The alter ego of Englishman, Lord Greystoke, who was orphaned in the jungles of Africa after his parents were killed. He was consequently raised by apes who named him Tarzan (meaning “White Skin” in ape language). His character is based on the classic jungle adventure “Tarzan of the Apes” (1914) written by American author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950).
Rescued as an adult, he returned to England where he was educated in the finest finishing schools. However, the lure of the jungle brought him home to the dark continent where he lived with his pet chimpanzee, Cheetah.
On the 1960s TV adaptation TARZAN/NBC/CBS/1966-69, Tarzan’s literary companion, Jane was replaced by a small orphaned boy, Jai (Manuel Padilla, Jr.) who shared his many adventures. Ron Ely who played the TV Tarzan was the 14th such actor to play the “Lord of the Jungle.”
An animated cartoon TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE/CBS/1976 contained many stories about Tarzan’s attempt to save the ecological balances of the Jungle. The Tarzan cartoons became a part of THE BATMAN-TARZAN ADVENTURE HOUR/CBS/1977-78 and later on TARZAN AND THE SUPER 7/CBS/1978-79; and TARZAN/LONE RANGER/ZORRO ADVENTURE HOUR/CBS/1981-82.
In the fall of 1991, a new TV syndicated version called TARZAN starred Wolf Larsen as Tarzan, a vine-swinging righter-of-wrongs who prevented ecological terrorists from destroying his jungle. In this adaptation Tarzan’s friend, Jane Porter (Lydie Denier) was a French environmental scientist running an African wildlife institute.
Still another reincarnation TARZAN: THE EPIC ADVENTURES/SYN/1996-97 starred Joe Lara as John Clayton (a.k.a. Tarzan) with Aaron Seville as Themba, Tarzan’s faithful friend.
Disney’s THE LEGEND OF TARZAN offered an animated retelling of the classic jungle character on UPN in 2001, as well as their animated movies Tarzan (1999), Tarzan & Jane (2002), and Tarzan II: The Legend Begins (2005) .
Note: Tarzan was born 11/22/1888. The first Tarzan story appeared in the October, 1912 issue of All Story Magazine. The first Tarzan movie, Tarzan of the Apes(1917) starring Elmo Lincoln was shot at the Atchafalaya River delta near Morgan City, Louisiana. A tourist attraction at 725 Myrtle Street now commemorates the spot.
The most memorable Lord of the Jungle was former Olympic swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller, whose supposed screen delivery of “Me Tarzan, you Jane” has become a piece of Americana.
Weissmuller premiered in Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) and finally hung up his loin cloth in his 12th film Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948).
Other actors to play Tarzan included Jimmy Durante, in a comic take-off; and Gordon Scott and Denny Miller who played Tarzan in a series of 1950s and 1960s film adaptations.