Oct 3, 2012

The First TV Tarzan

After doing three Tarzan movies, Mike Henry turned down the opportunity to become the first tv Tarzan, so NBC hired tall, lanky 28-year old Ron Ely (no relation to Rick Ely of The Young Rebels) to play the Lord of the Jungle, and 10-year old Manuel Padilla Jr. as his kid sidekick Jai, and scheduled them on Friday nights in the fall of 1966.  They faced stiff competition from the beefcake-heavy Wild Wild West and the overtly homoerotic Green Hornet and Time Tunnel,  but still they did well.

Comic book and novel tie-ins were ordered, and they were renewed for a second season.

This Tarzan was a crime fighter, battling mercenaries and jewel thieves, tracking down fugitives hiding out in the jungle, making sure that traveling missionaries, scientific expeditions, religious pilgrims, and even circuses got to their destination ok.  There was lots of beefcake, of course, but not a lot of bonding -- Jai was too young, and the jungle was otherwise occupied by male scoundrels and females in need of saving.

Gay kids continued to watch Wild Wild West.

At the end of the second season, Ron Ely, who had been injured dozens of times by the "tame" animals he worked with, called it quits.  The network chopped some of the episodes into movies, and that was the last of Tarzan on tv until 1991.

Ron Ely continued to act on television for many years, and in 1975 he portrayed another legendary hero, Doc Savage, on the big screen.  Later he launched a new career as a writer of hardboiled detective novels.

Manuel Padilla, Jr. continued to play soulful-eyed Hispanic or Indian kids through his teens, in The Flying Nun, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and American Graffiti.  His last role was in Scarface (1983).  He died in 2009.