Facts about Tarzan that You Might Not Know

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When the Fourth of July weekend began last week, The Legend of Tarzan (2016) was released. While some younger audience might call the new film, the Tarzan movie, to many of us (let’s say ‘we’ all have watched at least the 1999 Disney version of Tarzan while growing up), it is simply another Tarzan film. The history of Tarzan had begun back in 1912 with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan of the Apes (1912). Since then, the fictional character has been adopted in many films with numerous styles of representation. Here are some facts that you may not know about the legendary character, Tarzan.

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Tarzan of the Apes (1912, book)

There has been a total of 55 Tarzan films made

The original book, Tarzan of the Apes was first published in 1912 by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs. The book was soon cinematized in 1918, with Tarzan of the Apes (1918), which was a silent film. The film series continued to release new sequels until 1929–the year Hollywood’s Silent Era ended–making a total of eight silent films. Then, three years later in 1932, the Tarzan series with the famous John Weissmuller started.

Tarzan of the Apes (1918, Silent film)
Tarzan of the Apes (1918, Silent film)

The Weissmuller Tarzan films are still known as the most memorable and well-made Tarzan series, and the film star John Weissmuller took the role for 16 years, making his character, Tarzan, widely known. During his years, there were 12 films created. After Weissmuller, there were 18 films featuring famous actors such as Lex Barker and Ron Ely as Tarzan. Finally, including 5 animation films and other competing Tarzan films, there actually have been a total of 55 Tarzan films (of course including The Legend of Tarzan that just released).

Writer Edgar Rice Burroughs killed Jane in his novel

Enid Markey and Elmo Lincoln in the 1918 film
Enid Markey and Elmo Lincoln in the 1918 film

In Tarzan of the Apes (1918), the first Tarzan film, Actress Enid Markey starred as the first actress to act Jane, who is Tarzan’s love interest in the novel. At that time, she was a young and promising actress, but not to writer Burroughs, unfortunately. Writer Burroughs reportedly did not like the actress, not only because she was a brunette when his imagined Jane was a blonde, but also because of Markey’s poor performance. So, after the movie was released, in his next novel Tarzan the Untamed (1920), the writer ‘killed’ Jane’s character in the very first chapter of the book. Although the readers were shocked by the vivid imageries of Jane’s death, they were soon relieved to only find out that she wasn’t actually dead, but instead ‘abducted’ by the villains.

Many of the actors that played Tarzan were Olympic athletes.

Johnny Weissmuller on right. Credit: Getty Images
Johnny Weissmuller on right. Credit: Getty Images

As the original novel had portrayed Tarzan as enormously masculine and strong, the actors that played the character also had to be qualified in terms of their physical appearances. Therefore, many of the cast were actual athletes, some even being Olympic medalists. James Pierce, also known as Big Jim Pierce played Tarzan in Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927). Pierce was a college football player, being an All-American center at Indiana University Bloomington.

Probably one of the most famous athlete-actors in the history of Hollywood will be Johnny Weissmuller, who was one of the best American swimmers during the time. Weissmuller earned as many as 5 gold medals in the Olympics for swimming, and one bronze for water polo. Many Tarzan fans were fanatical about his appearance in the film series. He was, and still the icon of America during the 1930s and 40s, not only because he brought honorable gold medals to America, but also played the American heroic character, Tarzan. After Weissmuller, there were more athletes that played Tarzan, including Buster Crabbe (Olympic gold medalist swimmer) and Bruce Bennett (Olympic shot put medalist).

Alexander Skarsgård in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) Credit: 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Alexander Skarsgård in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) Credit: 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Alexander Skarsgård, who is the new Tarzan in The Legend of Tarzan, reportedly spent four months training to get in the Tarzan shape. The actor surprised many, saying that he “basically didn’t see any families or friends” during the 4-month training. The previous Tarzan actors’ athletic records probably explain the pressure Skarsgård must have had before the shooting of the film.
Watch the trailer of The Legend of Tarzan (2016) here:

by Audrey Joung