Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan of the Television

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

We already discussed Sol Lesser's unsuccessful attempt to create a Tarzan TV show with Gordon Scott, and briefly mentioned that Sy Weintraub was the one to finally make that happen. Here then is a rundown of the four live-action series and two cartoons about everyone's favorite jungle hero.

Tarzan (1966-68; 57 episodes)

When Weintraub's film Tarzan, Mike Henry turned down the opportunity to carry the role to TV, Weintraub went back to someone who'd tested earlier for the film role, Ron Ely. Unlike Lesser's proposed series (which featured Tarzan, Jane, and Boy in their jungle treehouse), Weintraub's made Tarzan a solo act, but more fully embraced Burroughs' literate, articulate version of the character. There was no Boy, per se, but child actor Manuel Padilla Jr - who'd been in the first two Mike Henry movies as two different characters - returned for the TV show as a third, an orphan named Jai.

Like the Batman TV series from the same time, Tarzan attracted a lot of celebrity guest stars. Famous people who appeared on the show include Helen Hayes, James Earl Jones, Ethel Merman, George Kennedy, and Diana Ross. Former Tarzan Jock Mahoney even showed up to play a bad guy.

Apparently the show was expensive to produce, so it only lasted two seasons, but that was enough to give Ely the longest running time playing Tarzan.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976-84; 36 episodes)

Filmation produced this Saturday morning cartoon version that was extremely faithful to Burroughs' novels in, as Griffin puts it, both "spirit and details." I caught a few episodes of Ron Ely's Tarzan in syndication as a kid, but my Tarzan was Filmation's version. Really wish it was available on home video.

Tarzán (1991-94; 75 episodes)

Producers Max and Micheline Keller bought the rights to a Tarzan show in the late '80s and created a pilot called Tarzan in Manhattan. It has Tarzan (Joe Lara) visiting New York City to rescue Cheeta from Jan-Michael Vincent, who wants to use the chimpanzee for medical research. While there, Tarzan meets computer-wiz/taxi-driver Jane (Kim Crosby) and her dad Archie (Tony Curtis), a grizzled private eye. Naturally, Tarzan saves Cheeta and decides to stay in the city to fight crime with Jane and her dad. Perhaps fortunately, it didn't get picked up.

The Kellers didn't give up though and came up with another take: a half-hour syndicated series starring Wolf Larson. This one was set in the jungle and Larson played a grunty version of the ape man complete with treehouse. Jane (Lydie Denier) was a French environmentalist who helped him defend the jungle from invaders looking to exploit its environment. The show made Larson the guy with the second longest running time after Ely (who, like Jock Mahoney in his show, showed up to play a bad guy in Larson's).

Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (1996-97; 20 episodes)

The Kellers got one more syndicated series out of the ape man with Tarzan in Manhattan's Joe Lara returning to the role. Also set in the jungle, Epic Adventures went for the fantasy feel of Burroughs' books and featured elements like Pellucidar, Opar, the Forbidden City, and the Lost Empire. A lot of Burroughs characters also showed up, like D'Arnot, Nicholai Rokoff, Countess Olga de Coude, Paulvitch, Achmet Zek, Mugambi, the Leopard Men, and of course La of Opar.

The Legend of Tarzan (2001-03; 39 episodes)

Based on Disney's Tarzan movie, this cartoon also went to Burroughs' novels for its inspiration and offered Disney versions of La, Samuel Philander, One-Punch Mulligan, and even Edgar Rice Burroughs himself.

Tarzan (2003; 8 episodes)

Really don't know why people keep wanting to stick Tarzan in New York City (well, I do; I just wish they'd realize it's a dumb idea for a series), but that's what Warner Brothers did for this version with Travis Fimmel as Tarzan and Sarah Wayne Callies as Jane. It was best known though for being where Lucy Lawless and Mitch Pileggi landed after Xena and The X-Files, respectively. They played Tarzan's aunt and uncle who battled over custody of him and his inheritance. Sounds thrilling.


NoelCT said...

I watched the 2003 Tarzan when it aired and have some fond memories of it. It's not great, but it plays with the Greystoke dynasty well, and putting him in the city made for exciting use of the then-emerging sport of Parkour. It also ended on a great moment where Tarzan is required to appear in court, and as he enters the room, he's fidgeting and uncomfortable because he's wearing shoes for the first time in his life. A nice little character moment that stuck with me.

Michael May said...

I think it's available on Hulu Plus, so I need to give it a shot. I don't expect to love it, but I'm definitely curious.


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