Tarzan in film and other non-print media

Tarzan in film and other non-print media

Tarzan, a fictional character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, first appeared in the 1912 novel "Tarzan of the Apes", and then in twenty-three sequels. The character proved immensely popular and quickly made the jump to other media, first and most notably to comics and film. This article concerns Tarzan's appearance in film and other non-print media.


The Internet Movie Database lists 88 movies with Tarzan in the title between 1918 and 1999. The first Tarzan movies were silent pictures adapted from the original Tarzan novels which appeared within a few years of the character's creation. With the advent of talking pictures, a popular Tarzan movie franchise was developed, anchored at first by actor Johnny Weissmüller in the title role, which lasted from the 1930s through the 1960s. Tarzan films from the 1930s on often featured Tarzan's chimpanzee companion Cheeta. Later Tarzan films have been occasional and somewhat idiosyncratic.

ilent film

The first Tarzan movies were eight silent features and serials released between 1918 and 1928, most based on novels in the original series. Elmo Lincoln starred in the first Tarzan feature, "Tarzan of the Apes" (1918), which may be the most faithful cinematic rendering of Burroughs' first Tarzan novel to date. Lincoln appeared in two sequels. Additional silents were produced in the 1920s with other actors (three of these films — "The Romance of Tarzan" (1918, Elmo Lincoln), "The Revenge of Tarzan" (1920, Gene Pollar), and "Tarzan the Mighty" (1928, Frank Merrill) — have been lost). One of the silents, "Tarzan and the Golden Lion" (1927), featured the then-unknown Boris Karloff as a villainous native chieftain. Other actors who portrayed the character in 1920's films were P. Dempsey Tabler and James Pierce (who married the daughter of Edgar Rice Burroughs). The first Tarzan sound film was "Tarzan the Tiger" (1929), featuring Frank Merrill as the Ape Man, shot as a silent but partially dubbed for release. It was Merrill’s second Tarzan movie, and it cost him the role, as his voice was deemed unsuitable for the part. [Tarzan of the Movies, Gabe Essoe, 1968]

The Weissmüller era

The most popular series of Tarzan films began with "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932), starring Johnny Weissmüller and Maureen O'Sullivan. Weissmüller was a Danube Swabian born in Austria-Hungary (some claim he was from Freidorf, near the town of Temisvar/Timişoara, today in Romania, others say he was from a town now in Serbia), who came with his parents to the United States. He was the most famous and longest-lasting screen Tarzan, starring as the Ape Man in a total of twelve films, through 1948. The beauteous and scantily-clad O'Sullivan was a major factor in the early popularity of the series, although her role was reduced as the series went on (the scriptwriters may have been running out of ways for her to be rescued by Tarzan).

Starting afresh with an extremely free adaptation of "Tarzan of the Apes" which threw out everything that had gone before, the Weissmüller series was a boon to the franchise if not to the character. In contrast to the articulate nobleman of Burroughs's novels, Weissmuller's Tarzan was a natural hero with a limited vocabulary. The ersatz pidgin of his dialogue has often been mocked as "Me Tarzan, you Jane," although that particular line was never spoken in any of the films. Tarzan and Jane were married in the novels, but the relationship was never specified in the Weissmuller films, even though they shared a jungle treehouse and (particularly in the second film of the series, "Tarzan and His Mate") a strong sexual chemistry. In keeping with production code requirements, their son "Boy" was found and adopted rather than born to Jane. Cheeta the chimpanzee provided comic relief through the series.

Due to complex licensing issues relating to Tarzan, a number of competing films starring other actors were made during the Weissmüller period. The first of these was "Tarzan the Fearless" (1933), featuring Buster Crabbe. "The New Adventures of Tarzan" (1935), hearkening back to the original concept of the character as an intelligent Englishman, was a serial featuring Herman Brix that was reedited into two feature films, the first (confusingly) released in the same year and with the same title as the serial, and the second, "Tarzan and the Green Goddess" released in 1938. "Tarzan's Revenge", also released in 1938, starred Glenn Morris.

With the exception of "The New Adventures of Tarzan", which was partially filmed in Guatemala, the Tarzan movies of this period were mostly filmed on Hollywood sound stages, with stock jungle and wildlife footage edited into the final product.

The franchise after Weissmüller

Following the Weissmüller films, Lex Barker portrayed Tarzan in five low-budget films (1949-1953), in which he essentially imitated Weissmüller. Next came six films starring Gordon Scott (1955-1960), of which the best received were "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure" (1959) and "Tarzan the Magnificent" (1960). "Tarzan, the Ape Man" was remade in 1959 in a poorly-received version starring Denny Miller. Then there were two films featuring Jock Mahoney (1962-1963), three with Mike Henry (1966-1968), and two (adaptations of television episodes) with Ron Ely (1970). The Henry films came out concurrently with Ely's TV series, though all three had been filmed before the series debuted. Henry had actually been approached to star in the TV series but had declined.

The later Tarzan films, beginning with Gordon Scott's, saw the character evolve from Weissmüller’s simple family man who lived in a treehouse with Jane and Boy into an intelligent but apparently rootless adventurer. The Mike Henry films, such as "Tarzan and the Valley of Gold" (1966), were clearly influenced by the James Bond fad, and had Tarzan jetting around the world to fight international criminals.

In 1970, the comedy-film "Carry On Up the Jungle", part of the famous Carry On films series, spoofed the Tarzan story and the theme of African exploration in general.

Later films

After the Ely films, the movie Tarzan went on hiatus until another remake of "Tarzan, the Ape Man" in 1981 with Miles O'Keeffe in the title role; a disastrous flop whose sole reason for existence seemed to be to exhibit co-star Bo Derek as Jane in various states of undress.

The better received "Greystoke - The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" followed in 1984, starring Christopher Lambert. Returning to the source material, it updated Burroughs’ original novel in the light of 1980s sensibilities and science, utilizing a number of corrective ideas first put forth by science fiction author Philip José Farmer in his mock-biography "Tarzan Alive". While restoring Tarzan’s identity as an intelligent human being, "Greystoke" portrayed his adaptation to civilization as a failure, and his return to the wild as a matter of necessity rather than choice.

The last live-action Tarzan movie to date was "Tarzan and the Lost City" (1998) which starred Casper Van Dien.

1999 Animated Feature

Disney’s animated "Tarzan" (1999) marked a new beginning for the ape man, taking its inspiration equally from Burroughs and "Greystoke". Its major innovations were recasting the original fictitious ape species that adopted Tarzan with gorillas and turning Clayton, his cousin and rival for the affections of Jane in the early novels, into a brawny out-and-out villain. Tarzan was voiced by actor Tony Goldwyn. To date, this film is the last installment in the Tarzan genre to be released theatrically.

Two direct to video sequels followed, "Tarzan & Jane" (2002), and "Tarzan II" (2005), a re-exploration of the ape man’s childhood. In "Tarzan & Jane", Goldwyn was replaced by Michael T. Weiss.


The film Tarzan corpus also includes a number of documentaries, most of them either made for television or to accompany video sets of Tarzan movies, a number of derivative foreign-language productions from China, India, and Turkey, and various spoofs and parodies. Among the latter is "Starzan", a Philippine Cinema comedy film loosely based on the original Tarzan franchise satirizing western entertainment. It stars Filipino comedic actor Joey De Leon as Starzan, Rene Requiestas as "Chitae", and Zsa Zsa Padilla as Jane.


A 1921 Broadway production of "Tarzan of The Apes" starred Ronald Adair as Tarzan and Ethel Dwyer as Jane Porter.

In 1976, Richard O'Brien wrote a musical entitled "T. Zee", loosely based on the idea of Tarzan but restyled in a rock idiom.

"Tarzan", a musical stage adaptation of the 1999 animated feature, opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway on May 10, 2006. The show, a Disney Theatrical production, was directed and designed by Bob Crowley. The show played its final performance July 8, 2007. Tarzan was played by Josh Strickland. Jane was played by Jenn Gambatese. Terk, Tarzan's best friend, was played by Chester Gregory. Kerchak, Tarzan's ape father was played by Shuler Hensley and Robert Evan. Kala, Tarzan's ape mother was played by Merle Dandridge. Professor Porter (Jane's father) was played by Tim Jerome. Mr. Clayton (Jane's "love interest") was played by Donnie Keshawarz. And Young Tarzan was played by Daniel Manche,Dylan Riley Snyder, J. Bradley Bowers, and Alex Rutherford.

The same version of Tarzan that was played at the Richard Rodgers Theatre is being played throughout Europe and has been a huge success in Holland.

Tarzan also appeared in the "Tarzan Rocks!" show at the Theatre in the Wild at Walt Disney World Resort's Disney's Animal Kingdom. The show closed in 2006. "The Tarzan Encounter" currently plays in Disneyland Park (Paris), similar to the show at Disney's Animal Kingdom.


Tarzan was the hero of two popular radio programs. The first began on 12 September 1932 with James H. Pierce in the role of Tarzan, adapting the novel "Tarzan of the Apes" in 77 installments, airing three times each week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Each episode, not counting commercials, ran for about ten minutes. This series was followed by two original stories, written by Rob Thompson, "Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher", 39 episodes airing every weekday starting 1 May 1935, and "Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr", 39 episodes, airing during 1936. Both of these stories Rob Thompson later adapted for the Tarzan comic strip and again for the Dell Tarzan comic book.

The second Tarzan radio program began 1 November 1951 and ran for 75 half hour episodes, ending on 27 June 1953. Lamont Johnson played Tarzan. [ Robert R. Barrett, "Tarzan on Radio", Radio Spirits, 1999. ]


Meanwhile, series television had emerged as the primary vehicle bringing the character to the public. In 1958, in the middle of his six film reign as Tarzan, Gordon Scott filmed three episodes for a prospective television series. The program did not sell, and in 1966 the three pilots were edited into a 90-minute television feature entitled "Tarzan and the Trappers".

A live action "Tarzan" series starring Ron Ely ran on NBC from 1966-1968. Tarzan was accompanied by Cheeta the chimpanzee from the movies and a child sidekick, the orphan boy Jai (Manuel Padilla, Jr., who also played the similar roles of Ramel and Pepe in "Tarzan and the Valley of Gold" (1966) and "Tarzan and the Great River" (1967)). The character Jai first appeared in the film "Tarzan Goes to India", played by a young actor of the same name.

An animated series from Filmation, "Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle", aired from 1976–1977, with new and repeat episodes in the anthology programs "Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour" (1977–1978), "Tarzan and the Super 7" (1978–1980), "The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour" (1980–1981), and "The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour") (1981–1982).

Following this Joe Lara starred in the title role in "Tarzan in Manhattan" (1989), an offbeat TV movie, and would later return in a completely different interpretation in "" (1996), a new live-action series. In between the two productions with Lara, Tarzán, a half-hour syndicated series ran from 1991 through 1994. In this version of the show, Tarzan was portrayed as a blond environmentalist, with Jane turned into a French ecologist.

Disney’s animated series "The Legend of Tarzan" (2001-2003) was a spin-off from its animated film. The latest television series was the live-action "Tarzan" (2003), which starred male model Travis Fimmel and updated the setting to contemporary New York City, with Jane as a police detective. The series failed to meet studio expectations and was cancelled after only eight episodes.

A 1981 television special, "", features a short sketch entitled "Tarzan and Jane." Lily Tomlin plays Jane opposite The Great Gonzo as Tarzan. In addition, the Muppets have since the 1960s.

In an episode of "The Fairly OddParents", a spoof of Tarzan appears as "lord of the drapes," and "Lord of Shapes," instead of Lord of the Apes.


The Japanese "Jungle no Ouja Ta-chan" (King of the Jungle Ta-chan) series, originally a manga by Tokuhiro Masaya, was based loosely on Tarzan. It featured the characters of Tarzan and his wife Jane, who had become obese after settling down with Tarzan. The series begins as a comical parody of Tarzan, but later expands to other settings, such as a martial arts tournament in China, professional wrestling in America, and even a fight with vampires.

In another anime, One Piece, Roronoa Zoro is seen doing a Tarzan call imitation during the Skypia arc.

Video games

Taito's 1982 arcade game "Jungle King" featured a character who resembled Tarzan. Copyright issues required Taito to rename the game, producing "Jungle Hunt". The company retained the original character, albeit dressed in safari clothing complete with pith helmet. Gameplay remained unchanged; the player still fought crocodiles and swung from trees, but by ropes instead of vines. "Jungle Hunt" was subsequently adapted for play on numerous video game consoles and personal computers.

"Tarzan Goes Ape" was released in the 1980s for the Commodore 64.

Martech Games Ltd released "Tarzan" in 1986 for the ZX Spectrum, among other computing platforms.

Games featuring Disney's "Tarzan" have been released for the PlayStation and Game Boy Color.

In the first "Rayman", a Tarzan-like version of Rayman named Tarayzan appears in the Dream Forest.

Tarzan also appeared in the PlayStation 2 game "Kingdom Hearts". Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy had to work with Tarzan to save his home from the heartless.


There have been several Tarzan View-Master reels and packets, plus numerous Tarzan coloring books, children's books, follow-the-dots and activity books.

In the film "Histoire de Pen" there is a character named after Tarzan and another named after The Phantom.

"Superman's Song" by the Canadian rock band the Crash Test Dummies compares Tarzan unfavourably to Superman.

"One Leg Too Few" is a comedy sketch by Peter Cook concerning a one-legged man attempting to audition for the role of Tarzan.



*"Tarzan of the Apes" (1918) (Elmo Lincoln) – based on the first part of the novel "Tarzan of the Apes"
*"The Romance of Tarzan" (1918) (Elmo Lincoln) – based on the second part of the novel "Tarzan of the Apes"
*"The Revenge of Tarzan" (1920) (Gene Pollar) – based on the first part of the novel "The Return of Tarzan"
*"The Son of Tarzan" (1920) (P. Dempsey Tabler) – serial based on the novel "The Son of Tarzan"
*"The Adventures of Tarzan" (1921) (Elmo Lincoln) – based on the second part of the novel "The Return of Tarzan"
*"Tarzan and the Golden Lion" (1927) (James Pierce) – based on the novel "Tarzan and the Golden Lion"
*"Tarzan the Mighty" (1928) (Frank Merrill) – an original story; the working title was "Jungle Tales of Tarzan" but it is not based on the Burroughs novel of that name
*"Tarzan the Tiger" (1929) (Frank Merrill) – based on the novel "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar"; filmed as a silent but partially dubbed to become the first Tarzan sound film

Franchise films

With Johnny Weissmuller

*"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932)
*"Tarzan and His Mate" (1934) - This one has the famous "nude scene" in which Jane is "totally naked"
*"Tarzan Escapes" (1936)
*"Tarzan Finds a Son!" (1939)
*"Tarzan's Secret Treasure" (1941)
*"Tarzan's New York Adventure" (1942)
*"Tarzan Triumphs" (1943)
*"Tarzan’s Desert Mystery" (1943)
*"Tarzan and the Amazons" (1945)
*"Tarzan and the Leopard Woman" (1946)
*"Tarzan and the Huntress" (1947)
*"Tarzan and the Mermaids" (1948)

With Lex Barker

*"Tarzan's Magic Fountain" (1949)
*"Tarzan and the Slave Girl" (1950)
*"Tarzan's Peril (1951)
*"Tarzan's Savage Fury" (1952)
*"Tarzan and the She-Devil" (1953)

With Gordon Scott

*"Tarzan's Hidden Jungle" (1955)
*"Tarzan and the Lost Safari" (1957)
*"Tarzan and the Trappers" (1958)
*"Tarzan's Fight for Life" (1958)
*"Tarzan's Greatest Adventure" (1959)
*"Tarzan the Magnificent" (1960) – not based on the Burroughs novel of that title

With other actors

*"Tarzan Goes to India" (1962) (Jock Mahoney)
*"Tarzan's Three Challenges" (1963) (Jock Mahoney)
*"Tarzan and the Valley of Gold" (1966) (Mike Henry) – novelization by Fritz Lieber
*"Tarzan and the Great River" (1967) (Mike Henry)
*"Tarzan and the Jungle Boy" (1968) (Mike Henry)
*"Tarzan's Deadly Silence" (a compilation of television episodes released to theaters) (1970) (Ron Ely)

Competing films

*"Tarzan the Fearless" (1933) (Buster Crabbe) - released as a serial and as an edited feature film
*"The New Adventures of Tarzan" (1935) (Herman Brix) – released as a serial and as a feature film
*"Tarzan and the Green Goddess" (1938) (Herman Brix) - second feature film version of the serial "The New Adventures of Tarzan"
*"Tarzan’s Revenge" (1938) (Glenn Morris)
*"Tarzan, the Ape Man" (1959) (Denny Miller)

Later films

*"Tarzan the Ape Man" (1981) (Miles O’Keeffe)
*"Greystoke - The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984) (Christopher Lambert)
*"Tarzan and the Lost City" (1998) (Casper Van Dien)
*"Tarzan of the Apes" (1999) - direct to video animated feature
*"Tarzan" (1999) – animated feature
*"Tarzan & Jane" (2002) – direct to video animated feature
*"Tarzan II" (2005) – direct to video animated feature


*"Tarzan and the Trappers" (filmed 1958, aired 1966) - three episodes filmed as pilots for a series that never materialized, edited into a television feature, starring Gordon Scott
* "Tarzan" (1966–1968) — NBC series starring Ron Ely
* "Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle" (1976–1977) — Filmation animated series (season one)
** "Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour" (1977–1978) — (season two)
** "Tarzan and the Super 7" (1978–1980) — (seasons three and four)
** "The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour" (1980–1981) — (season five, repeats only)
** "The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour" (1981–1982) — (season six, repeats only)
* "Tarzan in Manhattan" (1989) — CBS TV movie starring Joe Lara
* "Tarzán" (1991–1994) — syndicated series starring Wolf Larson
* "" (1996) — syndicated series starring Joe Lara
* "The Legend of Tarzan" (2001–2003) — Disney animated series
* "Tarzan" (2003) — WB series starring Travis Fimmel


*"" (1996)
*"" (1996)
*"" (1996)
*"Investigating Tarzan" (1997)
*"The One, the Only, the Real Tarzan" (2004)
*"" (2004)
*"I,Tarzan" (1996) * [http://www.documen.tv/asset/Tarzan.html]

Actors portraying Tarzan

On film (adult)

*Elmo Lincoln 1918, 1918, 1921
*Gene Pollar 1920
*P. Dempsey Tabler 1920
*James Pierce 1927
*Frank Merrill 1928, 1929
*Johnny Weissmuller 1932, 1934, 1936, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1943, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948
*Buster Crabbe 1933
*Herman Brix later billed as Bruce Bennett 1935, 1938
*Glenn Morris 1938
*Lex Barker 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953
*Gordon Scott 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960
*Denny Miller 1959
*Jock Mahoney 1962, 1963
*Ron Ely 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970
*Mike Henry 1966, 1967, 1968
*Miles O'Keeffe 1981
*Christopher Lambert 1984
*Casper Van Dien 1998
*Tony Goldwyn 1999 (voice of animated Tarzan)

On film (youth)

*Gordon Griffith (1918, 1918)
*Tali McGregor (1984)
*Peter Kyriakous (1984)
*Danny Potts (1984)
*Eric Langlois (1984)
*Alex D. Linz 1999 (voice of young animated Tarzan)
*Harrison Chad (2005)

On stage

*Ronald Adair 1921 (Broadway)
*Josh Strickland 2006 (Original Broadway Cast - New York, NY)
*Alex Rutherford (Tarzan as a youth) 2006 (Original Broadway Cast - New York, NY)
*Dylan Riley Snyder (Tarzan as a youth, alternate) 2006 (Original Broadway Cast - New York, NY)

On radio

*James Pierce 1932-1934
*Carlton KaDell 1934-1936
*Lamont Johnson 1951-1952

On television

*Gordon Scott 1958
*Ron Ely 1966
*Robert Ridgely 1976 (voice, Filmation series)
*Joe Lara 1989, 1996
*Wolf Larson 1991
*Michael T. Weiss 2001 (voice, Disney series)
*Travis Fimmel 2003

In video games

*Tony Goldwyn, Kingdom Hearts, 2002
*Jūrōta Kosugi, Kingdom Hearts, Japanese


External links

* [http://www.briansdriveintheater.com/tarzan.html Tarzan at Brian's Drive-In Theater]
* [http://www.documen.tv/asset/Tarzan.html Documentary 52': I, Tarzan]

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