This Friday's release of The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan/John Clayton III and Margot Robbie as his wife Jane, marks the first epic live-action return of the King of the Jungle to the Silver Screen in nearly 20 years. Directed by David Yates, who helmed the final four Harry Potter films as well as this fall's Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Legend of Tarzan brings a powerful fresh look at the iconic character from the fertile mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and features a stellar supporting cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar nominees Djimon Hounsou and John Hurt, with Oscar winner Jim Broadbent and two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz.
It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Robbie) at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian Captain Leon Rom (Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.
With the return to the jungle at a fever pitch across the country, we thought it'd be a good time to look back through the Warner Bros. Film and Television Library and take a peek at some of the other actors who have donned the loin cloth over the past 80+ years. Enjoy this glimpse through history as you get ready to swing into theaters this Friday for The Legend of Tarzan.
A five-time gold medal winner swimmer in the Olympics, Johnny Weissmuller would become the most famous cinematic Tarzan starring in a dozen films between 1932 and 1948. His "Tarzan yell" was so iconic that it would be dubbed into future Tarzan presentations starring other actors. Maureen O'Sullivan starred as Jane Parker in the first six Tarzan films with Weissmuller, who portrayed the title character as an uneducated man who barely spoke English, which was at odds with the original character created by Tarzan creator/writer Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Replacing Johnny Weissmuller was this former major in the army. The 6'4" Lex Barker moved to Los Angeles following World War II in search of an acting career which resulted in his five-film tenure as Tarzan between 1949 and 1953.
Born Gordon Werschkul in Portland, Oregon, he would change his name to Gordon Scott when Tarzan film producer Sol Lesser felt his last name was too similar to Johnny Weissmuller's. Between 1955 and 1960, Scott would wear the loin cloth for six films (including 1958's Tarzan and the Trappers, which was originally shot as three pilot episodes for a television series but when the TV project was abandoned the three episodes were edited together and released in theaters). In his final two Tarzan films—1959's Tarzan's Greatest Adventure and 1960's Tarzan the Magnificent—Scott's characterization changed forever the screen version of Tarzan as he became a literate character who could speak eloquently as Edgar Rice Burroughs originally created. Tarzan's Greatest Adventure is still considered by the hard-core fans as one of the best Tarzan films.
A basketball player at UCLA when he was discovered on the Sunset Strip by a Hollywood agent, Denny Miller became the first blond Tarzan in the 1959 low-budget remake of 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man. So low was the budget that footage from Weissmuller's Tarzan films were used to defray costs. This was Miller's only outing on the vines, although some may remember him for his later guest starring role as Tongo the Ape Man on the classic comedy series Gilligan's Island (he also appeared on the comic isle in another episode as Duke, a lost surfer).
Jock Mahoney's long and winding road to the Tarzan role was a bizarre one indeed. Initially he lost out to Lex Barker in 1949—as the replacement for Johnny Weissmuller. Then he played the villain opposite Barker's replacement Gordon Scott in 1960's Tarzan the Magnificent. Yet two years later, Mahoney finally got his chance to wear the loin cloth: first in 1962's Tarzan Goes to India with his final outing the following year in Tarzan's Three Challenges. Mahoney was at the ripe age of 44 when he starred in Tarzan's Three Challenges making him the oldest actor to ever play the role.
Following a six-year career in the NFL as a linebacker with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams, Mike Henry turned to acting and scored the role of the new Tarzan following Jock Mahoney. All three of his Tarzan films were shot in 1965 and then released over the next three years. Henry reportedly turned down the Tarzan television series, which ultimately went to Ron Ely.
At 6'4" with teen idol looks, Ron Ely made a formidable presence on the small screen during the first Tarzan television series which ran for two season on NBC from 1966-67. Throughout the 56 episodes, Ely continued the more recent (and more authentic) interpretation of Lord Greystoke as a sophisticated, articulate jungle adventurer as seen in the films of Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry. The guest stars during the two season run was a formidable roster indeed, including the likes of James Whitmore, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes and James MacArthur (playing mother and son), James Earl Jones, Robert Loggia, Sally Kellerman, Fernando Lamas, Jack Elam and former big-screen Tarzan Jock Mahoney. Not to mention the recurring appearance of screen legend Julie Harris as missionary Charity Jones.
In the third cinematic version of Tarzan the Ape Man, director John Derek turned the story inside out by making it all from the point of view of Jane (portrayed by his wife, Bo Derek). In fact, the Tarzan character (played by Miles O'Keeffe in his film debut) doesn't appear until the mid-way point of the film. While the film got savaged by the critics, it was still a big box office success. Interestingly enough, the film's stunt coordinator was former Tarzan Jock Mahoney.
With 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, Christopher Lambert starred in the first Tarzan film to receive an Academy Award nomination—in fact, Greystoke received three noms: "Best Support Actor" (Sir Ralph Richardson, who died shortly after filming), "Best Adapted Screenplay" and "Best Makeup."
That's it for our journey through the jungle of Tarzan titles in the illustrious Warner Bros. Film and Television Library and, like you, we eagerly await this Friday which marks a new birth of this iconic character with the release of The Legend of Tarzan.