-Story Magazine, with a note informing the editor that if he liked the story, Burroughs would write the other half.
To his surprise he received a request for the final chapters and a check for $400.
Burroughs sailed into writing with such success that in his first year he earned the tidy sum of $20,000 from the pulps. His output was pure adventure stuff, safely laid on the moon and in the bowels of the earth. Then, in 1912, he took a copy of Stanley’s “In Darkest Africa” in his hand as his sole source book, and opened a 50-cent dictionary at the hard words. He then jotted down the first chapter of “Tarzan of the Apes” on the backs of a few old envelopes.
Burroughs had never been to Africa, nor has he since visited the continent.
By the time he started his first Tarzan story he knew how to tell a story, and I defy anyone to put that first book down after reading the opening page.
If you have forgotten the background of Tarzan’s history, here are the salient facts: John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, a member of the British Colonial Office, is sent to Africa to stop “another European power” from recruiting blacks for its native army. With him goes his pregnant wife.
The crew of their ship mutinies against a cruel captain and, though they are on the side of the mutineers, for their own safety they are put off, together with all their belongings, at a small inlet on the African Coast.
They manage to build, after a month, an animal-proof house, spending the interim time in a tree. One day Lord Greystoke is attacked by a great ape, from whom he escapes after a mighty battle. The shock is too enormous for Lady Greystoke, however, and that night a son is born to her. From that moment on she is no longer sane and dies a year later.
On the same morning Greystoke, too, is killed by three bull apes, and his son is stolen by Kala, a mother ape whose own child has just been killed. It is Kala who, in defiance of her tribe, protects and raises the “white ape” who becomes Tarzan.
Mr. Burroughs starts Tarzan’s life with violence and adds so much of the same that it is amazing to read that the boy reaches manhood. Not only does Tarzan fight apes for supremacy, but he is a sharp man with lions, tigers, boars, and even a villageful of natives complete with spears.
His only pal, in fact, once Kala has gone the way of all apes, is Tantor, the Elephant, with whom he strikes up an early acquaintance. And perhaps the great sinews of his arms are explained by the fact that Burroughs has him hanging from literary cliffs every 10 pages or so, not because he takes to the treetops whenever he wants to get anywhere.
. The tale brought Mr. Burroughs Continued on page 35
Continued, from page 32 $700 and barrels of fan mail. It was so successful that the publishing rights were purchased two years later by a firm that was happy to announce later the sale of three million copies.
Mr. Burroughs then began turning out two books a year, alternating the Tarzan series with another starring John Carter. Mr. Carter functioned on Mars. Evidently Burroughs couldn’t tear himself away from that planet.
In 1918 the National Film Corporation of America, whose only claim to fame was its tie-up with Tarzan, produced the first Apeman picture, with Elmo Lincoln as the lost Lord Greystoke and Enid. Markey as his wife, Jane, a beautiful blond American girl, who are put ashore on the African coast by mutineers. Lincoln was a man with a barrel-like torso, now labelled by Mr. Lesser’s press agents as “terrific.” He made three of the movies, and is still around Hollywood, torso and all, playing bit parts.
Lincoln was followed by other chesty gents, including Gene Polar, who worked for Sam Goldwyn, who leased the rights from Burroughs for one production; P. Dempsey Tabler; James H. Pierce, Burroughs’ son-in-law; Frank Merrill, a former fireman whose muscles were fantastic; Buster Crabbe; Herman Brix, an Olympic weight lifter; Glen Morris, another Olympics man whose specialty was the Decathlon; and Johnny Weissmuller.
Weissmuller played the role for the first time in 1932 in “Tarzan the Apeman,” produced by MGM. He was at that time the holder of more than 50 swimming titlés, plus a torso perhaps even more terrific than Elmo Lincoln’s.
Weissmuller was the first Tarzan who talked—the first to chill audiences with “the awesome victory cry of his savage tribe.” Foot on chest of his defeated enemy, he let loose such a bloodcurdling yelp that the rumor got around that it was compounded on the sound track of the howl of a hyena, a dog, a soprano, and the screech of a violin string, plus Weissmuller. Actually, though it is amplified by the technicians, the yell is Weissmuller’s own, and he can do it with or without a dropped hat.
Rules for Tarzan
There are unwritten laws for Weissmuller and the script writers to follow. If any are broken, Mr.. Burroughs is highly displeased. The rules are: Tarzan must never kill except in selfdefense or for food. He never fights except in defense of the oppressed. He never drinks or smokes, and always remains pure in mind and body. (Mr. Burroughs has forgotten forever that in the first book he wrote Tarzan went to Paris, drank absinthe, smoked ana went to night clubs.) Finally, Tarzan never becomes romantically .entangled with any woman but Jane, though he is constantly saving other unlucky women from nasty demises.
The films have been shot in Florida, in Sherwood Forest, a wood 50 miles from Hollywood much used by motion picture companies, in Malibu, in the High Sierras, and in Africa. Incidentally, though Tarzan films have been made in Africa, author Burroughs has never seen the land about which he has written so much. For the past three years, however, with the exception of the sequences which could be made easily on a studio sound stage, the pictures have been filmed at Rancho Santa Anita, a 109-acre tract close to Santa Anita race track.
This is really a fabulous place. Once it was owned by the legendary “Lucky” Baldwin, whose gambling exploits are
part of the history of the West. He purchased it in 1875 from Hugo Reid, who in 1839 had built a rambling adobe house among the giant eucalyptus and palm trees which grew at the edge of a small natural lake.
Before his death in the adobe house in 1909, Baldwin began the planting which makes Rancho Santa Anita remarkable now. Later the University of California went on with the project, aided by the Huntington Estate, the present owners, and today the tract not only contains the tangled growth of semitropical plants which grew there originally but hundreds o? rare imported trees and flowers. Exotic birds from all over the world live there, with the result that the Rancho is the jungliest jungle outside of the Belgian Congo.
This is where Lesser’s crews make their movies. They set up a camp of perhaps 20 trailers for food, dressing rooms, sound equipment, props and wardrobe. If the scene in the script is laid on the water, one of the several lagoons is used, and boats ply between the shore and the rafts which hold the camera crew and the actors. Lights are set on platforms in the water, and the electricians and prop men go native •with a vengeance
Usually they wear bathing trunks all jay and whip in and out of the water like seals. Weissmuller and Johnny Sheffield, who plays “Boy,” swim between shots. The company nurse paddles around in a boat with tropical flowers in her hair, and the whole atmosphere is more like a Sundayschool picnic than a motion picture in the making.
Animals are an important part of every Tarzan film and practically everything but a duck-billed platypus has appeared on the screen. Elephants and tigers are commonplace. Condors from South America, vultures, and other feathered friends are viewed casually. Wrestling matches with alligators and lions are taken as a matter of course by Weissmuller. Incidentally, Johnny admits that he broke all his previous swimming records the time the tape around an alligator’s jaws broke during the shooting of one of these water battles.
Most famous of all the animals is Cheta, a male chimpanzee who plays a female role, for some reason. He-she is the bosom buddy of Tarzan, Jane, and particularly Boy. The incumbent Cheta is one of the most astounding beasts I have ever met. Her-his trainer, AÍ Antonucci, late of the St. Louis Zoo, tells me he-she is six years old and has the mentality of a sevenyear-old child. He’s right. Cheta can stand on his-her head, do back somersaults, play catch, jump a rope while on stilts or on a tightrope, twirl a rolling barrel, do cartwheels, play a xylophone, and smoke a cigar. Weighing only 75 pounds, he-she is strictly a vegetarian and munches four large meals a day.
One of these, for instance, consists of a head of lettuce, three or four oranges, a few tomatoes, a whole celery plant, and five or six carrots—always in that order. For dessert, malted milk, jelly, or 10 bananas, peeled and held between the fingers, make Cheta a nice snack. When Antonucci wants him-her to do anything on the tough side, he uses Coke as an inducement.
There are a thousand tales about the making of the Tarzan films, of course. The time Johnny Weissmuller wrestled “Jackie,” a lion with 20 years’ picture experience, for six solid hours of “takes.” Afterward both Johnny and “Jackie” dropped to the ground exhausted and snoozed for half an hour side by side. Continued on page 36
Continued from page 35 The time an elephant was so mad at his trainer for not saying hello to him that he strewed a suitcaseful of the trainer’s clothes along a five-mile stretch of the road. The elephant tossed the clothes out the back of the trailer in which he was being carried.
The time Cheta’s tooth was pulled ánd he-she grabbed the molar and spent 15 minutes attempting to put it back where it came from. The monkey eventually swallowed it.
Through the years, too, Tarzan himself has changed slightly, but not much. He still remains the huge, semicivilized creature Burroughs created.
He has acquired a wife, a son, and a home in the trees. He has also acquired a vocabulary. From the moment of the first, famous, “Me Tarzan, you Jane,” line he has developed into quite a chatty guy, now using 198 words rang-
ing from basic things like, “of,” “to,” “bad,” “kill,” to “civilization” and, of all phrases, “beauty salon.”
In the Burroughs books this is different, for Tarzan even in the first two volumes reads and writes English and speaks not only English and French fluently but also has a smattering of Arabic and a few other tongues. However, for pictures, he remains a simple man of few but explicit words.
How long will all this go on? From here, I’d say until there is no longer a picture business. For Burroughs is still alive; Lesser is still leasing the rights from him; Weissmuller, though having to enter training for a slight paunch before every film, is still going strong, and the public is still paying quarters and half dollars to watch him swing through the trees.
Hollywood may laugh at Tarzan. But Tarzan has the last laugh, -R