May 6, 2016

Tarzan Also-Rans

Most people prefer Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan.  In 12 films (1932-1948), the former Olympic swimmer embued Edgar Rice Burroughs' creation with a savage innocence borrowed directly from Rousseau.

Others prefer  Mike Henry's suave 1960s James Bond-style Tarzan, Denny Miller's beach boy, Ron Ely's lanky environmentalist, or Miles O'Keeffe's New Sensitive Tarzan of the 1980s.  But there have been many others.  Twenty men have played Tarzan since Elmo Lincoln in 1918.  All provided ample beefcake, but some were better than others at evoking homoromantic subtexts:

1. Buster Crabbe, better known as Flash Gordon, played an exceptionally buffed Ape Man in a 1933 movie serial.  He invented the Tarzan yell, and fell in love with a girl named Mary.

2. Herman Brix, who changed his name to Bruce Bennett so he wouldn't sound German,  competed with Weissmuller in two movies, The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935) and Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938).  His Tarzan was cultured, sophisticated, and spoke proper English.  He rescued girls, but never fell in love with them.

3. Lex Barker took the mantle from the aging Weissmuller and played the Lord of the Jungle five times (1949-1953).  He had Jane at his side just as often as his predecessor.

4. Gordon Scott, who had an amazingly v-shaped torso, played Tarzan six times (1955-1960), with a "Me Tarzan" patois that sounded very odd coming from an immaculately coiffed 1950s head. He was uninterested in heterosexual romance most of the time, but never met a man who wasn't planning to stab him in the back.

5. Jock Mahoney, at age 44, became the oldest Tarzan in Tarzan Goes to India (1962) and Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963).  He doesn't have a girlfriend, but in Three Challenges he gets a sidekick, the young Thai prince Kashi (Ricky Der).

6. Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) was an attempt to provide a realistic view of the Ape Man mythos.  Though this was the era of the man-mountains, Christopher Lambert was not particularly massive, because the Ape Man's diet would not have been good enough for bulking up.  He had romantic relationships with both Jane (Andie McDowell) and Philippe (Ian Holm)

7. Joe Lara starred in Tarzan in Manhattan (1989), with Jane as a cab driver, and Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (1996-97), with no Jane.

8. Wolf Larson (left) became the second TV Tarzan in the French-Canadian production (1991-94), and the only one to have a teen sidekick (played by Sean Roberge). Jane (Lydie Denier) became a French environmental scientist.

9.  The last live-action Tarzan on the big screen was played by Casper Van Dien in 1998.  He's engaged to Jane Porter.

10. In 2003-4, a WB series transformed Jane Porter  into a NYPD detective, and Tarzan (Travis Fimmel) into her industrialist boyfriend. Sounds awful.

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