Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.
Griffin’s book covers a lot of ground in the chapters on the movies. He details the deals that led to each picture, interesting facts about their release and publicity, and the backgrounds and later careers of the various actors who played Tarzan and Jane. There’s no way I can do Griffin justice, so I’m opting for a quick checklist with some useful information about each film.
- The Lad and the Lion (1917; lost): Not really a Tarzan film, but based on a Burroughs story and served as a sort of test run for filming actors with live animals.
- Tarzan of the Apes (1918): Starring Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and Enid Markey as Jane. Child actor Gordon Griffith played Tarzan as a boy. The film only covers the first half of Burroughs’ first Tarzan novel and about half the film appears to be lost. The surviving parts have been edited together as a special feature on Tarzan, Lord of the Louisiana Jungle, Al Bohl’s documentary about the making of the film.
- The Romance of Tarzan (1918; lost): Again starring Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan and Enid Markey as Jane. A direct sequel to Tarzan of the Apes that tells the second half of Burroughs’ first novel. The movie’s production was a shady deal because the studio (National Film Corporation) was only supposed to do one film, but after the success of Tarzan of the Apes used a loophole in the contract to make Romance since it was adapted from the same book they’d bought the rights to.
- The Revenge of Tarzan (1920; lost): Starring Gene Pollar as Tarzan and Karla Schramm as Jane. Produced by Numa Pictures, this was what Burroughs wanted to be the second Tarzan movie, an adaptation of The Return of Tarzan. It was renamed Revenge when theaters mistook Return as meaning that it was a re-release of Tarzan of the Apes.
- The Son of Tarzan (1920): A 15-chapter serial starring P. Dempsey Tabler as Tarzan, Karla Schramm as Jane, Gordon Griffith as young Korak, and Kamuela Searle as mature Korak. Adapts the novel of the same name.
- The Adventures of Tarzan (1921; 5 chapters are lost): A 15-chapter serial starring Elmo Lincoln again as Tarzan and Louise Lorraine as Jane. Based on the second half of the novel, The Return of Tarzan. First movie appearance of La of Opar (Lillian Worth).
- Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927): Starring Jim Pierce (Burroughs’ hand-picked actor who would go on to marry Burroughs’ daughter and also play Tarzan for radio) as Tarzan and Dorothy Dunbar as Jane. Adapts the movie of the same name and features Boris Karloff in one of his earliest roles as a native chief.
- Tarzan the Mighty (1929; lost): A 15-chapter serial starring Frank Merrill as Tarzan. It was loosely based on Jungle Tales of Tarzan and didn’t feature Jane. Instead, Natalie Kingston played a love-interest named Mary Trevor.
- Tarzan the Tiger (1929): A 15-chapter serial again starring Frank Merrill as Tarzan. Natalie Kingston is back, but this time she’s playing Jane in an adaptation of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. Kithnou plays La of Opar. The last silent Tarzan film, Tiger was released in a semi-sound version with dubbed sound effects, including the first Tarzan yell (not quite the Weissmuller version, but historic nevertheless).