Tuesday, May 09, 2006

An (Illustrated) History of... Tarzan


For this week's "history" we're heading to the jungle because a new musical a new Disney product opens on Broadway is available for purchase on Wednesday. It's Tarzan! wherein the chief selling point (if you don't include the Phil Collins "score" as a selling point --and, honestly, who in their right mind would?) is Josh Strickland in a loincloth.

The last time I saw a musical in which the chief selling point was a buff male bod it was atrocious. [The musical not the bod, no siree.] This time I'll just look at pictures rather than buying a ticket.


For your viewing pleasure and historical edification, Tarzan throughout the (movie) ages... [click on the photos to enlarge]

The Silent Era
Elmo Lincoln was the first credited Tarzan (in 1918) to swing across the screen. Those vines musta been sturdy. Silent films also gave us the first transsexual Tarz--oh, I kid. That's just James Pierce, Edgar Rice Burrough's son-in-law enjoying some Hollywood nepotism long before Tori Spelling was ever an apple in Aaron's eye. I love the smart print top. 'He Tarzan, you Wilma' --er, I mean, Jane. Jane. Stuntman Frank Merrill was the last silent Tarzan. Only he wasn't. Just as films began to experiment with sound he got to emit the first famous 'Tarzan yell'.

The 1930s
Or "When Tarzan Got Hot" And by hot I mean molten lava temperatures. Technically Johnny Weismuller deserves his own page. He will always be considered "Tarzan" in the way that Sean Connery is still considered "Bond." But Flash Gordon himself, Buster Crabbe, also played Tarzan during the decade... so I had to share the visuals. Jane hadn't a prayer. Talk about jungle fever. There was bound to be a little Tarzan Jr added to the movies before long. There were at least two other Lords of the Apes during this decade, too, which means there's probably lots of fascinating legal copyright issues to consider but I'm too busy staring at Johnny and Buster to do real reportage. Don't judge.

The 1940s and 1950s
"The Post Weismuller Years". After Weismuller vacated his long held jungle post there was never again even a threat to his definitive Tarzan status though it wasn't for lack of trying. Lex Barker was first up. He has the distinction of rapidly rotating "Janes". What? Did he have Clark Gable breath or something? He starred with five of them. The 50s also dropped beefcake pinup Gordon Scott into the mix. I'm not sure what happened to the gene pool but that physique only existed in the 50s. Some of his Tarzan flicks are, incidentally, considered among the best in the series. At the tail end of Tarzan's last busy decade, Denny Miller took over. He carries the distinction of being the first blonde Tarzan. He's still alive so Daniel Craig might want to give him a call if you know what I mean.

The 1960s
Difficult as it may be to believe, this is not a still from the latest release from Raging Stallion or Falcon This is just Mike Henry a former football pro who played Tarzan thrice in the 60s.

The 1970s
Nothing much to report. Tarzan's dark period. The only Ape Men the American public showed any interest in had names like Cornelius and Dr. Zauis

The 1980s
Tarzan took a backseat to a bimbo-fied Jane in the 1981 Bo Derek jiggle fest Tarzan, the Ape Man. In fact Tarzan in the form of Miles O' Keefe didn't speak at all. Not one line of dialogue. It's basically Chippendales Dancer gone savage. But all was not lost for our favorite elephant riding hero in the Me Decade. It only took sixty-six years of the franchise before the movies finally gave Tarzan the prestige treatment with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. If I'm not mistaken it's the only Tarzan film to receive multiple Oscar nods. French actor and hottie Christopher Lambert starred as the titular character before his days of chopping off heads in the Highlander movies (cool at the time) and sleeping with Diane Lane offscreen (cool forever).

The 1990s
Remember when Casper Van Diem had a career and bragged in magazines about his 27 inch waist? Neither do I. [Blogger also pleads amnesia upon hearing "Casper Van Diem" and proclaimed so by refusing to upload his photo from Tarzan and the Lost City] Moving on... This decade also brought us the first incarnation of Phil Collins Oscar-winning musical version for Disney. You didn't need to see his photo either.

The Aughts
The public hasn't been truly devoted to Tarzan for some time. But Hollywood will keep on trying. There was that failed TV series a few years back and now this new Broadway show ... which brings us up to date. *whew*

Beat your chest like Cheetah if you're swinging from his vine.

* If you're new to this blog, please look around-- there's lots more.
* Also vote on part 2 of the favorite actor poll (non Tarzan related)
If you're interested in more shirtless Ape Man pictures (and I do mean a lot more) check out these expansive fan sites: "Tarzan Movie Guide", "Down Memory Lane with Tarzan", "Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Zine" and the scrumdiddlyumptious "Brians Drive In Movie Theater"

Previous Histories...
Missions: Impossible * Dakota Fanning *Bunny Rabbits * Sharon Stone * Jodie Foster *Gender Bending * Bald Women * Sarah Jessica Parker * Gay Cowboys * Julianne Moore's Screen Kids * Gyllenhaal

tags: Tarzan, Broadway, theater, movies

11 comments:

ModFab said...

So you don't want to go, huh? I wonder what I'm going to do now with that extra ticket I had for you (for next Wednesday the 17th)?

NATHANIEL R said...

u r evil.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I've only seen two Tarzan movies in my time. I can't say I liked either of them.

I thankfully avoided the Disney one.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the Disney one (not at all bad, I didn't think), and the Casper van Dien one (both pretty and pretty dire).

Rob

Anonymous said...

I've seen the Disney one (not at all bad, I didn't think), and the Casper van Dien one (both pretty and pretty dire).

Rob

dan murray said...

just for laughs i saw in the paper where Cheetah is still alive out on calif.--74 years old the oldest chimp on record--he has a morning routine--paints and this is true.-dandanbul.blogsprot

Brian said...

Tarzan is the ultimate white supremacy fantasy. That Disney feels this will fly in the 21st century says volumes. Let's see if I have this right.Plane crashes in Africa.Only white baby survives.Apes adopt and raise baby.Baby grows to rule all he surveys. Is that it? Puhleez!

coastfilm said...

No that's not it.

Tarzan was born to aristocrats in Africa.

He was raised by great apes, and as an adult, preferred to be alone.

The books are excellent works of fantasy, written in 1918 as pulp serials.

They brought understanding of different cultures to a people that had no idea what lay beyond their own borders.

Tarzan had black friends, and the bad guys were exploitative white people intruding.

Tarzan (which means white skin) broke down racial barriers.

He was not a ruler, he was a loner, as was his son, Korak (Killer).

He refused to be made the leader of tribes when asked.

His superiority was a result of being intelligent and raised by apes, gaining immense physical strength in having to fight or forage for every scrap of food, and in learning to control and work with animals that supported his adventures. His whiteness was a mark of distinction and a definite handicap in a jungle world that rewarded inconspicuousness.

It is interesting that the left has selected Tarzan as an icon of intolerance, when it is in fact exactly the opposite. Over the last year and a half, this idiotic meme has surfaced again and again, mostly espoused by people that know not of what they speak.

Tarzan, as a mythical creature, born of man and raised by apes, is an individual that fights for the rights of others, protects the weak, and eschews the trappings of his aristocratic inheritance, preferring the love of his ape family to the mansions of his peers.

His is a remarkably egalitarian attitude.

So lay off him.

Brian said...

Oh come on! Tarzan had alot of black friends.In what movies do they appear? Aristocratic? Well I guess noblesse oblige. He is a loner well past puberty whose sexuality is aroused ONLY when a white Jane shows up. He is a fantasy only someone like Cecil Rhodes could love. This is not about left or right. His love of apes and animals is rooted in their usefulness to him. Get real.

NATHANIEL R said...

isn't tarzan a little bit of both of these things? ... like those liberal guilt history epics about the civil rights movement starring white men or women. it's not that the ideas are bad so much as the presentation / choice of protagonist is a thing that makes you go hmmmm....

Mike said...

hey, this is my first comment!
but i just saw the disney musical and really liked it!
the book (by David Henry Hwand) and Phil Collin's score (in the first act) is poorly written.
however, you can not deny the talents of Josh Strickland, Jenn Gambatese, Shuler Hensely, Merele Dandridge, and most importantly Chester Gregory II. they are all extraordinarily talented and give outstanding performance in what material they are given. also, as a actor/singer/dancer i have to give credit to those dancers who spend 2+ hours hunch on the floor or hanging in vines (they are incredible)
so over all, i found "tarzan" quite enjoyable and i wish all of u would see the show before you attack it b/c although not a deeply moving piece of musical theatre, in a fairly weak season it has it's reedeming qualities!