Tarzan: the TV Failures

John "Brdige" Martin

A study of the Wolf Larson “Tarzan” TV episode originally titled “Tarzan and the Caves of Darkness” and a text illustration that adding Edgar Rice Burroughs accuracy is neither difficult, nor detrimental to television entertainment.

TARZAN (1991)
Wolf Larson as Tarzan
Lydie Denier as Jane Porter
Sean Roberge as Roger Taft, Jr.
Malick Bowens as Simon Govier
Errol Slue as Jack
William Taylor as Dan Miller
Oct 1991 to: ? 1994 - 75 episodes


With a little fixing up here and there, the “Tarzan” portrayed in the former syndicated Wolf Larson TV series could have been a lot more like ERB’s Tarzan.

Tarzan and Jane, for instance, could have been man and wife, as they are in the books. If the show’s producers felt an environmental slant was necessary, that still could have been done within the realms of ERB. After all, ERB was a bit of an environmentalist himself, so he would probably have approved of the emphasis. But instead of having Jane as a resident naturalist, or whatever she was supposed to be, why couldn’t the Jane we know as Tarzan’s wife simply have taken up the study and protection of animals as a hobby?

Then we have the character of Simon, a native who hangs around to work on airplanes and to provide Jeeps for villains to steal. Why couldn’t he have been a Waziri warrior, with a name such as Muviro? He still could have worked on and flown planes, because ERB’s Waziri did that in “Tarzan and the Ant Men.”

Then we have the TV character of the young teen named Roger. I don’t have a problem with Roger. After all, it’s conceivable that ERB’s Tarzan could have had such a young man staying at his African estate.

African estate? How about that! Instead of Jane’s jungle naturalist station and Tarzan’s treehouse, the action could have taken place on the Greystoke ranch. Jane could have had her own building to work with animals and Muviro could have had his own shed to work on airplanes.

Yes, with just a few simple changes (and I’m not even talking about hair color and jungle boots!), none of which would have required any extra expense, the show could have been a lot more like ERB’s Tarzan.

There was an episode called “Tarzan and the Caves of Darkness.” It was a poor title. There was only one cave, not “caves.”  And Tarzan never went to the cave. Jane did. A better title would have been “Tarzan and the Ivory Poacher.” -- not a very catchy title; but more accurate.

However, it occurred to me that it really wasn’t all that bad as a Tarzan story. With a few changes, it could be even better. So I thought it would be fun to make the changes and to write up that episode in story style to get an idea what the TV Tarzan could have been like if it followed ERB more accurately. Most of what I’ve written in the following story is the exact dialogue of the TV show, with a few appropriate changes. The descriptions in between dialogue are my own.

The most major dialogue change comes where Jane is preparing to go off looking for animals and Tarzan does not want her to go. In the TV version, Tarzan warns Jane not to go and she replies that she’s “not a child.” Next she informs Tarzan she doesn’t need a babysitter. Finally she tells Tarzan to “back off.” I don’t think ERB’s Jane would ever say things like that to Tarzan, so I changed that dialogue.

Also, in the TV version, Tarzan just wrestles the crocodile and then sends it on its way with a pat on the rump. In my version, he kills it.

Elmo and the Ivory Poachers

FanFic by John "Bridge" Martin, a suggested story/script for a one hour TV episode. Due to Trademark considerations the name "Tarzan" does not appear in the following adventure story.

When most people aim a rifle, they squint one eye in order to get a more accurate view.

But when Cordell Winslow sighted down the barrel of his elephant gun at the huge pachyderm swaying peacefully in the meadow, he didn’t have to squint one eye. His left eye was already and permanently closed, and the black patch which covered it gave the ruggedly handsome blond a somewhat sinister look. Indeed, in the case of Cordell Winslow, the sinister appearance was accurate, for the man lived to kill.

Winslow gritted his teeth and, with a slight pressure from his right forefinger, took up the slack in the trigger and then began steadily applying pressure as the unsuspecting elephant plucked at the grass with his trunk. But before his finger tightened enough to cause the explosion which would send the projectile rocketing down the barrel, Winslow felt a sharp blow to his face and saw his rifle jerked from his hand and go sailing through the air. Tantor, startled, turned and moved off while Winslow swung around to face the fury of a man he was soon to know as Elmo of the Apes.

His rifle gone, Winslow snatched his machete and began slicing the air between himself and Elmo with menacing, swift strokes that, had they landed, would have cut the ape man into so many slices of raw meat. But they did not land, for Elmo agilely and easily dodged each blow. At last Winslow cut a swath too wide and, while he tried to recover from the momentum of the swing, Elmo leaped in and closed with him. The machete followed the rifle into the tall grass as the two locked and rolled. In desperation, Winslow broke free and grabbed a dead tree limb and returned to the attack, attempting to use the limb as a bar to pin the ape man’s neck to a tree. For mere seconds, Elmo and Winslow matched muscles, the stick between them, until Elmo simply thrust forward his head, powered by the mighty thews in his neck, and broke the stick in two. He followed through with a clubbing blow from a closed fist, and Cordell Winslow sank in a heap.

Elmo gazed with satisfaction for a moment at the vanquished foe; then, he raised his head to the heavens and gave forth the victory cry of the bull ape.

Nor too far away, a young woman, her golden hair simmering in the sunshine, stood beneath a spray of water in a rustic but functional shower in an enclosed backyard near a large bungalow. She sang happily as she lathered herself with soap, unaware that a rather curious manu had dropped from an overhanging tree and had perched on the side barrier of the shower to watch her with intent interest.

With soap in her eyes, Jane began fumbling for the towel. The monkey, who had watched this scene unobserved many times before, grabbed it and placed it into her groping fingers.

“Thank you,” she said, as she applied the towel to her eyes; then, realization struck and she opened them in shock and horror, emotions that were replaced seconds later by merriment as she recognized the unwanted invader. “Go away, Nkima,” she scolded. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Clothed again, Jane came out of her bathing area in time to see a majestic elephant stride into the well-kept back yard surrounding the bungalow which formed the centerpiece of the large Greystoke estate in British East Africa, home of John and Jane Clayton, he also known as Lord Greystoke and as Elmo of the Apes.

And it was Elmo himself who rode atop this elephant. As the huge pachyderm rumbled to a stop, Elmo slid easily off its back and lit next to a khaki-clad blond man who wore an eye patch and had both arms behind his back, tied to a dead tree limb.

“Elmo,” she cried. “What’s going on.”

“This man,” Elmo indicated Winslow with disgust, “tried to kill Tantor. He kills elephants for their ivory. I’m turning him over to the British authorities.”

“I prefer to call myself an entrepreneur,” smiled Winslow. It wasn’t a nice smile.

“You would kill an elephant for a piece of ivory?” Jane asked, her loathing for the man showing plainly on her face.

Winslow’s only answer was to make an ugly scowl and spit into the ground.

“Roger and I are going into the jungle near the waterfall,” Jane announced to Elmo. “I’ve heard there are some more elephants there and I want to observe them.”

    “Jane, don’t go there,” Elmo warned. “This disgusting excuse for a human being may have friends around.” Elmo was concerned, not only for his wife, but for Roger, the son of friends from America who was spending some time with the Greystokes in Africa.

“Oh Elmo,” she said. “You know I can take care of myself in the jungle. And Roger will be with me. Why don’t you let me go and then come out and check up on me?”

The ape man was still not comfortable with the idea, but decided to let Jane go ahead. After all, he would follow shortly.

Elmo turned to Winslow. “Get inside,” he said, loosing the bonds while shoving him into a chain-link enclosure. Muviro, chief of the Waziri tribe, which worked hand in hand with Elmo on the Greystoke estate and in policing the surrounding area, applied a chain and padlock to the door. “Get used to spending time in a cage, Mr. Winslow,” said Muviro.

“As soon as the engine is fixed,” said Muviro, indicating the small airplane, “I’ll take that jungle rat to the British compound.”

“Be careful with him, Muviro,” warned Elmo. “I’m going to recheck the area where I found this one to see if there’s any more like him; then I’ll be heading after Jane.”

The ape man left the Greystoke estate and immediately took to the trees, traveling the middle terraces of the forest until he came to a large tree in which he had earlier cached his bow, arrows, spear, rope and other weapons. Everywhere Elmo had gone, Nkima went also. He noted the presence of the chattering monkey and spoke to it in the language of the great apes, which is also the language of all members of the simian family: “Come, Nkima. Let’s go hunting.”

Cordell Winslow was an evil man; he was also a resourceful man. Elmo tended to take things at face value. He had disarmed Winslow of all obvious weapons, but it did not occur to him that a tiny piece of wire, carefully concealed in a shirt lining, could be useful to a criminal. But to Cordell Winslow the wire was more than just a weapon; it was a key – the key to his freedom.

Muviro, with two of his Waziri, was busy tinkering with the airplane engine. Since Elmo’s son, Korak, had first brought the machine to the Greystoke estate and instructed the Waziri in its operation and upkeep, they had become the chief mechanics of Elmo’s “air force.” But as the Waziri manipulated the mechanical parts of the engine, Cordell Winslow manipulated the simple padlock with his small piece of wire till at last it snapped open. Winslow eased the chain off and then slowly opened the door, listening for telltale squeaks. Making his way across the yard, he came to Muviro’s Jeep, its keys still in the ignition. It was the work of but a moment to start the engine and roar out of the compound before the startled Waziri could react.

Several miles away, a small campfire burned and two rough-looking men stood by, one occasionally glancing at his watch. “Did you hear that?” said the one named Mario. “Something’s coming.”

At that moment, the Jeep bounded into view and pulled up beside the men and stopped. Winslow got out. “Where you been?” asked Mario.

Winslow said nothing but walked to the fire and poured a cup of coffee; squatting, he began to sip it. Finally, he spoke. “I need a gun,” he said. Mario pulled out his pistol and tossed it to Winslow, who checked to see if it was loaded, then stuck it in his belt. “Let’s go,” he said.

“Roger, it’s going to collapse,” warned Jane, as she watched her young visitor from her home town of Baltimore, Md., attempt to balance four sides of a leafy structure together with one hand while trying to fashion a knot with the other. “No,” he said. “My father taught me how to do this.” Just then he lost his grip and the structure fell flat to the ground.

Jane groaned. “I’m going to give you another chance,” she said. “I want this blind secure enough that an elephant can walk by and not shake it down.”

“Jane, I’ll not let you down this time,” promised Roger. She began walking onto a new trail as she heard Roger mumbling to himself, “It’s got something to do with knots.”

Some distance away, a giant, lithe white man dropped from a tree to the ground to look at some tell-tale indentations in the grass. “Muviro’s Jeep,” said Elmo. He stood up and began running at a steady pace along the path made by the tires.

The trail Jane followed led directly to the river and over a rope and platform bridge that had been constructed recently by the Waziri. As she walked onto the bridge, she noticed a wildcat crawling along a tree limb which hung out over the water. Jane focused her camera and snapped its picture, then continued across the river.

Not too far behind her, Cordell Winslow crept softly into a clearing where a young man was happily tying the last knot in an elephant blind. But the structure collapsed again and, this time, Roger went down with it, thanks to a blow on the back of his head from a gun butt wielded by Winslow.

Jane, meanwhile, had stumbled upon the entrance to a cave near the base of the waterfall. Flashlight on, she entered the dark and spiderweb-laced interior. It was a spooky atmosphere, and Jane thought about leaving, but curiosity moved her on. Then, her flashlight beam caught a strange configuration and Jane gasped. “The poor elephants,” she said, as she gazed at a large pile of fresh ivory tusks.

“We’ll wait here…” said an unfamiliar voice.

Jane stopped, motionless, at the sound. The voice seemed to come from just outside the cave. She drew back against the cave wall and held her breath as footsteps approached. It was Winslow. As soon as he had walked past her, she attempted to slip out behind him. But his eye caught the whirl of movement and he turned and grabbed her. “We meet again,” Winslow sneered. “How charming.”

Jane lashed out with her fist and caught Winslow by surprise. He loosed his grip and Jane ran toward the cave mouth, only to be thwarted, this time by Mario. “Let me go,” she ordered, struggling futilely against Mario’s greater bulk.

“I got ya,” said Mario. “C’mon. Come on.”

“Let me go,” Jane repeated.

Winslow approached. “That was very foolish of you, my dear,” he said, rubbing the spot on his jaw where Jane’s blow had landed. “I promise you, you will regret it.”

“It was for the elephants,” she said, drawing herself up to her full height. “You killed them all, didn’t you?”

“The name is Cordell Winslow,” he smiled. “And I killed those elephants – in a fair fight, I might add.”

“You had guns,” Jane said.

“Now what’s your name, my dear,” Winslow leered.

“Jane Clayton,” she replied.

Winslow’s sinister smile darkened. “My mother’s name was Jane,” he growled, spitting into the ground at the thought of an unpleasant childhood.

“Now that you’ve seen my treasures,” Winslow said, “What do you think I should do with you and your little friend?”

“Nothing,” said Jane. “Elmo will be here any minute.” Jane immediately regretted that she had spoken, as Winslow answered: “Thanks for the warning.”

“Take her to a ‘safe’ place,” Winslow told Mario, “and watch out for the right hook.”

Winslow believed in saving his bullets for elephants; people, he killed in more inventive and imaginative ways. Jane soon found herself trussed to a gibbet overhanging the waterfall pool. Next to the rope which held her dangling above the deep, turbulent water, Winslow placed an acetylene torch.

Winslow’s other henchman strode up with a bound Roger. As the young man noted Jane’s predicament, he turned to Winslow. “You one-eyed snake,” he said.

Jane spit in the general direction of Winslow, as if to underscore Roger’s remark.

“You’ll face a very slow death,” Winslow snarled at Jane. “You shouldn’t spit at dangerous men.

“As for the one-eyed snake remark…” he turned to Roger.

“Well, actually,” said Roger, “you look very dashing.”

“I’d like you to think of us as your teachers, Roger,” cooed Winslow. “We’re going to give you your final exam in zoology.” He turned to Jane. “Bye bye, Mrs. Clayton. I hope you like the water as much as I do.”

“You pig,” she hissed.

“Winslow lit the torch and the rope began smoking as Winslow and company, with the bound Roger, moved away.

Elmo, meanwhile, had been following the obvious track left by Winslow. He came to the area where the fallen elephant blind was and gave it a glance as he hurried by, that brief look telling him all he needed to know of what had taken place there. At last he came to the waterfall pool and heard his name on the wind.

“Elmo,” came the voice that was unmistakably Jane’s. “Elmo hurry. Elmo, help me.”

The ape man’s eyes shot across the fifty-yard-wide pool to where the golden-haired damsel hung in distress. Elmo turned toward the bridge but just then the rope burned through and Jane fell, bound, into the pool. Dropping his weapons, Elmo dove into the water and fought the current to the area where Jane had gone in. He estimated the place where the current would likely carry her and plotted an interception course. Moments later he found a handful of struggling flesh and soaked clothes beneath the murky water. They shot to the surface and Elmo rolled her onto the bank, slicing her bonds with the hunting knife of his long dead sire. Jane gasped, choked, and caught her breath at last. “They’ve got Roger,” she said.

 Elmo ran back across the bridge to get his other weapons, then came back and took up the trail of Winslow and company.

Meanwhile, beside the bank of a more peaceful part of the same river, Winslow told Roger, “Your zoology lesson for today is to examine the intestinal track of a crocodile…from the inside.”

“Well, I’m thinking of changing my major to accounting or something like that,” said Roger.

Grasping him by the feet and shoulders, Mario and his cohort, Tinker, began swinging him out over the water as hungry crocs watched with anticipation from the other side.

“One,” shouted Winslow.

“You know, you really don’t have to do this,” said Roger.

“Two,” said Winslow.

“Help!” cried Roger.

“Three,” Winslow yelled. The two men flung Roger into the river, where he created a huge splash. His head bobbed to the surface. “Have a nice day,” said Winslow, tossing his burning cigarette into the water alongside Roger.

Across the river, a 12-foot crocodile, its baleful yellow eyes staring like two dead beacons, slid down the bank and began wending its way across the river toward the struggling, helpless Roger.

Swift and silent, Elmo of the Apes padded through the jungle, Nkima keeping up with him via the leafy terraces. Elmo entered the clearing near the river and immediately sized up the situation. Unflinching, he crossed the meadow and dove into the water, swimming straight for the croc that was bearing down on Roger. Coming at the leviathan from the side, he surprised it and distracted it long enough for it to lose track of where Roger was. Elmo fastened himself to the animal’s bark-like back and rolled with it in the water until the animal was disoriented enough for Elmo to let it go while he cut Roger’s bonds and pushed him toward shore. Elmo turned in time to see the croc coming back at him. He dove beneath the animal and came up, hugging its belly, avoiding the slashing jaws and the hammering tail. The croc began rolling, trying to shake off the man-thing, but it may as well have been a shark trying to shake off a remora. Elmo wrapped his legs around the beast so he could free one hand to grab his knife. Again and again he plunged it into the belly of the monster until the water was dark with blood. The beast convulsed, then went limp. With a snort of disgust, Elmo pushed the dead animal away from him and into the path of the other approaching crocs as he turned and waded to shore.

“Are you all right, Roger?” Elmo asked, undoing his ropes. Roger gasped and began moaning. Elmo moved him to the comfort of a shade tree. “You’ll be fine soon,” he said. Then, in the language of the great apes, he said, “Nkima, stay with Roger.”

Across a leafy meadow, two vehicles moved. One was a truck driven by two swarthy men; following them in an open Jeep was Cordell Winslow.

Unknown to them all, one Elmo of the Apes stood in the branches of a tall tree, beneath which the vehicles would pass, a squirming specimen of Histah the snake held fast in Elmo’s two hands. As the truck passed beneath the tree, Elmo dropped the angry serpent into the open cab top and onto the lap of Mario.

Mario’s truck careened out of control as the panic-stricken driver lost his wits. It rolled over onto a slope and both men were ejected. Winslow, startled by the commotion ahead, also lost control of the Jeep and it, too, rolled, ejecting him.

His confusion was just momentary. Winslow grabbed an automatic rifle and began spraying the trees, but Elmo of the Apes was no longer there. From a new vantage point, the ape man had applied flame to the end of an arrow and was loosing the shaft at an overturned gasoline can which had fallen from Muviro’s Jeep. As the can exploded, Winslow fell back in fright and shock. A second burning arrow found its mark of the gas tank of the truck, and it exploded as Mario and Tinker attempted to flee, knocking them flat.

Winslow opened his eyes moments later to see death staring him in the face in the form of an arrow shaft aimed by Elmo directly at his putrid heart.

The plane was warming up and a bound Winslow and company were being led to the cabin of the aircraft. “While you’re spending time in jail,” said Jane, “think about all those elephants you murdered.”

“I’ll count them every night before I go to sleep,” sneered Winslow. He began laughing, a slow, maniacal laugh.

“Do not come back,” Elmo warned.

“Yeah,” added Roger, “’cause you’ll have me to answer to.”

“Now I’m really scared,” said Winslow.

“Come on,” said Muviro. It’s time to take a little trip. Enjoy it, because it’ll be your last one for awhile.”

“I’ll be back,” said Winslow. “There isn’t a jail made that can hold me.”

“I’ll be waiting,” said Elmo.