Saturday, April 14, 2012
The famous Tarzan victory cry was introduced to the world in Edgar Rice Burroughs' first Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes. But the actual sound of this jungle cry was left open to interpretation. In all likelihood the first Tarzan yell was created in 1918 by the first screen actor to portray the Lord of the Jungle on film: Elmo Lincoln. Unfortunately this was a silent film and the sound of Elmo's original yell will probably remain a mystery forever.
Tarzan the Tiger (1929) had a crude soundtrack (sound films were just starting to appear) and so it was Frank Merrill who was the first to voice a Tarzan yell. Unfortunately, it came off sounding as if an elephant had stepped on his toes.
The next known Tarzan yell was voiced by James Pierce in the 1932 Tarzan radio serial. The cry actually sounded like "Taaar-maaan-ganiiii," which is means "white ape." ERB was quite involved in this production and since Pierce was his son-in-law there it is quite possible that this is the cry the Ape Man's creator had in mind. This cry was also used by Herman Brix (Bruce Bennett) in the ERB produced film The New Adventures of Tarzan.
For many years Johnny Weissmuller claimed that he had personally created the yell that has become most identified with Tarzan. He gave many versions of how the yell came about, but the one he told most often was that he said he had been inspired by the yodelling of his German neighbours and by his success in a yodelling contest he had won as a boy. He explained that the same recorded version was used over and over to save his voice. Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny's son have always supported Johnny's story.
The popular MGM/Weissmuller version has been dubbed in for a long string of later actors who couldn't perform it themselves. Johnny went on to devise an alternate yell for his later RKO Tarzan films but the live version he was known to perform regularly was always the one from the MGM days. It became so famous that it was even recorded for broadcast to the soldiers on the battlefront during World War II. Legend has it that when Castro's forces were about to take over Cuba in 1959, rebels ambushed Johnny's car on the way to a Havana celebrity golf tournament. Johnny convinced them that they weren't rich Cubans by giving the famous movie Tarzan yell. The rebel soldiers immediately recognized the movie hero and gave him and his party safe passage to the golf course. Johnny always swore that his Tarzan yell had saved his life in this situation. In the 1970s Johnny attended a gathering of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans in Los Angeles, and standing on a balcony overlooking the hotel lobby, he let loose with the immortal yell; and everyone within earshot stopped what they were doing to look up at him because they instantly recognized it, whether they were hotel clerks, bellhops or tourists. And when they saw that it really was him and not an incredible simulation, they smiled and applauded elatedly. Weissmuller actually became so attached to his Tarzan yell, that his last request was for a recording of it to be played at his funeral.