May 28, 2018

The Tarzan Who Might Have Been

Remember Tarzan, the Ape Man  (1981), the big-budget, big-breasted , Jane-centric Tarzan for the 1980s, featuring it-girl Bo Derek in darkest Africa in the altogether?  She and her producer/director/ husband John Derek wanted a beautiful, sensual Tarzan, someone who looked like he sprang off the cover of a romance novel or is stripping at a "ladies' night out" show.

They interviewed over 100 hopefuls, and had former Tarzan Jock Mahoney comment on their vine-swinging and lion-taming skills, and settled on Lee Canalito.

The 25-year old Lee grew up in Houston, and was on his way to a pro football career before a knee injury had him casting about for another sport.  One day he went to see a friend box in the Golden Gloves, and the boxing bug bit.  He won several Golden Gloves tournaments, then got a trainer, Angelo Dundee (who had also trained with Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard).  He premiered in January 1977 at the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami.  Knockout in two rounds.

His other bouts in 1977 likewise resulted in knockouts, and gaining the attention of Rocky Sylvester Stallone, who wondered if he had any interest in acting.  He did.

He starred with Stallone and Armand Assante in Paradise Alley (1978), about two brothers in Philadelphia who are dealing with their personal problems while trying to help the third brother (Lee) become a boxer.

Now he was hanging around Los Angeles with Stallone, studying acting and going on auditions.  This was his big break!

But during the filming in Sri Lanka, something happened, and he was sent packing.

For many years fans believed that John Derek caught Bo and Lee rehearsing for the sex scenes. But Ms. Derek insisted that he just wasn't shredded enough.  There was "too much jiggling" as he ran through the jungle; "we wanted him to look like a sculpture."

John explained that he couldn't do the job.  His old knee injury made the vine-swinging and trampoline work impossible.

Shouldn't they have checked on those things before leaving for Sri Lanka?

They were in the midst of filming, so they needed a new Tarzan right away.  Bo called Jocko Mahoney, and he suggested Miles O'Keeffe.

A psychology major at the University of the South who also had dropped out of football due to an injury (a broken hand).  He had done some extra and stand-in work, but this would be his first film role.

He had 24 hours to get to Sri Lanka and start shooting (fortunately, he had no lines to memorize: this Ape Man doesn't speak).

Lee Canalito would star in a few other movies and tv shows over the years, but he mostly concentrated on boxing.  After 21 bouts, 90% resulting in a knockout, he retired undefeated.

He now owns a boxing gym on the south side of Houston, and does after-school fitness and boxing programs for kids.

Missing out on Tarzan doesn't bother him.  It didn't really boost Miles O'Keeffe's career, did it?

See also:Tarzan, the Ape Man


  1. Miles O'Keefe is better seen than heard. See also Ator. How much Keefe is in this movie anyway?

    Well, he got to retire undefeated. (And don't I always say there are plenty of hot guys in sports?)

  2. Interesting. I don't understand why people just don't hire fitness models or bodybuilders. I understand that you want someone with some acting chops, but to ask someone to get that shredded who hasn't before is a bit uncalled for. I have seen a few episodes of the show, I agree Tarzan doesn't really say anything. It's not like this role is pushing people to the limit of acting, just look good and do hunky stuff.

    1. This was a 1981 movie, in which Tarzan doesn't speak at all.

    2. I got it confused with one of the 90s shows. Silly me.


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