Nov 3, 2015

Johnny Weissmuller: A Second Rate Tarzan

I have a confession to make: I never liked Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.  I prefer Buster Crabbe, Herman Brix, or Mike Henry.

I know, I know, he invented the Tarzan mythos.  There were Tarzans on screen before, not to mention comic strips, a radio program, and the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but nothing matched the popularity of the MGM Tarzan series:

1. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
2. Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
3. Tarzan Escapes (1936)
4. Tarzan Finds a Son! (1938)
5. Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941)
6. Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)

And the RCA series:
1. Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
2. Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)
3. Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
4. Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)
5. Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)
6. Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)

 The yell, the vine-swinging, the "me Tarzan" patois -- all invented by or for Weissmuller.

The problem is, they were entirely heterosexist, all about Tarzan and Jane's primal jungle romance.   They were Adam and Eve in a pristine heterosexual paradise, threatened only by the savages and unscrupulous Europeans who carried Jane off, kicking and screaming, in every single episode -- that girl was totally unable to take care of herself.  When Jane wasn't around, Tarzan found a nubile female substitute.

There were no gay subtexts, except maybe between Tarzan and his adopted son, Boy (Johnny Sheffield). Tarzan had no male friends, and whenever Boy tried to make a male friend, Tarzan roughly jerked him

 And, come on -- look at him!  In the 1960s, the go-to guy for Tarzan on film was the spectacularly muscular Mike Henry.
Or you could see Gordon Scott, whose impossibly super-sized chest cast its own shadow.

After that, it was quite a shock to turn on Tarzan Theater  and see this rather paunchy specimen, with ridiculous hair and yet another woman tied up by his side.