The Centennial Celebration Tarzan: The Stories. The Movies. The Art

The Centennial Celebration Tarzan

In all the fuss over Bond’s fiftieth anniversary, another cinematic icon quietly reached an important anniversary. A kind of Bond of the wild, the heroic risk taker, John Clayton, Earl Greystoke, the baby left orphaned in the African jungle at the beginning of the last century, following a shipwreck and raised by apes. Tarzan. Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ remarkable literary creation is 100 this year.

Tarzan was born in England and grew up in Africa. Circumstances took him back to England where he became disillusioned with the hypocrisy and artifice of the civilized world. He headed home to Africa permanently. There was a lot to appreciate in Tarzan’s innocence and desire to lead a simpler life. Turns out it wasn’t simple at all.

He had a strong sense of justice which led to his many adventures, righting the wronged, saving the powerless from the ruthless, defending his natural animal world from destruction and being an all-round hero. He was constantly assisting others in harm’s way, using his many skills – languages, swimming, climbing, travelling through the treetops and over landscapes, with heightened stamina, reflexes, agility and physical prowess. He was heroic, well intentioned and had the sense and body to back it up.He was still, despite his European background, a nature boy. He killed by hand and ate his kills.

He is the epitome of the noble savage ideal, with the manners and graciousness of the well born with a deep understanding of natural law. He is powerful and clever, swift to help others and loved.

Scott Griffin’s very heavy and fabulously illustrated omnibus of Tarzan materials dazzles the eye. Cartoon renderings of the jungle he-man from 1912 to today have undergone seismic stylistic changes depending on the artistic whim of any given era. Especially amusing are the fifties and sixties images of Tarzan hugely rippled, exaggerated muscles with his Jane, a blouse-falling-off pulp fiction heroine who happens to be lying seductively on the jungle floor.

As sixties surfer dudes and dudettes, Tarzan’s wearing Hawaiian floral swimming trunk and his ladies look to be in Lily Pulitzer bikinis. A far cry from the original Burroughs drawings of a chaste, Grecian styled fellow with regular well-toned muscles and later, the mustachioed pencil-drawn Mediterranean fellow.

Outsize Tarzan musculature seems to be the order of the day as the century wore on. With each decade they puffed out to ridiculous, fantasy ripples and bulges, the kind seen in gyms but probably not in any jungles anywhere.

The full complement of Tarzan actors is revealed from Gene Pollar, Elmo Lincoln, Jim Pierce, Frank Merrill, Herman Brix, Johnny Weissmuller, Gordon Scott, Lex Barker, Denny Miller, Christophe Lambert, Casper Van Dien, the Disney creations, Wolf Larson and Joe Lara.

The book explores Burroughs’ 24 original Tarzan novels as well as stage, screen, art and print adaptations of the legendary ape-man’s exploits. Also, there is extensive commentary and appreciations, and a foreword by one of film’s Tarzans, Ron Ely, as well as rare comic strips, cover art and movie stills. The book isn’t for lightweights. It weighs in at a hefty five pounds jammed with one hundred years of pop ephemera.

The Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana is the outgrowth of Burroughs’s own estate, Mil Flores, 540 acres in the San Fernando Valley that allegedly reminded him of Africa. Burroughs became wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, thanks to his imagination and the ape-man he lovingly created and cultivated so long ago.  The author Scott Tracy Griffin is considered one of the foremost Edgar Rice Burroughs experts in the world, with 30 years of articles appearing in magazines, journals, academia and fanzines, Griffin lives within swinging distance of Tarzana.

The Centennial Celebration Tarzan: The Stories. The Movies. The Art by Scott Tracy Griffin is now available from Titan Books.

Anne Brodie

About Anne Brodie

Anne Brodie is a freelance film reporter and critic.