Tribute to Tarzan (Part 2)

Whenever I start going through my permanent collection of movie lobby cards and posters, I am always amazed at the wealth of movie ephemera that I've manged to accumulate over the years. Needless to say, I still have a large quantity of film material that I've yet to properly catalogue and archive in acid free albums. Since there is a renewed interest in the Tarzan legend, given the new film that is being developed by Warner Brothers, I decided to feature (in mostly chronological order) some of the more rare lobby cards and posters from the many Tarzan films based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels starting with the hand-tinted lobby card above from Elmo Lincoln's star turn in the 1927 silent film Tarzan And the Golden Lion.


Herman Brix aka Bruce Bennett was a star shot-putter in the 1928 Olympics. After losing the lead in MGM's Tarzan the Ape Man due to a shoulder injury, he was contracted for an independent production of The New Adventures of Tarzan, a serial and the only Tarzan film between the silents and the 1960s to present the character accurately. Author Edgar Rice Burroughs allegedly liked Herman Brix, the best of all the actors to portray his character.


Undoubtedly the one name in film history whose name is indelibly associated with Tarzan and vice versa is Johnny Weissmuller. MGM optioned two of the Tarzan stories. The MGM writer working on the adaptation of  Tarzan the Ape Man noticed Weissmuller swimming in the pool at his hotel and suggested him for the part of Tarzan. Weissmuller was under contract to BVD to model underwear and swimsuits; MGM got him released by agreeing to pose many of its female stars in BVD swimsuits. The studio billed him as "the only man in Hollywood who's natural in the flesh and can act without clothes". The film was an immediate box-office and critical hit.  After 1942, however, MGM dropped the Tarzan series and Weissmuller, too. He  then moved to RKO and made six more Tarzans.

In an attempt to capitalize on the success of MGM's 1932 Tarzan The Ape Man with Weissmuller, Olympic 400-meter freestyle swimming championship, Buster Crabbe, the 1933 Olympic freestyle champion and alleged rival of Johnny Weissmuller,  was hired for an independent production entitled Tarzan The Fearless. The film was released as both a feature and a serial; most houses showed only the first serial episode, which critics panned as a badly organized feature. Although it's production values were cheap and the acting quite crude, Buster Crabbe undeniably left a lasting impressive with his fine looks and his muscularly-toned body.

By 1945, Johnny Weissmuller began losing that finely toned swimmer's body and began to appear a bit pudgy for the part of Tarzan. Although he continued in the part until 1948, his loin cloth became longer and bigger in each successive film and it was clear his star was fading.

In 1949, RKO debuted Lex Barker in the role of Tarzan in Tarzan's Magic Fountain. His handsome and intelligent appearance, as well as his athletic, now 6'4" frame, helped make him popular in the role Johnny Weissmuller had made his own for sixteen years. Barker made only five Tarzan films, but he remains one of the actors best known for the role and his Tarzan films are considered some of the best.

Gordon Scott was allegedly working as a lifeguard at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas when a Hollywood talent scout took note of him and signed him to a contract with Sol Lesser producer of the Tarzan movies. His handsome features, muscular physique, and imposing height made him an excellent choice to replace Lex Barker as Tarzan, and he won out over 200 candidates for the role. Scott's Tarzan films ranged from rather cheap re-edited television pilots to larger scale epics. Two of them, Tarzan and the Lost Safari, the first full color Tarzan film is generally considered to be among the very best Tarzan films ever made. Scott's (and his writers') particular gifts to the series included returning Tarzan to his former status as a literate, well-spoken character.For me, he was the most handsome of all the Tarzans with a beautifully-toned muscular body.

MGM attempted in 1959 to revitalize the Tarzan genre and cast a newcomer Denny Miller the title role of a remake of its popular 1932 film Tarzan The Ape Man, to which MGM had unlimited rights to the original screenplay and story. While this movie actually had little connection to the 1932 original, it did utilize lifted footage (tinted to more-or-less match the color), including obvious footage of Weissmuller's vine-swinging. Miller is not once called Tarzan in the movie, and his yell is also lifted Weissmuller. The elephants who wreck the pygmy village are lifted/tinted from the original, but the "pygmies" (real in the original) were kids from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. It's generally considered one of the worst Tarzan films ever made. 

Following the 1960 release of MGM's Tarzan The Ape Man, the genre once again greatly declined. Jock O'Mahoney filmed several cheap independent Tarzan films, as did Mike Henry (seen below) who at least fit the bill physically.

Generally considered the worst of the Tarzan films is Bo and John Derek's re-telling of Tarzan The Ape Man, told from a feminist point of view, meaning Jane was nude in the film quite more than newcomer Miles O'Keefe, who is breathtakingly beautiful in the film nonetheless. John Derek write into O'Keefe's contract that he was not allowed to give interviews on television or radio until after the film was released because he wanted to maintain a mystery around the character of Tarzan, who had no lines in the film. Unfortunately that destroyed O'Keefe's career as an actor, since few wanted to interview him once this ghastly film was released.

In 1999, Disney acquired the rights to the original Tarzan story and produced its cartoon version of Tarzan. Some of  the animation was impressive but it was not one of Disney's more successful films, either artistically or financially, although the Disney Franchise did manage to produce a perfectly-ghastly Broadway musical based on the cartoon.

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