Me Suzi, You Tarzan!

I have a soft spot for Golden Age movies that take place in tropical environments, which have left me with a life-long love of swaying palm trees, white sandy beaches, jungle birds cawing in the background, and exotic flora and fauna—giant snakes excluded. My love of tropical scenery and jungle locales began in childhood when I devoured the Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller that were frequently broadcast on one of the Cleveland television stations. Nothing seemed more adventurous and exotic to me than trekking through the jungle. In adulthood, I still enjoy these films, though the racist depictions of natives are difficult to watch. I enjoy them because they are not only an escape to an exotic Neverland filled with jungle animals, oversized tropical plants, and extra-large vines but also an escape from computers, cell phones, and those people who think they can’t live without them.

To me, the only Tarzan movies that matter are those starring Johnny Weissmuller, though he was the sixth actor to don a loincloth and play Edgar R. Burroughs’ famous jungle hero, and several other actors would follow in his wake. Weissmuller starred in MGM’s highly popular Tarzan film series during the 1930s and 1940s. While based on Burroughs’ Tarzan, the Ape Man, the MGM series freely deviated from the source material to create a definitive version of the jungle man still remembered for his athleticism, courage, and simple virtues. A tall, muscular athlete who had won five Olympic gold medals for swimming, Weissmuller perfectly embodied MGM’s vision for Tarzan. Maureen O’Sullivan, a cultured and well-educated actress, costarred as Jane, complementing Weissmuller’s monosyllabic interpretation of the Ape Man. The MGM films benefitted from solid production values and adventure-driven storylines, making the series the most memorable of the Tarzan features. Earlier Tarzan films pale in comparison while later versions lack MGM’s attention to character development, script, and casting.

In childhood, my favorite episodes were those in which Tarzan left his neck of the jungle to participate in dangerous adventures, such as the hunt for a secret treasure or a quest to find someone/something that has been lost or kidnapped. In Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941), he rescues Jane and Boy from greedy members of a safari who have forced Boy to lead them to a lost mountain of gold. One of my favorite parts of the Tarzan movies is the payback that cruel or greedy representatives of civilization get whenever they disrespect Tarzan or the natural world of the jungle. In this film, a thundering herd of elephants runs over most of the interlopers at the end, though Tom Conway’s ultra-civilized character is eaten by crocodiles. Too bad today’s real-life land developers, animal poachers, corporate participants in global warming, and other representatives of the dark side of civilization aren’t given the Tarzan treatment.

As an adult, I now prefer the first few Tarzan movies, because of the romance between Jane and her jungle hero. The first two in the MGM series were produced prior to the enforcement of the Production Code, the censorship code that controlled the content of Hollywood movies during the Golden Age. Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934) feature an undercurrent of eroticism as Tarzan and Jane are depicted in revealing costumes sharing a loving relationship in an Eden-like jungle. Tarzan’s original loincloth was slit on both sides to the waste, revealing Weissmuller’s amazing physique and powerful thighs. Likewise, O’Sullivan’s original costume is equally as skimpy. When MGM decided to cast  Weissmuller as Tarzan, they hit a snag with the BVD underwear company, who had the champion swimmer under exclusive contract to tout their product. BVD fought hard to keep their handsome spokesperson, but eventually let him sign with MGM if the latter lent the underwear company several big-name stars, including Garbo, to appear in their ads. The publicity still at the top of this post is one of my all-time favorites because Weissmuller is just so jaw-dropping sexy. No wonder BVD hung onto him so hard.

WOW!!

I have never seen the full version of Tarzan and His Mate, which was supposedly restored for video release in 1991. Back in 1934, MGM released three versions of the film to meet the standards of specific state and local censors across the country. Before the enforcement of the Code, state and local censors would simply cut out any scenes or shots they found objectionable, without the studio’s participation. Different states and cities had different rules and standards, so a controversial scene might squeak by in New York but not Ohio. This left many a print hacked and ruined by the time it was returned to the distributor. With Tarzan and His Mate, MGM knew certain scenes shot for the film wouldn’t make it past some censors, and the studio distributed different versions to specific markets to avoid the amateur editing. The full version of the film featured a beautiful and erotic scene in which Jane and Tarzan swim together underwater, and Jane is nude. O’Sullivan’s swimming double, Josephine McKim, actually performed in this “ballet,” though when Jane steps out of the water, it is once again O’Sullivan, who supposedly flashes a bare breast. Oddly, the original director of the film was MGM’s famed art director Cedric Gibbons, but less than a month into production, he was replaced by Jack Conway. I don’t know if the underwater ballet was Gibbons’s or Conway’s idea, or if it was that of producer Bernard Hyman. But, I can’t imagine why they thought they could get away with it, even in limited markets (see below).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f33Xhkfz6Ek]

The Production Code, with its strict guidelines on the depiction of male-female relationships, squelched the Garden-of-Eden connotation to the Tarzan-Jane pairing. Tarzan Finds a Son, the fourth film in the MGM series, pushed the Tarzan legend in a new direction by introducing Boy, played by Johnny Sheffield.  With the introduction of a son to the series, Tarzan assumed the role of the ideal father and provider while Jane became the dutiful mother; thus, family values were introduced to the series, neutralizing any hint of eroticism. Not only were the costumes changed to cover more skin, but Boy had to be found by Tarzan, not conceived by him and Jane, who had never been married in a traditional ceremony. In the storyline, Tarzan finds that the only survivor of a crashed plane is a tiny infant whom he names Boy. He and Jane decide to keep the child and raise it as their own in their home among the treetops. Five years later, the child’s relatives come looking for him, and a custody battle ensues—jungle-style.

AFTER THE PRODUCTION CODE, THE COSTUMES RECEIVED A MAKE-OVER.

Though not one of my favorite Tarzan movies, there are some wonderful scenes in Tarzan Finds a Son, including another underwater ballet that echoes the one in Tarzan and His Mate. This time, the scene features Tarzan and his adopted son cavorting underwater as a way to suggest that the jungle man loves Boy as much as any birth father could. To visually imply the unbreakable bond between them, writer Cyril Hume and director Richard Thorpe created a scene in which the pair swim in unison in their jungle paradise. To shoot this sequence, Weissmuller, Sheffield, and a small crew traveled to Silver Springs, Florida, to take advantage of the crystal clear waters. O’Sullivan, who was pregnant with her first child, did not go. Silver Springs, which is often credited with launching the tourism industry in Florida, consists of a network of springs that pump 800 million gallons of pure water from the ground each day, keeping the lakes, ponds, and waterways clean and clear. Tourists view the springs and the aquatic life by cruising the area aboard the famous glass-bottom boats. Another popular feature of the Springs was Ross Allen’s Reptile Institute, founded in 1929. Allen exhibited a particular fondness and understanding of reptiles. His studies of the alligator became well known among herpetologists, and his snakes were milked so that their venom could be used in the production of antivenin. Allen accompanied the cast and crew around Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs to keep the swimming areas free from snakes. Years later, when reminiscing about the shooting of the Tarzan films for a Weissmuller biography, Johnny Sheffield vividly recalled, “Ross Allen would go ahead of us and search the bank for alligators and cottonmouth water moccasins. He found a few too. I remember one time he got a water moccasin on the bank and put it in his mouth and swam back to the boat. A few minutes later Big John [Weissmuller] and I were working right there on the bank where Ross captured the aquatic pit viper.”

THIS BEAUTIFULLY PHOTOGRAPHED SCENE WAS SHOT IN SILVER SPRINGS, FLORIDA.

The Silver Springs footage shows Tarzan and Boy cavorting under water for almost five minutes, playing tag and hide-and-seek. An unplanned stroke of luck occurred when a baby elephant used in the film fell off a raft near the shore. A quick-thinking camera operator, already underwater in the camera bell, started rolling as soon as he saw the elephant slide off the raft. Unexpectedly graceful and coordinated, the elephant swims around a bit, and then is joined by Weissmuller and Sheffield before scurrying up the bank and back to dry land. The sequence concludes with Weissmuller and Sheffield being pulled through the water by a giant tortoise. Weissmuller hangs onto a back flipper, while Sheffield hangs on to the big man’s feet, resulting in a remarkable image of synchronous movement between beast, man, and boy. Not only are Tarzan and Boy in harmony with each other, they are in harmony with the jungle as well. Through this visually driven sequence, with little or no dialogue, the filmmakers make the viewer believe that the pair belong together in their jungle world.

GREEDY REPRESENTATIVES OF CIVILIZATION OFTEN GOT THE ELEPHANT TREATMENT, AND THEY DESERVED IT.

Over 60 years later, the underwater footage is still remarkably fresh and vivid—so vivid and memorable that much misinformation has circulated about it. Tourist brochures and websites for Silvers Springs often claim that all six Weissmuller Tarzan films were shot “on location” there. In fact, the crew came to the area only once, and they shot footage at both Silver Springs and Wakulla Springs, which was then used sparingly in two of the six films. The majority of the footage focused on Tarzan and Boy, though “Jane” was shot swimming with the family at Wakulla Springs. A Florida resident doubled for Maureen O’Sullivan. This footage was used in Tarzan’s Secret Treasure. The principle location for all six MGM films was the Lake Sherwood area, including Sherwood Forest, near Los Angeles. The tree house where the Tarzan family lived was built at Crater Camp in Malibu Creek State Park, then duplicated on a sound stage at MGM. Interiors were all shot at MGM.

Somehow it is fitting that Tarzan’s jungle is not an actual geographic location but a composite of real places and man-made sets, because his home is mythic—like Mount Olympus. His jungle home is a paradise, a peaceable kingdom without guns, where he and the animals not only coexist but are kindred spirits. In Tarzan’s jungle, there is no need for money, marriage licenses, proper clothes, jobs, banks, social class, or any other concerns of the civilized world. While a world without the need for banks and money undoubtedly resonated with Depression-era audiences, a carefree existence in an exotic land—with a good-looking man in a loin cloth—appeals to me, too.

28 Responses Me Suzi, You Tarzan!
Posted By Medusa : March 15, 2010 5:04 pm

That is a wonderful swimming scene. From what we know about the sexual ooomph of male chimps, I’m almost afraid that Cheetah might have been more turned on by Jane than Tarzan was! He sure kept her dress away from her for a long time! lol

You are so right about Weissmuller and his Tarzan mystique — so amazing, so handsome, so completely enticing!

Very enjoyable post, Suzi! Loved it!

Posted By Medusa : March 15, 2010 5:04 pm

That is a wonderful swimming scene. From what we know about the sexual ooomph of male chimps, I’m almost afraid that Cheetah might have been more turned on by Jane than Tarzan was! He sure kept her dress away from her for a long time! lol

You are so right about Weissmuller and his Tarzan mystique — so amazing, so handsome, so completely enticing!

Very enjoyable post, Suzi! Loved it!

Posted By wilbur twinhorse : March 15, 2010 6:20 pm

An alternate title. “A Loin Is a Terrible Thing to Waist”!. You may have had a chance suzidoll if you had been born a bit earlier! I guess Big J had six marriages and he did go to the University of Chicago! Cool to hear about the Silver Springs/Wakulla Florida thing. It is getting close to Spring and the sap is rising!

Posted By wilbur twinhorse : March 15, 2010 6:20 pm

An alternate title. “A Loin Is a Terrible Thing to Waist”!. You may have had a chance suzidoll if you had been born a bit earlier! I guess Big J had six marriages and he did go to the University of Chicago! Cool to hear about the Silver Springs/Wakulla Florida thing. It is getting close to Spring and the sap is rising!

Posted By debbe : March 15, 2010 9:35 pm

loved the title, loved the post. made me think of the tarzan movies in a whole new way. when i first started in animation tarzan was coming out by disney… not the same, but exotic locales and then attractive animated characters…. drawn,

loved the picture of jw. well done.

Posted By debbe : March 15, 2010 9:35 pm

loved the title, loved the post. made me think of the tarzan movies in a whole new way. when i first started in animation tarzan was coming out by disney… not the same, but exotic locales and then attractive animated characters…. drawn,

loved the picture of jw. well done.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : March 16, 2010 3:31 am

Johnny Weissmuller’s is probably my favorite Tarzan too. I used to really enjoy watching the Tarzan movies that often played on television during weekends when I was a kid. Great pics!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : March 16, 2010 3:31 am

Johnny Weissmuller’s is probably my favorite Tarzan too. I used to really enjoy watching the Tarzan movies that often played on television during weekends when I was a kid. Great pics!

Posted By smitty1931 : March 16, 2010 9:38 am

Ester Williams in her bio said that Johnny was a naughty boy when they swam together in the aquacade. As many know Herman Brix(Bruce Bennett) was set for the role but was injured and replaced by Johhny. Brix was leaner and not as beefy. Brix was relegated to serials in the 30s, then changed his name to bennett, lowered his voice and signed with Warners and had a decent career.

Posted By smitty1931 : March 16, 2010 9:38 am

Ester Williams in her bio said that Johnny was a naughty boy when they swam together in the aquacade. As many know Herman Brix(Bruce Bennett) was set for the role but was injured and replaced by Johhny. Brix was leaner and not as beefy. Brix was relegated to serials in the 30s, then changed his name to bennett, lowered his voice and signed with Warners and had a decent career.

Posted By BluGlo : March 16, 2010 10:00 pm

Suzi,
I used to watch a lot of the J.W.Tarzan movies on weekends as a kid of the late 50′s/early 60′s. I remember the one about the elephants tramping the bad guys (and I share your same sentiment towards modern-day evil-doers! They too should be doormats for elephants and croc-bait!) Now I’m wondering is this where my love of all things tropical started from?? It’s mid-March and I have 3 6′ft tall banana trees in my sunroom just aching to get back outside (me too!) I grew-up with caladium-print drapes in our house that made me think of Tarzan’s jungle and how great it must be to live there.

Posted By BluGlo : March 16, 2010 10:00 pm

Suzi,
I used to watch a lot of the J.W.Tarzan movies on weekends as a kid of the late 50′s/early 60′s. I remember the one about the elephants tramping the bad guys (and I share your same sentiment towards modern-day evil-doers! They too should be doormats for elephants and croc-bait!) Now I’m wondering is this where my love of all things tropical started from?? It’s mid-March and I have 3 6′ft tall banana trees in my sunroom just aching to get back outside (me too!) I grew-up with caladium-print drapes in our house that made me think of Tarzan’s jungle and how great it must be to live there.

Posted By JK : March 17, 2010 5:46 am

Wow, what sexy outfits they originally had!

I remember the Tarzan films down in Columbus, Ohio on Flippo the Clown’s afternoon EARLY SHOW, where many classics played every day.

I even remember one where Tarzan was in Manhattan! He wore a tailored suit but still spoke in that jungle voice. Jarring.

Posted By JK : March 17, 2010 5:46 am

Wow, what sexy outfits they originally had!

I remember the Tarzan films down in Columbus, Ohio on Flippo the Clown’s afternoon EARLY SHOW, where many classics played every day.

I even remember one where Tarzan was in Manhattan! He wore a tailored suit but still spoke in that jungle voice. Jarring.

Posted By Al Lowe : March 17, 2010 12:37 pm

They had a magnificent supporting cast in the TARZANs over the years. It makes your jaw drop.
The list includes:
Barry Fitzgerald, Tom Conway, Charles Bickford, Paul Kelly, Sig Rumann, Maria Ouspenskaya, Barton MacLane, Linda Christian, George Zucco, Albert Dekker, Charles Drake, Robert Alda, Denise Darcel, Hurd Hatfield, Raymond Burr, Vera Miles, Jack Elam, Rex Ingram, Wilfrid Hyde-White, George Coulouris, James Edwards, Woody Strode, Anthony Quayle, Sean Connery, John Carradine – and Dorothy Dandridge.

Posted By Al Lowe : March 17, 2010 12:37 pm

They had a magnificent supporting cast in the TARZANs over the years. It makes your jaw drop.
The list includes:
Barry Fitzgerald, Tom Conway, Charles Bickford, Paul Kelly, Sig Rumann, Maria Ouspenskaya, Barton MacLane, Linda Christian, George Zucco, Albert Dekker, Charles Drake, Robert Alda, Denise Darcel, Hurd Hatfield, Raymond Burr, Vera Miles, Jack Elam, Rex Ingram, Wilfrid Hyde-White, George Coulouris, James Edwards, Woody Strode, Anthony Quayle, Sean Connery, John Carradine – and Dorothy Dandridge.

Posted By Jenni : March 19, 2010 10:19 am

I too, remember watching these movies on Saturday mornings, Channel 50, out of Detroit, beamed down to our OH town. I also remember a Tarzan movie when he was in New York, a court trial, and he in a suit! Could that have been the one where Boy’s real parents want him taken away from Tarzan?! Also read Esther William’s autobiography, and I’d want to keep JW far from me!

Posted By Jenni : March 19, 2010 10:19 am

I too, remember watching these movies on Saturday mornings, Channel 50, out of Detroit, beamed down to our OH town. I also remember a Tarzan movie when he was in New York, a court trial, and he in a suit! Could that have been the one where Boy’s real parents want him taken away from Tarzan?! Also read Esther William’s autobiography, and I’d want to keep JW far from me!

Posted By mr Sardonicus : March 21, 2010 8:01 pm

Great little article Suzi,,, I live about 80 miles from silver springs & visit there often its still a great place to see..& a great place to see where the tarzan films were done… you know folks..it”s a shame we don’t get to see the origional version of tarzan escapes….it was cut so bad & pretty well ruined by the time the sensors got to it.. but since you did this article I would like to offer a little input…it is now very possible we may have a version of this film available in its origional format.. what i mean is.. I have a friend in Belgium who saw the origional of tarzan escapes in the 1950′s in a theatre in brussels… in french of course but from his description it was the version we’ve been missing all these years & never get to see…now I have been searching all over europe to see if this french language version does still exist ; if it does we can translate back to english..&we will be able to view at last after all these years the origional 1935 version “the capture of tarzan” i’ll keep trying & y”all keep hoping… this has been a lifelong quest for me & will never stop trying.. i’ll keep you informed… my site is natamerinnovations@hotmail.com … thanks again suzi.. take care Ya’ll…. long live Sardonicus!!!!!

Posted By mr Sardonicus : March 21, 2010 8:01 pm

Great little article Suzi,,, I live about 80 miles from silver springs & visit there often its still a great place to see..& a great place to see where the tarzan films were done… you know folks..it”s a shame we don’t get to see the origional version of tarzan escapes….it was cut so bad & pretty well ruined by the time the sensors got to it.. but since you did this article I would like to offer a little input…it is now very possible we may have a version of this film available in its origional format.. what i mean is.. I have a friend in Belgium who saw the origional of tarzan escapes in the 1950′s in a theatre in brussels… in french of course but from his description it was the version we’ve been missing all these years & never get to see…now I have been searching all over europe to see if this french language version does still exist ; if it does we can translate back to english..&we will be able to view at last after all these years the origional 1935 version “the capture of tarzan” i’ll keep trying & y”all keep hoping… this has been a lifelong quest for me & will never stop trying.. i’ll keep you informed… my site is natamerinnovations@hotmail.com … thanks again suzi.. take care Ya’ll…. long live Sardonicus!!!!!

Posted By Roscoe : March 22, 2010 6:09 pm

Since you like old movies in tropical environments, be sure to check out “Sombra Verde” (1954), a Mexican movie starring Ricardo Montalban. It takes place in the jungles of Vera Cruz state in Mexico. Also, why hasn’t anyone noted the similarities between Tarzan and “Avatar.” In both cases, a local goes native, finding love and happiness with the natives.

Posted By Roscoe : March 22, 2010 6:09 pm

Since you like old movies in tropical environments, be sure to check out “Sombra Verde” (1954), a Mexican movie starring Ricardo Montalban. It takes place in the jungles of Vera Cruz state in Mexico. Also, why hasn’t anyone noted the similarities between Tarzan and “Avatar.” In both cases, a local goes native, finding love and happiness with the natives.

Posted By tfan86 : March 25, 2010 3:45 pm

When you’re a kid, you enjoy the Tarzan films for the adventures they are. When you become an adult, you realize how off the charts sexy they are.

The photo above of Maureen O’Sullivan swept up into Johnny Weissmuller’s arms thisclose to a kiss while both are nearly naked is as sexy as it gets.

This was kind of a promotion staple of the series to show Weissmuller, who had a lovely physique, in his skimpy loincloth carrying some scantily clad beauty, Jane or otherwise in his arms. Not a bad way to earn a day’s pay!!!

Posted By tfan86 : March 25, 2010 3:45 pm

When you’re a kid, you enjoy the Tarzan films for the adventures they are. When you become an adult, you realize how off the charts sexy they are.

The photo above of Maureen O’Sullivan swept up into Johnny Weissmuller’s arms thisclose to a kiss while both are nearly naked is as sexy as it gets.

This was kind of a promotion staple of the series to show Weissmuller, who had a lovely physique, in his skimpy loincloth carrying some scantily clad beauty, Jane or otherwise in his arms. Not a bad way to earn a day’s pay!!!

Posted By Petra : September 6, 2010 9:37 am

Nobody ever looked so sexy (or overdressed!!!) as Weissmuller did in his skimpy loincloth!!

Posted By Petra : September 6, 2010 9:37 am

Nobody ever looked so sexy (or overdressed!!!) as Weissmuller did in his skimpy loincloth!!

Posted By Friday Movie Review: Tarzan and His Mate (1934) « polentical : March 17, 2012 12:50 pm

[...] a rhinoceros on my King of the Apes ratings scale. SEE ALSO lanahj: 1934 MGM Men MovieMorlocks: Me Suzi, You Tarzan! Share this:Like this:Like3 bloggers like this [...]

Posted By Friday Movie Review: Tarzan and His Mate (1934) « polentical : March 17, 2012 12:50 pm

[...] a rhinoceros on my King of the Apes ratings scale. SEE ALSO lanahj: 1934 MGM Men MovieMorlocks: Me Suzi, You Tarzan! Share this:Like this:Like3 bloggers like this [...]

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